Three Takes on the Connected, Documented Life

Three items today for your consideration.

Sherry Turkle on “The Documented Life.”

Apple’s “Misunderstood” holiday ad:

Nathan Jurgenson’s “The Disconnectionists.”

No further comment on my part … for now. If you do happen to peruse these three items, I’d be curious to hear about your response.

11 thoughts on “Three Takes on the Connected, Documented Life

  1. Great post with lots of food for thought. I’m more in Turkle’s camp but Jurgenson raises some very valid points–and they are coming at the issue from different angles as well. I want to think more about Jurgenson’s discussion of identity. He seems to focus on the creation of an identity that is wrapped up on a virtual existence. I think another component might be loss of self (or identity) because of enslavement to devices. E.g, I’m really enjoying talking to you but my phone just beeped and I have to deal with it. You end up outsourcing control of your time (and life) to the latest cat picture tweet.

    With respect to the Apple ad, I’m sure it is generating all sorts effusive warmth but it’s appeal lies in the twist. Everyone’s seen a kid like that and 99% of the time he’d be playing Angry Birds and wishing the world wouldn’t bother him.

    By putting these three items together in a post you point out the possibility of an interesting and perhaps disturbing divide being created in society–those who are enthralled that they can see a movie clip of their celebration vs. those who would prefer to live in the moment and enjoy the full participation of everyone in making the event special.

  2. Thanks very much for linking to the Jurgenson article; that’s probably the best examination of digital identity I’ve read in a very long time.

    I agree with the above commenter, T E Stazyk, about the Apple ad. They’re a devilishly clever company, and have exploited many parents’ fears that their kids aren’t “connecting” with the real world because they are always on their phones/ipads/computers. Here they take what is a legitimate concern and drench it in nostalgia, holiday cheer, and “everyman” filmography so that it’s not only appealing, but a compelling plug for how their products can “enhance” the everyday by allowing simultaneous participation and documentation. (Though was the kid really participating?)

    I’m not sure Jurgenson and Turkle disagree quite as much as one might think. As Turkle correctly points out, “Technology doesn’t just do things for us. It does things to us, changing not just what we do but who we are.” Part of that change, as Jurgenson argues, is our shifting definition of identity and reality. And of course, Jurgenson cites Foucault. Foucault really did have something to say about everything, didn’t he?

    One of my favorite quotes: “Remembering Michel Foucault’s point that diagnosing what is ill is always equally about enforcing what is healthy, we might ask what new flavor of normal is being constructed by designating certain kinds of digital connection as a sickness.”

    Thanks for sharing this thought-provoking trio.

  3. Provocative material on the moral questions of smart-phone use.

    I mostly agree with Turkle’s piece, and appreciate seeing the changes brought about by usage of digital devices highlighted. I think her call to “reclaim our composure” is reasonable.

    Regarding Jurgenson’s piece, the quote of literaryvittles was one of the parts that most annoyed me, as snappy as it may sound. It (and other parts of his article (such as where he says that ‘digital austerity is a policeman in your head’) suggest that the “disconnectionists” are a powerful (and authoritarian) group imposing their will on the rest of society. It seems to me that those arguing to completely give up smart-phones are much more a minority voice these days.

    Jurgenson wants to say that internet connected devices and their screens are a part of our lives, and we should accept this and move on to debate “the larger moral quandaries of what one is doing with the screen.” I would respect this more if I didn’t see an attempt to paint all those who question this agenda of moving on as acting in bad faith.

    I agree with the other commenters about the trickiness of the Apple ad (but its advertising- its meant to be tricky and manipulative!)

  4. Jurgenson is of course right to see a certain utopian hope in the unplugging movement, which sees face-to-face interaction as a deeper, more intimate form of communication and technology as a barrier to that. But he ignores another utopia, the belief communication technologies will transcend all barriers and bring together humanity in a magic boundary-less world of freedom and transparent, friction-free interaction. Unsurprisingly, we hear echoes of this second utopia in his belief that disconnectors are “stifling the desire for autonomy” enabled by technology.

  5. I found it remarkable that Turkle notes younger kids wanting real conversation around the table, and not the other way around. (At least that’s what I remember last time I read it, I’ve reached my limit on free NY Times articles for the month.) Anyway, it breaks the preconceptions we normally have in terms of generational tech and media usage.

    Loved “The Disconnectionists.” Though it did remind of the “I forgot My Phone” video. That’s one piece of media I didn’t want to be reminded of. Ugh.

  6. Thanks for the great comments, everyone. I’ve not had a chance to write up my own response, but when/if I do, I’ll have some of your responses in mind. In the mean time, here is a link to Alan Jacobs’ response to the Jurgenson piece. It emphasizes one of the more obvious problems that I was planning to address, the fact that there are certain situations in which you would be more healthy if you disconnected. Take a look:

    1. Jacobs makes some good points about how Jurgenson seems to want to remove important concepts from the discussion (‘health’ in this case). He writes:

      “Note that every significant term here is placed either in literal or implicit scare quotes: normal, healthy, truth, authenticity. Not all of these terms are obviously useless, and I’d particularly like to make a case for the value — even the necessity — of thinking about our leisure-time decisions in terms of what conduces to our health. ”

      I saw the same impulse at play in Jurgenson’s responses to the series of posts on media refusal by Laura Portwood Stacer (she analyzed the usage of the ideas of addiction, aesthetics and ascetisism to justify different types of media refusal). If one doesn’t find a certain idea helpful, then I think its better just not to use it, rather than to criticize others for using this concept. For example, I don’t find the idea of ‘digital dualism’ to be that compelling or useful in thinking through my own use of digital media (or my judgments of other peoples’ use). So to follow my own ethics, I should just not use this term much, rather than going out of my way to criticize other people’s usage. It’s far too easy to misunderstand and ignore other people’s experience and perspective by simply saying they are using a concept or term that you dislike for some reason or other.

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