I gave a presentation yesterday (actually, it was co-presented with Jay Moonah) about lifestreaming and presence media. The idea of the talk was to get a client thinking about what emerging social media behaviours tell us about the construction of identity online (specifically through lifestream tools like the news-feed in Facebook, for instance), and how the phenomenon of ambient intimacy may suggest that there really is something deeper at play within presence applications like Twitter and Facebook than meets the eye. In short, a subtle shift in social consciousness, something that Stowe Boyd has written a lot about (and something which some argue might be altogether "too much of a good thing").
Leisa Richelt defines "ambient intimacy" as the "feeling of connectedness that you get from participating in social tools online that allow you to feel as though you are maintaining and, perhaps in fact, increasing your closeness with people in your social network through the messages and content that you share online". Lifestreaming, the emergent picture of your social identity through applications like Twitter and tools like the News-Feed help to continually enrich that closeness: as you share more bits and pieces of your social life online (whether through Flickr, Dopplr, Tumblr and other streaming applications). It's been referred to as an almost sixth-sense of the people in your social circle (and I can't for the life of me remember where I read that, it could be made up).
The news-feed and the flow (or stream) of traffic of presence applications may be the most important single component of new social media tools and presence media in promoting a strong bond between members of a community. Without harping on about Facebook, I think it's genius lies in bringing in other presence applications into the Facebook environment and using the news-feed as the conduit for all of that sense to emerge.
Because of time contraints, one thing I didn't get into during the talk was how the weaving of other people's lifestreams with your own, combined with the intimacy afforded by presence media really helps to expose us to many more experiences and points of view than what we could possibly ever experience independently.
We've known for a long time that as a hive mind we know more (a google search is always three seconds away), but now we're starting to maybe realize that we experience and sense more as well, if that makes sense). Russell (as usual, sorry) picked up on this in a post recently, referring to this as "benefits of the kind of benign "taste stalking" you can do with things like upcoming, last.fm and twitter".
(update: I forgot to add this link about learning from living vicariously through other people's experiences online; great point, again it's about learning and assimilating experience as much as, or more than, just knowledge).
If we accept that lifestreams and presence media create an emergent and intimate social picture of ourselves and our social sphere that is composed of a mosaic of perspectives and experiences, this suggests that traditional ways of thinking about culture and identity and consumption are increasingly out-dated.
All the bits and pieces that contribute (music, places, things and yes, brands) fit into the patchwork somehow; it's just that the exposure, selection, filtering and assimilating part of life that makes culture happen is just getting much, much more complicated.
Lifestreaming and presence media might represent a small taste of what the next stage of cultural meaning-making might look like with digital technology, as we move from reading and categorizing information to (sort-of) sensing and experiencing other people's lives.