Say Goodbye to the Chance Encounter: Because Pretty Soon They’ll Be None Left

Mar 9, 2012

Ambient sound…ambient lighting…ambient social networking….ambient what?!?!?

Aaaannnd screech goes my mental brakes. As a PR professional and one who’s in the business of crafting quality wordplay, I’ve come across many expressions and turns of phrase (excluding the one I’ve just employed and the one I’m about to use) that cause me to do a double take. But here’s a few really obscure inside-industry ones, just for laughs: “Monetizing the purchase continuum,” (five points to anyone who knows what that means), “Technologizing,” – a term that Microsoft Word underscores in bright no-idea-what-that-is red, or does anyone know the “Importance of having enough bandwidth to update ones content management system?” I sure as hell don’t.

So with these beauties (unfortunately) already in my verbal toolbox, the term “ambient social networking” had me on one hand annoyed – here we go with an other pointless phrase, but on the other hand, more than mildly intrigued.

Last week, CNN, in its article “The Scariest Tech Trend of 2012?,” chose “ambient social networking” as the scariest. For the uninformed, “ambient social networking” is the continuous broadcasting of an individual’s location via their smartphones. While older social media apps required you to “check in” in order to activate their location discovery function, a new breed of apps in 2012 will always be on in the background, hence the “ambient” terminology. Instead, you’ll have to remember they’re on in the first place in order to turn off or pause their friend-finding abilities. Some of the apps to look out for include: Sonar, Glancee,, and, according to the article.

While technologies such as this raise important privacy issues, the development of ambient social networking shouldn’t come as too much a surprise either, and really might not be deserving of the “Scariest Tech Trend” title. Rather, for all the lip service given to concerns over privacy and hyper information sharing, a growing body of data suggests otherwise. Jeff Jarvis, author of Public Parts How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way we Work and Live, rightly points out in his newest book that history is filled with examples of ground breaking communication advances –from Gutenberg’s press to the camera – that in their own time, in their own way, threatened to upset the prevailing social order, raising similar privacy fears in their wake.

What’s more, a recent study by McCann Truth Central, a subsidiary of McCann World Group, a global communications company, found that while 84% of people feel they have some or a total right to privacy, it also found that 71% are willing to share their shopping data online, 86% agree that there are major benefits in allowing that sharing, and less than half (49%), seek direct control of which parts of their personal data they share. In other words, in today’s internet-savvy world, privacy is no longer getting the top billing it once enjoyed.

So is ambient social networking likely to take over the world, turning us all into text-addicted and smartphone-suckered losers? I don’t think so. And maybe the chance encounter really will be in jeopardy before too long. But just think how many times a day, week, month, year etc. you find yourself saying something like, “I can’t imagine how people lived without a cell phone or the mobile internet.” Remember too, that for the bulk of the people making such exclamations, they’ve still spent the majority of their lives without that ability.

Isn’t it amazing how quickly we all adapt?

Seen in this light, the scariest tech trend of 2012 – and the years that follow – would be if something like ambient social networking didn’t come to pass. Neat communications expressions aside, we’ll have to see what other “scary” tech trends CNN comes up with next. As for me, I’ll be technologizing my bandwidth for future developments.

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