There's an article in the NYTimes today about a social networking device for smokers- a smokeless electric cigarette maker is introducing e-cigarettes that alert the user to the presence of other e-cigarette users nearby, allowing them to meet and share personal information.
(This is a great example of what I recently described here as the game-changing health possibilities of the web of things.)
This post is really just a sidecar to David Brooks's recent work "The Social Animal," which is a commentary on how modern science (mainly neuroscience) is truly unlocking many of the ancient questions central to the meaning of life.
Brooks's title says a lot: Humans are at heart social animals in search of meaningful connections with other humans.
A lot of criticism is directed towards the de-humanizing impact of modern social media. This criticism usually laments how we replace genuine, face-to-face interactions with cheap, virtual exchanges on Facebook and Twitter.*
The social e-cigarettes are a perfect counter argument.
Rather than replace, social media augments genuine human interaction. It is well known that a major reason people smoke is because the process forms a bond between smokers. It's a massively social activity with a complex set of features and rituals. In short, smoking is an excellent example of the human search for meaningful connections with other humans.
The makers of e-cigarettes are aware of this. In a previous age, they'd launch a massive advertising campaign akin to ads for conventional cigarettes. Today, these manufacturers can use social media platforms like Facebook that are already in place, and free.
Genuine humans in search of genuine connection with other genuine humans can do so easier and cheaper than ever before.
That is the tale of progress from the dawn of humanity right through to the information age and beyond. Rather than an interesting technology sideshow, social media is making the information age personal. All the powers of advanced information technology deeply enrich our lives, not only through medical and engineering breakthroughs in comfort and longevity, but in social breakthroughs that broaden and deepen the meaning in our lives.