I used to fall asleep in crazy positions.
My parents tell this story about me falling asleep with my chest over my knees at the foot of the bed in Disney World. While that is basic fetal position, it is usually done on your side or your back. I was just folded in two, taking up the smallest footprint on the bed possible.
The one that I remember, though, is falling asleep in our van’s middle bench-type seat. I somehow became unbuckled and dangled myself off with my knuckles touching the ground and the rest of my body somehow staying on the bench. The reason I remember, is that I woke up like that. I woke up to my mother telling another woman about me. She kept on talking about the crazy ways that I would fall asleep and then she went on to talk about other things that were more flattering and personality driven. I wish I could remember more of those.
I realize now that I didn’t start moving and fully wake up because I wanted her to keep on talking about me. I wanted to know what she and this other woman thought about me without asking them. In short, I was vain. I had this sense that other people would talk about me when I wasn’t in the room (or awake, apparently), and I wanted to know what they were saying. It was one of the first ways that I knew that the world continued on out of earshot and eye sight.
Not a lot has changed, I’m afraid. I am still vain, and I still want to know what others are saying about me. I don’t pretend to be asleep now, though. Rather, I empower my eavesdropping ability using a variety of technologies. I run Google Alerts for my name, getting daily update whenever someone mentions something on the web about me. Hootsuite performs a perpetual search for mentions of my username. My blog gets an alert whenever someone links to me, as does my Google Analytics account. My Facebook and Flickr accounts are alerted any time I am tagged in a photograph. I even get updated on Slideshare whenever someone likes one of my presentations or decides to embed it into their website. There is a certain science to my vanity now.
The problem is, where does vanity go from here. How can I possibly eavesdrop on more people or figure out just how good or bad the things are that people say? To me, the future of vanity actually lies in the moment with my mom in the van. She wasn’t tagging me in a photo or linking to me as a person, she was simply talking about me in casual conversation. She was telling stories that didn’t require any technology to augment their reality. Yet, if I hadn’t woken up, I would never have known that those words were being said.
So, I believe that the future of our quest for vanity and self-branding will be in the power of voice and conversation. In the not so distant future, I believe that all speech will be able to be parsed and tagged. Moreover, I believe that all conversations will have the capacity to be auto-tagged and analyzed. I’m not saying that all of our conversations will be recorded, but I think that everyone with a device in the pockets will be able to use it to see the networked representation of what they are talking about.
For example, I like to talk about movies frequently. I believe that if I bring out my phone and plop it on the table in front of me, it will be able to pull up all of the information about the movie that I am speaking of without me having to type it in. It will follow the conversation on screen and continue to present me with further topics to explore, further ways to travel down the rabbit hole. In doing so, it will be tagging my conversation and it will allow me to play it back if I would like to or publish it (and the conversation path) along with it.
With a technology such as this, vanity will be a very real part of our lives every day. We will be able to know exactly when people are speaking about us and be alerted as to the context of that speech.
I also believe that this will happen in video first. I believe that we will start to tag each other in speech with the videos that we are creating. Now that YouTube has decent transcription service going on all of their videos, we aren’t too far from making that text live, searchable, and hyperlinked. As soon as the conversations in video response become tagged with our names and our ideas, video will be the next thing to start making us more self-aware.
The next vanity will be the same as the first. Our words will make us more and more vain because we will always know our references. We will become a part of the taxonomy of communication. We will have an analytical value based upon the number of conversations that are about us. And that will be scary and validating, seductive and pointless, ugly and freeing; all at the same time.