Mobile telecommunications are "the social hormone" of 21st-century society, one of the pioneers of virtual reality said during a session at New Media BC’s recent Vidfest conference in Vancouver.  During the session, titled "The Future of Mobile Content," Mark Pesce, who was instrumental in creating virtual reality modeling language (VRML) – the first attempt to create immersive 3D environments on the Internet – further explained his theory. "Hormones do the broad distribution of signals around the body," he noted. If one considers a social network such as Myspace to be analogous to a social "body", then the metaphor fits. Pesce, who is also honorary associate at the University of Sydney, Australia, said that humans are hardwired to interact and socialize. "From the moment you emerge from the womb, you start interacting with other humans," he said, adding that we remember who our family, friends, acquaintances and others are by constructing mental images of them. However, our brain can only store approximately 150 such models, making technology a valuable tool in extending those networks. Mobile phones have proven to be the ultimate social network not just through voice communication, but also via short messaging service (SMS). And with the explosion in mobile phone use in many of the developing countries, some ingenious forms of text-based communication have arisen, Pesce explained.  For instance, in Mumbai, India, social networks of less-affluent mobile subscribers are getting around SMS costs by leaving their phones off and using the "missed messages" feature to convey information. Because there is no connection, there’s no airtime charge. In Japan, meanwhile, younger mobile phone users are creating co-presence with groups of friends throughout the day, by periodically sending off brief text messages containing a simple thought-of-the-moment or a snapshot of how they’re feeling at present. "There’s no purpose to it – it’s just a gentle rain of messages…reminding each that the others are there," Pesce said. "We’re so social we’re taking any medium that’s put towards us and hijacking it for messaging." Despite all of this, carriers and communications providers have been slow to see the importance of mobile phones as a social network in their own right, Pesce said. "Part of the reason is that all of the oxygen in the room has been sucked out by entertainment applications," he noted.  Carriers searching for the killer app for the mobile phone platform first turned their attention to traditional "content" – games and other forms of media. But "people are the killer app," Pesce said. "In relation to co-presence, media is secondary – it’s absolutely unimportant. To paraphrase McLuhan, people are the medium and people are the message." "If you drop your mobile phone in the toilet you’re not thinking ‘I just spent $700 on that’ or ‘Oh my God, I can’t watch the Edmonton Oilers tonight,’" he continued. "It’s ‘Oh my God, I just lost all of my friends.’" Despite the reticence of wireless network operators, some social networking applications have begun to emerge such as Dodgeball, which was acquired by Mountain View CA-based search engine giant Google Inc. last year. Dodgeball overlays a physical map of your urban area with the locations of nightspots (bars, clubs, etc.) as well as the locations of your contacts within that urban geography – kind of like a mobile Friendster. However, Pesce said he was at South By Southwest music festival in Austin TX in March, and everyone was using Dodgeball to meet up and plan the evening’s festivities. "There was a swarm of messages from 300 users in the room," he recalled. "It became hard to figure out what was meaningful." The power of mobile phones can further be harnessed through what Pesce called "active listening," or gathering all interaction and filtering it to create a hierarchy. "If your phone listened hour after hour, day after day to the folks that called you and texted you, it would very quickly get a sense of who was important to you, socially and professionally," he said. "The entire infrastructure supports co-presence – that’s what’s going to make it take off." Using another analogy from the world of biology, Pesce compared social networks to sharks: both, he said, have voracious appetites and need to be fed – in the case of social networks, it’s timely data that’s on the menu – and both die if they stop moving. But if phones were actively listening to their users’ social interaction, he said, "you wouldn’t have to go to Friendster, you wouldn’t have to feed anything – all you’d have to do is listen to the communication that’s already going on." To illustrate, Pesce performed an experiment during his presentation that left some in the room feeling a bit insecure once he’d divulged its existence. While delivering his talk, he had his laptop computer scan all the Bluetooth-capable devices in the audience within range, then compile a list of such devices by name. This, he said, was an ad hoc form of social networking that could be overlaid on other data – a user’s calendar, for instance. Some in the audience questioned the privacy aspects of Pesce’s experiment as well as social networks in general. Pesce countered by pointing out that today nearly everyone has a "data shadow" following them everywhere that gets added to any time they use a bank machine, credit card, loyalty program points, or any other transaction involving electronic record-keeping. "We’re starting to understand the dimensions of our data not being secure," Pesce acknowledged.  "You can be scared by the amount of surveillance – the answer is to yourself as tightly as possible."