I remember reading once that a group of special (I think autistic) school kids wore colour-coded badges to inform others whether they were in the mood to be approached, or if they'd rather be left alone. The writer wryly joked that the rest of us could probably benefit from such a system also. In fact, I'm inclined to take the suggestion seriously. With advancing technology, it might soon be possible for us to outfit ourselves with 'digital auras', short-range wireless transmitters that contain information about ourselves that we want to make accessible (in various possible ways, which I'll expand upon below). These would come with "aura-readers", which allow us to receive the information contained in others' auras.
The aura might have a 'surface' interface which immediately presents itself to anyone who tunes in, perhaps containing basic information such as your name and your current 'receptivity level' (e.g. "do not disturb", "happy to chat", etc., much like you find on MSN Messenger). Name tags would be a thing of the past. I imagine most people would not bother monitoring who accesses this level of their aura - it's the sort of thing which would become absolutely commonplace. This surface level might then offer the analogue of a 'hyperlink' to further details, offering (perhaps restricted) access for those who want to "dig deeper".
This second level of your aura might include some superficially personal info about your hobbies, interests, personality, etc. It might also be a good place to mention whether you're single or not. I imagine that could come in handy, potentially preventing some awkward moments. The curious might want to monitor who accesses their second level, though I expect most would not bother restricting access to it. I conceive of this level as presenting your public persona.
You might then have further level of more personal information yet. I'm not really sure what people might end up using these for. Perhaps they'd say a bit about their emotional state, explaining what they're happy or upset about at the moment, what their long term goals are, what they really value in life, etc. They might have a 'personals' section where singles can say what they're looking for in a partner, like the sort of thing you might find in an online dating profile or personals ad. These sections are for stuff that you wouldn't normally talk to random strangers about, but that you nevertheless want people who are genuinely interested to be able to find out.
I'm not sure what the best way to restrict this information would be. At the very least you would likely want to monitor who accesses the information. If there were strong (and well-respected) cultural norms which forbade violations of privacy, this -- along with the threat of denouncing anyone who inappropriately impinges on your privacy -- might suffice. But that does seem a bit too open, still. You might instead require your individual authorization for any attempts to probe these deeper levels of your aura. Or, perhaps for less sensitive information, it would suffice to rely on a general 'reputation score'.
Suppose that aura-readers develop a 'reputation', whereby the targeted individuals get to judge how appropriate the "intrusion" was. You might give someone a low score for callous or inappropriate intrusions, especially if they went on to misuse the information revealed to them. Conversely, more helpful and empathetic individuals would receive boosts to their reputation score from those who appreciate their concern and subsequent appropriate action. Automatic screeners could then restrict medium-level aura access to those with relatively high reputation scores. In a sense, it would track who is "trustworthy", letting them learn more about you whilst blocking out the scoundrels.
Obviously this is all extremely speculative, and the precise details are flexible. So the important question is: what do you think of the general idea? Is it appealing? Do you think it could help people communicate and get along better in an age of increasing alienation? (There's certainly something appealing about it, for people as introverted and socially reclusive as myself.) Or do you think it is somehow "cheating", or too artificial? Would it prove just another barrier to meaningful communication, much like some see in the brevity and superficiality of txt messaging?
Suppose the technology developed to the point where you could open up 'private channels' between auras, effectively enabling a sort of telepathy (once we get to the point where computational devices are so unobtrusive as to be practically continuous with our unaided thoughts -- e.g. through brain-computer interface). What would the implications of this be? Better or worse than before? Is it necessarily better to communicate vocally, face to face? What if some people just aren't that comfortable at speaking -- wouldn't it be helpful to develop alternative modes of communication? Or, for a more mundane example, is email bad for developing personal connections? It does seem quite limited, but as I suggested in my post on Transphysicalism, it may be a merely contingent fact that our technology is often inadequate to mediate meaningful human connections. I'm not sure that there's any reason to doubt that future advances could, at least in principle, be more conducive to emotional nourishment.
Getting back to the original idea of the no-frills digital aura -- i.e. a "surface-level only" version -- it seems to me that it would have two small but significant benefits in everyday life. Firstly, a "do not disturb" sign could be really nice at times. I guess you could just scowl fiercely instead, but that tends to get tiring after a while. Second, a "happy to chat" sign could make public spaces, e.g. bus trips, a lot more enjoyable. Strangers tend to keep to themselves, sometimes just because it's difficult to tell whether others want to be spoken to, and one doesn't want to risk causing offence or being rejected. Some of us just aren't that good at unaided mindreading. But with the right aids... well, things might become a whole lot easier, don't you think?
P.S. I'd really like to hear what others think about all this. Consider the comments section a "two cents" collection plate. Don't be stingy now! ;)