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An MTV Approach to Life?

The Washington Post has an article out on smart mobs (via Xeni Jardin). Much of the piece focuses on the social aspects of smart mob behavior, which the author dubs "social swarming." The interesting part of the article is in the examination of the dark side of social aspects of smart mob behavior:

There can be a dark side to all this. Swarmers can have difficulty living in the present. They run the risk of never really connecting with the person physically in front of them. They're always wondering if there isn't somebody better they should be talking to at the next place. How's the party? Is it any good? This sucks. Should we move on? Is there any food? Are the girls prettier where you are?...

Swarmers run the risk of skittering like water bugs on the surface of life. By being quickly and constantly connected, they can avoid deep contact in a time-consuming and meaningful way. "It gives you more opportunities, but it takes you out of the now," says Michael Reed, 34, an entertainment producer.

"If I've shown up and not found the love of my life, not had a love-at-first-sight experience," at one location, "then I have the opportunity to find out if there are other events going on where that might happen," says Bernardo Issel, a writer.

"It distracts you from real life that you're engaged in," says Issel. "You're flitting from one place to another. You're more likely to pursue superficial engagements rather than deep pursuits.

"It contributes to this certain MTV approach to life where you engage in something for a few minutes and then there's a commercial."

The end result is that swarmers do indeed end up with "a more abrupt attention span," says [Anna] Boyarsky [21, an intern at National Geographic]. "But you have to have a grip on reality to feel it. Unless you know what is real -- what is a real friendship and relationship -- neither can have an effect on you. If you know what is real, then you know that the cell phone is not a real relationship. It's a connection, but not a person. It allows you to connect to other people, but it's not them, and not you.

What are the long-term implications for human behavior as smart mobs proliferate? Are our friendships destined to become greater in number but shallower in depth?

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