Man has once again caught up with machine, now that astronaut Mike Massimino, on his way to help repair the Hubble Space Telescope, has tweeted, “Launch was awesome!” The impact of those words may be somewhat less than that of, “Watson, come here—I need you,” but they do represent a milestone.
NASA has issued tweets from the Phoenix Mars Lander (or its PR account exec) and other space machines, but now a human is sending 140 characters at a time from an onboard computer to NASA, which feeds them to Massimino’s Twitter account.
This month marks the 50th anniversary of the flight of the suborbital flight of monkeys Able and Baker, the first living beings to survive a mission into space and return to Earth. Man didn’t catch up with them for another two years (to the month), when astronaut Alan Shephard became the first human to perform the same feat in a Mercury capsule.
With social media, it’s déjà vu all over again, as Yogi once pondered. Through the Internet, the machines on our desktops and in our laps have been talking with the machines in corporate server farms or piling up messages in electronic inboxes. Machines on the Internet were followed, not by animals, but by avatars to mimic the human experience. But now social media enable us to connect on a truly human level with each other. Even the granddaddy of social media—instant messaging—which once sent words and sometimes video or files between machines, has evolved in the Web 2.0 world to allow us to speak to each other in real time video phone calls integrated into IM.
Now the question is, how much do we have to say to each other, once we get past, “Launch was awesome”? With luck, we’ll launch a more global conversation on the issues that all of us who are socially connected must face together. What a terrific fan page our leaders could build if President Obama were tweeting with President Sarkozy and President Medvedev. What advances we might gain if stem cell researchers in Britain were tweeting with colleagues in the U.S. and Canada.
Right now, we have an astronaut dutifully declaring to his followers, “The adventure of a lifetime has begun!" Let’s work to make social media less about random adventure and more about improving lives—in our lifetime. Then perhaps social media will reach their apogee—as “societal” media—where issues can be resolved by the characters who really could launch a better world.
— Steve Friedman