Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Head Down: Alone together

I've started conversing with strangers in elevators.

After reading Sherry Turkle's Alone Together: Why we expect more from our technology and less from each other, I've become uncomfortable when I find myself with three or four others, head down, peering at my phone in an elevator. Or walking past someone in the hall, head down, both of us making our way slowly by sheer dint of peripheral vision.  

Before reading Turkle (and really, up until the epilogue of her book), I was dismissive of any critique of the head down. Our phones connect us in rich, genuine ways, with those we care about. They also forge new relationships with those we might not meet otherwise. Best of all, phones enable us to transcend the fickle bondage of location and even time to interact with those who otherwise just aren't here. Most of Turkle's book fell flat as she, like so many other critics, brushed these attributes aside, and instead embraced the tired bromides about why I don't "just call" my "real" friends.  

Now, I've admitted to myself that I just feel uncomfortable when head down. When I see the head down, I react similarly to when I see teenagers all conforming to the same fashion trend, clearly more interested in fitting in than being themselves.

And this, according to thinkers from Ken Wilber to Clay Shirky and, most recently, Michael Chorost*, is the real issue. Connectedness is fitting in, at the opposite end of a spectrum from disconnection, which is standing out. Our lives are somewhere in between, and our personalities place us closer to one pole or the other. Neither pole is right or wrong, and where you are depends on your comfort.

I like to stand out, but that's just me. I try not to give other people a hard time for when and where and how often they prefer to fit in (so long as they stop meandering down the hallway), and I certainly won't castigate our new way of life as somehow a degradation of a better time. 

Maybe the other stand out people are just upset because they're losing what used to be a captive audience?

*Chorost's new book World Wide Mind is really a great piece of writing, as well as eye-opening. 


Drv said...

While I disagree with Turkle on many fronts I find her voice important. We're experiencing a frame shift in the definition of human connectedness. We would never realize this without her insight.

I'm reading The Inner History of Devices. Evocative Objects was interesting.

astupple said...

Yes, I disagreed with Turkle almost the whole way, and didn't find her logic compelling until the end.

Evocative Objects looks great (I'm getting into the extended mind hypothesis a good bit.)

PS- I haven't forgotten about The Most Human Human