RESEARCH + WRITING
This project was initially inspired by the article "We Are Hopelessly Hooked" by Jacob Weisburg. He cites four critical texts when discussing the social behavior resulting from the ease and frequency of digital communication:
Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle
Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle
Reading the Comments: Likers, Haters, and Manipulators at the Bottom of the We by Joseph M. Reagle Jr.
Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal with Ryan Hoover
In this article, Weisburg describes the current predicament of digital communication, and the attachment we as humans feel to the object that provides this connectivity. Yet the digital platforms that we constantly use seems to be having a negative social impact more than a positive.
Technology: Good, Bad, Bad, Good
by Dierdre Shea
May 6, 2015
Close your eyes. Imagine your morning routine. Beyonce’s “***Flawless” jars you to wake as your eyes open and slowly focus on the cool daylight streaming through your bedroom window. You reach for your phone, 10 inches from your head. Snooze. You slowly drift back into coziness as you shut your eyes again. Suddenly an explosion of noise “I’m bout that H, town, coming, coming down...” You snatch your phone, swipe to unlock the screen. Silence. Without hesitation you tap the first app - Instagram. @drawingcenter is debuting a major retrospective of Sol Lewitt drawings, cool. @blizzy_allen is wearing a pink pocket square today with a navy suit #ootd, @farlopa was OUT LN HAVING TIKI W/ MISS @aprilcarrion at This n’ That’s weekly Monday night drag revue. Quiet night. Next app - Facebook. Bethanny’s son Wiley giggled, A trans woman was verbally attacked on the 4 train pls share, Hilary Clinton is a meglomaniac and doesn’t deserve a feminist label, and an onslaught of new profile pictures indicates that Snapchat released a new batch of face swap filters. Rastafarian face. Questionably racist? Well, on to Snapchat. You have to know. More Rastafarian faces painted on people you know, recognize, follow. Definitely racist. Time for news. NYtimes. Elections, elections, Syria is terrible, breakthrough medical research cites slowing metabolism in cases of weight loss. Gawker. BLAC CHYNA AND KYLIE JENNER WERE FRIENDS THE WHOLE TIME?! Must tweet meme to girlfriends. “Wen da edibles hit and u realize u in love...” Wait. Not great... must rethink. Suddenly you realize that 25 minutes have gone by and you have to go to work. And you haven’t left your bed.
“Three quarters of eighteen-to-twenty-four-year-olds say that they reach for their phones immediately upon waking up in the morning.” reports Jacob Weinberg in his recent New York Books review of Sherry Turkle’s works “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age” and “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other” .1 At first glance this statistic doesn’t seem entirely alarming. The beauty of texting is that we can communicate immediately, even if we know the recipient is sleeping. There is weather to brave, and we all need to check our emails (because work is important and so is seeing Mom’s latest garden bloom in the family group thread.) “Once out of bed, we check our phones 221 times a day — an average of every 4.3 minutes”.2 A little unsettling, hearing that statistic. Going back to the morning scenario I’ve described (which is step by step from personal experience), one cannot help but feel perturbed. Where does that time go? If you hypothesized conservatively that 75% of those checks are simple 1-3 second glances, and 25% were more time consuming actions — say up to 5 minutes — the average time spent on your phone is still 4.6 hours a day. Yes, multi-tasking is a part of those interactions. Reading emails, informative articles, listening to music - those can all be positive forms of consumption. Texting and communicating are not necessarily bad things. Yet we must ask ourselves - how is this way of communicating affecting us socially? How to we keep the positive aspects of digital strides while shedding the negative?
Jamer Hunt talks about the physical interactions that we have with our “electronic environment... We are recalibrating the techniques of the body, fashioning gestural vocabularies to be used in an environment of ubiquitous computing, virtual reality, sentient computing, ambient intelligence, pervasive adaptation, an internet of this, or whatever other future states technologists dream up for us.”3 In fact, we see that in our inherent desire for interaction we are fulfilling human emotional needs with extensive virtual consumption, which is affecting the way that we interact in the physical world. We are using digital interaction to escape communicating directly in person, because it is easier to be clear and avoid conflict when you have the luxury of editing your thoughts. Attention paid becomes more complex, as we always have one eye on our phone. While Hunt describes these physical changes manifesting in our mannerisms, it also appears to affect our cognitive abilities. There are two major issues here that I would like you to consider:
1. The pervasive consumption and addiction to content affecting how we perceive ourselves.
Hunt writes “What we say and how we say it may seem like natural and spontaneously occurring phenomena, but they rarely are. We all have strategies and scripts, unwitting combinations of speech that we reflexively deploy in our everyday encounters.” This is mirrored in the platforms we use to glean information and share information. Facebook curates the posts that each person has access to in their feed based on a mathematical algorithm and documentation of each individual’s consumption, and the consumption of those one interacts with on that platform. This is a public corporation that calculates what you would most like to see. This may not seem like anything new, but to the extent that we use these platforms, in ways that are integrated into our daily routine, it has become very difficult to assume autonomy in access. The effects of this action seem to run counter to the ideal of the internet itself. “We shouldn’t seek to make the pack mentality as efficient as possible,” writes Jaron Lanier in regards to how technology changes people. “We should instead seek to inspire the phenomenon of individual intelligence.”4 Specifically to this point, who are we when we are pointed to a path and made to walk it with others? Our understanding of ourselves is already complicated, to be tweaked inadvertently by groups in power is dangerous. The effect is subliminal and should be treated as propaganda. We ignore it because it is mental, we do not have a tangible, physical effect to point to. This increases the danger of losing one’s individuality. We are now shifting our sense of identity to be the image we portray to the world, an image that in one way or another fits within the fold of these platforms we do not have control over. All of this leads to the very complicated questions - what does individuality mean when we curate our identities to please the internet? What does identity mean when it is qualified after said curation?
