We’re more accessible to each other in the digital realm than we’ve ever been in the physical realm, and there’s no denying it – we’re living in an age where online connectivity is a major means of communication.
PSY’s “Gangnam Style” viral video sensation is heading north of one billion views, according to stats released by Visible Measures. This extraordinary figure takes into account views of the original YouTube video (now over 600,000,000 since it was uploaded in July), as well as the bounty of user-generated content it’s inspired – mashups, spoofs, comments, live performances, etc. The global hit also landed the rapper a meeting at the United Nations HQ with the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who declared PSY had usurped him as the most famous Korean in the world.
PSY’s rapid rise to fame is a remarkable achievement made possible by digital technologies that enable us to easily connect and participate in communities online. Humans need to connect – it’s what we’re hardwired to do. So it follows that as technologies evolve we instinctively leverage them to find new ways of connecting.
Today, millions of us facebook, skype, text, tweet and email when we can’t meet in person, and even when we can. We’re keeping in touch with friends, sharing news, photos and videos, following our interests and marketing our businesses this way, and increasingly, using these tools in research and education.
Social connectivity – the new norm
The Facebook experience is working so well at engaging us in meaningful conversations that we’re now seeing its features replicated for enterprise social software. Products such as Yammer and Salesforce Chatter, for example, provide businesses with a private social networking tool. Social software products are being developed for the education sector too, and sites such as Pixton, introduce children too young to interact on Facebook to content sharing and chat as a learning tool.
Blogging, instant messaging, video gaming, social networking, video sharing, building and managing websites, fan fiction and other digital activities are now broadly categorised as the new literacies. In the 21st century, these new literacies are a precondition for economic development and new ways of learning.
Joining the dots in the digital classroom
Social media is powering along as a platform that’s enhancing communications, and at the same time new technologies are providing a stream of tools for collaboration.
With consumers accessing the likes of Apple’s FaceTime app on mobile devices, videoconferencing is no longer confined to laptops and desktops or the exclusive domain of the enterprise.
We’re seeing the emergence of videoconferencing blended with virtual reality technology, bringing the on-line interaction experience even closer to resembling the physical reality. For the education sector in particular, innovations such as iSee 3D video technology, developed by the Smart Services Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) jointly with the University of Wollongong, have the potential to reshape the online teaching and learning experience. This technology enables a few or hundreds of people from anywhere in the world to immerse themselves in a web-based virtual 3D environment, to collaborate and interact in real time from their device of choice.
TableTop, another innovation to emerge from the Smart Services CRC, makes hands-on classroom collaborations a whole lot more interesting. This surface computing software was developed in partnership with the University of Sydney. How it works is that teachers and students interact with a single screen on a table top, where documents can be edited and manipulated. Everyone in the room can easily push data (documents, images) to the screen from their own devices, including tablets and smartphones and students can also collaborate from remote sites, among other features.
Remapping geographical boarders
How technology can help us connect and create community not only across vast distances but also across disparate cultures is of great interest to researchers.
The world’s first international cyber dance battle was staged recently, for example, to gather data for testing large outdoor video screens as a communication platform for international public exchange. The event forms part of a five-year University of Melbourne, Federation Square, University of Western Australia, and University of Sydney research project called, ‘Large Screens and the Transnational Public Sphere,’ funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC).
Large screens were sited in Perth, Melbourne and Seoul, Korea and linked live via AARNet’s Video Conferencing Service on the high-speed AARNet3 network. We witnessed dancers from Perth and Melbourne taking on performers from Korea ‘Gangnam Style’, and the audiences in all three locations joining a synchronous dance off, engaging with each other from thousands of kilometres away.
Events like this, which offer immense scope for cross-cultural interactions, contribute greatly to the broader agendas of social inclusiveness and acceptance of cultural diversity. With research and development in communications technologies showing no sign of slowing down, it’ll be interesting to see how we, as global participants, harness new tools to influence the journeys of citizens like PSY into the future.