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Media or misanthropy?

In thinking about the readings this week, only one strong theme emerged for me and it’s a personal one. Perhaps others can relate to this subject however and so I will share it here: I don’t think I can deal with an “interactive ethos (1)?! Being connected, online and in-touch 24-7 with multiple networks of people is overwhelming—isn’t it? Or has privacy and solitude become a form of misanthropy?

Until enrolling in this class, I have proudly lived the lifestyle of a Luddite: I have no computer, no iPod, no iPhone, no Internet. I don’t even have cable TV. I got my first cell phone last Saturday but only because it was free. I used it once then forgot all about it. Clearly, I am going to have to create a demand for it in my life because I don’t think I really need it. Isn’t that sort of ironic?

I haven’t taken to information technology because I’m used to being annoyed by it. During the work day, I have to be on at least 4 channels simultaneously all day: email, voicemail, Basecamp and UMCal. I can never focus on just one thing at a time and I’m expected to respond to everything faster and faster. The pace at which I work literally makes me dizzy sometimes. By the end of the workday, I just want silence. No more communication!

On the other hand, cell phones and iPods make me feel left out. My last boyfriend spent more time talking on his cell phone than talking with me. My nieces and nephews rarely communicate face to face anymore. At family gatherings, they pile onto the couch with their iPods and cell phones, each connected but neither to each other nor me. My best friend always abandons me at parties for his cell phone. And my mom insists on calling me from her car then accusing me of hanging up on her when the connection fails.

I still don’t own a computer and in many ways, I don’t want one. By the time I’ve stared at a computer screen for eight or more hours on my job, I really don’t want to stare at one at home. If I had my own computer, I’m afraid I’d take freelance jobs and never stop working. My social skills would atrophy…

Last night however, I realized my Luddite days are ending. I stayed at work late to set up accounts on Facebook and Twitter. I linked Twitter to Facebook. I sent tweets to my colleagues. I checked out 43 Things. When I got home, I plugged in my cell phone to charge it.

Outside, the wind was howling and my house was freezing. I piled on the blankets but I still felt cold—and more importantly, alone. I wanted someone or something to keep a light on for me through the night. I grabbed my borrowed laptop, turned it on, found a wireless connection and logged onto the Internet. I left the screen glowing all night because it felt like something living watching over me. By morning, my niece had discovered me on Facebook and now I have a window on her life that I probably wouldn't otherwise have.

The trend of social networking makes me feel both isolated and eager to join. I feel isolated because I’ve stayed outside the fascinating communities forming online. So I can't wait to join networks that will extend far beyond what I can reach in the physical world. What I find most compelling about social networking however, is the potential for making positive social and political change. Chapter 7 of Wikinomics opened my eyes to the innovative and effective ways citizens, nonprofit and governmental organizations are utilizing Web 2.0 applications to address significant problems. I want to be part of that revolution.

Adopting a more interactive lifestyle is not going to be easy for me. Unlike, Zelenka who implies that more ways to multitask are better (2), I need the option to focus exclusive attention on at least a few important things: reading, writing or really listening to someone. And I need the option to not focus on anything to restore my mental energy. The challenge for me will be finding ways to protect a sanctuary of silence without falling off the social web.
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1. Tapscott and Williams. Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. Portfolio Hardcover, 2006. Pg. 36.
2. Zelenka and Sohn. Connect!: Web Worker Daily’s Guide to a New Way of Working. Wiley, 2008. Pg. 145.

Comments

Sara, I think this is an astute post. I'm a long-time internet addict, but I have moments where the internet makes me feel exposed and overwhelmed. Sometimes I don't like the fact that with a simple search, people I haven't spoken to in years can find out everything about me. Sometimes the sheer output of information and chatter - whether through the internet or phone or TV - makes me feel nearly insane. I, too, want to find a balance between the silence, as you call it and technology.

I'm glad to see I'm not the only one ambivalent about all this technology. I also use a computer all day at work, so I rarely go on the internet in the evening. In fact, from the time last semester ended to the beginning of this one, I don't think I went online to do anything other than pay bills.

Luckily for me, most of my friends and family aren't into gadgets either, so we communicate in person or on the phone--usually kind of long conversations. Maybe that's why I don't feel a need to meet people online or join a group. I better explore this more in my own post for this week.

All I can say is take up gaming. Especially with the massive multiplayer online (MMO) games, you get your tech, social and recreational values all in one. It also teaches you alot about how technology works (or, in many cases, doesn't). I think the game "second life" was mentioned in the book at some point. It is a free to play, open source game with a decent social aspect. Thats just one suggestion for someone starting out with technology. Once you are comfortable with how the software works, you can move into modification of the software (via many tutorials online) and learn even more about how the machine works. Many times it is more fun to make something for others to play with then to actually play it yourself. Anyway, thats just one of many suggestions.

Sara, I couldn't agree more with your post. Up until a year ago I didn't even have a computer in my home. I spend most of my day on the computer at work and did not want to be burdened by it in the evening. I am slowly becoming familiar with this interactive lifestyle, however I want to do it with balance.

Hi Sara, first of all, I wanted to say wow, your post was amazing. I read it with interest from the beginning to the end. I applaud you for your honesty.

I think the number 1 thing for everyone to understand is that each person is different. Technologically speaking, each person adopts technology in his/her life differently. Some jump instantly at new forms of technology; some adopt new technology when the majority have; and some take longer. Everyone is different, and that's totally okay. There was an earlier post (from last week) that mentioned the diversity of the class, and people commented how that diversity will help in this class. We all have different levels of computer experience, web experience, social network site experience. Our diversity of experience level will allow us to help each other out.

I totally understand you when you wrote, "On the other hand, cell phones and iPods make me feel left out. My last boyfriend spent more time talking on his cell phone than talking with me. My nieces and nephews rarely communicate face to face anymore. At family gatherings, they pile onto the couch with their iPods and cell phones, each connected but neither to each other nor me. My best friend always abandons me at parties for his cell phone. And my mom insists on calling me from her car then accusing me of hanging up on her when the connection fails." In a class I took last semester, we talked about this: People talking face-to-face less because of emerging technologies. Someone even mentioned that she was at a high school football game, and these girls who were sitting in front of her were all texting each other (even though they were sitting next to each other). Technology has definitely changed the way we interact.

Reading how people talk on their cell phones rather than the person they're presently with--I've had that happen to me. I have a friend who talks on her cell phone during dinner at a restaurant. Once she left our table to talk with another friend and left me there alone for like 15-20 minutes, which seemed longer . . . and guess what? She was talking to her friend about a girlfriend of one of her friend's friend, which was totally not important. I try to tell myself, that's the way things are...it is what it is. However, sometimes I feel like it is just plain rude. I want to say, "Get some etiquette, will ya?" . . . And she may wonder why I hardly ever go to dinner with her. Anwyays, I don't want to digress. I totally understand how you feel.

It gives me hope when I read what you wrote: "The trend of social networking makes me feel both isolated and eager to join." It gives me hope because you included "eagar". I hope that as time passes, the isolation turns into more eagarness. Just think of when your niece had discovered you on Facebook. Reading "now I have a window on her life that I probably wouldn't otherwise have" really touched me. I think that's amazing how that happens with facebook . . . how it connects people. I wish you all the best!