08 Jan

Why ChatSeal?

If you read my introductory post, you may be wondering how ChatSeal answers some of the concerns I raised there.  Since my intent may not be entirely clear, I figured I’d take a few moments and offer some background on why I chose to create it.

My perspective comes from the other side of the Internet experience.  Growing up, I recall a time when people had pen pals and phones were attached to the wall with 20-foot cords.   The feelings of nostalgia aside, this point of view helped me build some opinions on how the bonds between people are formed. In these examples and many others, our connections were always rooted in the physical.  There was a physical piece of paper for the letter that had to be passed from person to person.  We needed to be attached to a physical cord that was connected to a physical telephone pole, connected to another physical phone, and so on.  The physical made our interactions personal because there was always an obvious investment in time or resources for us to communicate.   A letter might not arrive for two weeks or a person may not be at home when you called.  Wise investments of this nature required us to first measure value, which more often resulted in profitable exchanges.  If I valued one person over another, I had to make choices about where to spend my effort.  My choices were easy to see by the people I interacted with, which paid off with more meaningful relationships.

Contrast this with the communications we all now enjoy.   I can send my thoughts to one or a billion people in a single moment.   The only effort necessary is to snap a photo or tap out some text before pressing a button.   The cost of communicating everything from relationship status to complex scientific theories has been reduced to zero.   In some cases, this is a huge win.  The reason that snowbound states can reliably get oranges in the middle of December or anyone can immediately learn about political conflict on the other side of the world is certainly due to the incredible power of modern technology.   On the other hand, this power has made it very difficult to measure the value of our relationships because we no longer need to invest anything obvious in our exchanges.

This could explain the recent fixation on all things social, which is a funny thing to me.  Before about fifteen years ago, when you said you knew someone socially, it was almost used as a pejorative, or at least as a very casual term.   It implied a serious lack of knowledge about someone else when you didn’t want to claim otherwise.  It meant you’d seen them at the bar, around town or at an office party somewhere.  It was usually preceded by the word ‘only’, as in, “I only know him/her socially.”  Conversely, our real goal was always an intimate connection, where you became closer friends by sharing common, private experiences.

But, we can’t really be close with everyone, can we?  How do you get closer to people when everyone can know all things about you to satisfy their interests?   If the life I post on Facebook is known by my best friend, two dozen casual acquaintances, and a thousand other strangers, what is really the difference between any of them?   It used to be that my best friend knew things the others didn’t.  Realizing this led me to a simple conclusion:

Our personal experiences have a great deal of value, which can be traded for other things of value.

Years ago, we could more easily share our experiences with only the people we valued, in order to build common bonds.  In other words, we traded each experience for a better connection to someone else.  Now however, when we post online, the value of that experience is distributed among many instead of only one, and we have less value to trade for lasting relationships.  In this sense, social networks act almost like a type of currency exchange.  If an experience is the unit of currency, you trade it to them for some amount of good will or notoriety, and they in-turn trade it for real world money.

This realization convinced me of the incredible importance of privacy in the world today.  Without it, the things that make each of us uniquely individual are lost to the crowds and our ability to connect with others is severely diminished.   Whether it is with ChatSeal or some other tool, safeguarding your personal experiences is the only way to build real, intimate relationships in an era of instant communications.