The second issue I would like to bring up is:
2. The pervasive consumption and addiction to content affecting how we perceive others.
Angus Harrison recently wrote a thoughtful warning about “lol-random culture” with the release of Snapchat’s new face swap features, which among the ill-advised Rastafarian blackface, can add numerous masks (Ape, Picasso painting, Liza Minelli’s makeup in Cabaret) and virtual decorations (batting cartoon eyelashes, face warps) to your still or video selfie. He argues that it is desensitizing us to the shocking and the surreal. “It’s another sign of how the sensory assault of the information age has blunted our capacity for shock” he claims.5 Coincidentally, Sherry Turkel makes a similar argument for different reasons. “Turkel even seeks to quantify the damage, repeatedly citing a study that shows a 40 percent decline in empathy among college students over the past twenty years as measured by standard psychological tests.” 6 She has observed that people who preferentially use digital platforms to communicate and consume do not actually speak to each other with regularity. ‘“Unrehearsed ‘real-time’ conversation is something that makes you ‘unecessarily’ vulnerable.”’7The current effectiveness of social media and digital platforms is guiding people into a pseudo-solitary zone where you are constantly alone but never actually alone. We are developing an unwillingness to communicate in person and are simultaneously unfazed by the boundlessness of virtual identity. It is a safe zone, so to speak.
Yet it isn’t safe. Expressing and communicating digitally can be wonderful, but the listlessness and sterility that arrives from life becoming more curated through scrutiny of perception is killing us culturally and spiritually. What happens when we are unable to discern that somebody is in pain, or we are unable to care? Will this chronic lack of empathy spiral into a societal inability to comprehend human suffering? If that happens, what will happen to us?
As these two particular issues deal with our relationship to the virtual, I propose that we attempt to revive our relationship with the physical world. Sherry Turkle writes in Objects Inspire, “Since the many aspects of the self are deeply enmeshed, relationships with objects have much to do with family, friendship, home, love and loss.” 8 It seems that objects that are meaningful have nostalgia or intimacy associated with them, and emotionally bind us in a relationship with them. Additionally, our current relationship with the objects that intersect with digital technology is that these objects are platforms that facilitate interaction with the ultimate product, the virtual world. What if, instead, we make the object the final destination? What if we investigated what made us emotionally invested in our preferred objects, and attempted to apply those aspects digitally? Let us make the very special experience 3 dimensional, tangible, and physical. Our association of specific meaning in certain objects comes down to the physical experience of the object, and how it inspires our senses. To be able to touch or hold something inspirational brings an additional understanding that may be lost behind a screen.
For example, what if you could send your heartbeat to another person? Not on your phone. What if there was an object that vibrated your live heartbeat as you were thinking of them? What would that mean to your girlfriend, or grandfather, or best friend? What if you took that same object and developed an accompanying app that allows the owner of the object to “tune-in” to his or her mother’s heartbeat, but also an Olympic Athlete running the 50yd dash, or Astronaut Scott Kelly’s pulse as he takes man’s first step on Mars? What would the impact of those moments be if we were able to experience them physically, in the palms of our hands? I wonder if an object like that would actually be meaningful to a younger generation, or if it would be yet another bit of disposable experience.
Anthony Dunne writes in his conclusion to Hertzian Tales, “Design is existential and cannot ignore its complicated relationship to people and their mental lives”.9 For a long time, we have focused on designing access to digital technology. We are at a critical point where we must reexamine what will happen if we do not redefine human behavior in regards to digital platforms. By bringing ourselves out of an overwhelming virtual world, and regaining human interaction and empathy in the physical, we have the potential to change our behavior and our habits, and live in a more thoughtful, observant, and unusual existence.
1 Weisberg, Jacob. "We Are Hopelessly Hooked." New York Review of Books 26 Feb.
2016. Www.nybooks.com. NYREV, Inc., 26 Feb. 2016. Web. 10 Feb. 2016. <http://www.nybooks.com/ articles/2016/02/25/we-are-hopelessly-hooked/>. Web.
2 Weisberg, Jacob. “We are Hopelessly Hooked” New York Review of Books 26 Feb. 2016.
3 Hunt, Jamers. “Nervous Systems and Anxious Infrastructures.” “Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects.” Paola Antonelli. New York, NY: Museum of Modern Art, 2011. Print.
4Lanier, Jaron. You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. Print. p.5
5Harrison, Angus. "Invasive Social Media Technology Is Everywhere and No One Seems to Care | VICE | United States." VICE. Vice Media, 21 Apr. 2016. Web. 22 Apr. 2016. Web.
6 Hunt, Jamers. “Nervous Systems and Anxious Infrastructures”.
7 Weisberg, Jacob. “We are Hopelessly Hooked” New York Review of Books 26 Feb. 2016.
8 Turkle, Sherry. “Objects Inspire.” The Object Reader. Fiona Candlin, Raiford Guins. London: Routledge, 2009. p. 297-304. Print.
9 Dunne, Anthony. Hertzian Tales: Electronic Products, Aesthetic Experience, and Critical Design. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2005. Print. p. 148