Archive for April, 2009

Today I don’t understand my digital life

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Stop the digital world I think I wanna get off ...

Why am I posting this? What's it all about? Facebook? Twitter? Second Life? Blogging? Very suddenly today I just don't get it anymore...

I'm writing as always sitting in my office. I   have a dozen applications open, some work, some not, some social, some not.   I'm reading tweets, updating my Facebook status so my old school friends can know what I'm thinking this second, checking my MSN contact list to see what Mom is doing and what my kids are listening to, checking my email which is nearly always stuff I either delete straightaway or mark as spam, whilst a virtual avatar of me sits in my virtual second life office next to a virtual cat. And all of a sudden I just DON'T GET IT anymore. 

I've been online for more years than most and working and teaching online since the mid nineties.  It used to make sense. I used to write things that helped people or inspired them. I used to teach people from around the world and feel utterly amazed by the medium that lets me do that.  I used to feel like I was talking to people. They would send emails or write posts or ask questions.   They were people.

Maybe it's the sheer numbers of people that one is exposed to in any given day which is too much.  Maybe the signal to noise ratio was lower.  That's assuming what I am putting out is signal and everyone else's is noise, which, while horribly biased, is everyone's own natural viewpoint.   And maybe that is the crux of the problem. Everyone feels pressured to share their status, tell the world what they're thinking or working on, divulge their fears and post their photos from Saturday night.  But is there really anything to SAY? Do the thousands of people currently twittering about swine flu really have anything useful to say about it?   (Why am I even reading it??)   But then what makes the words of a financial analyst any more reliable about the future of the economy or a particular company?   WHO do you listen to?   And what makes me think I have anything to write anymore?   Or you?

Part of the problem is the firehose mentality of Twitter, which is the hot thing at the moment.  Whilst it can be enormously useful for getting real time reports of things that are happening, the signal to noise ratio is too low and you get the unwanted irrelevant thoughts of so many people direct into your brain.  With Facebook you're looking at the profiles and statuses of select people, even if they're people from your school days who otherwise don't feature in your daily life.   The purpose of Second Life is something which I am used to waning in and out. Sometimes it makes perfect sense to spend money on digital clothing to go virtual clubbing because I'm spending real time with real friends listening to real live musicians - even if me, the friends and the musicians are all sitting alone in our respective homes.   At the very least real communication is going on.   But then there are other times when I don't get it at all.  Logging in seems to be just about your av standing around on a sim surrounded by other avs standing around.   Why are they there? What are they waiting for?  Are they talking to their friends? Or are they wondering the same thing about me?

Maybe this is what burn out is, I don't know.  It used to be called information overload back in the day and it's something that we feared - our brains breaking down from just too much coming at us.   Most of us evolved and the issue went away. We learned to multi-task better, to compartmentalize, to put things on the back-burner so that email and spam didn't dictate your time, so you could cogitate on one thing that's open in the background somewhere, whilst doing a foreground hands-on task. That way not a second is wasted and you can still keep your finger on the pulse.  But were we just delaying the problem, staving it off for another day?  I can't remember the last time I did just ONE thing at a time.   Maybe it's time to take my finger off the pulse for a little while?

But am I still me if I shut down and switch off?  Most of the time even if we step away from the keyboard our digital lives continue without us.  People comment on your posts, like or dislike your statuses, tag their photos of you, send you email and offline messages, Google you, schedule you for meetings.   Someone's av is talking to my av in Second Life right now even though while I'm not strictly afk my attention is afsl.   We take our phones and Blackberries with us so we can still text and be texted, tweet, send in our statuses on pretty much any application you can think of.   So how do you really ever get away from it?  

If I ignore an email from a friend am I snubbing them? If I don't log into a forum am I breaking all ties with that community?  And what about friend requests?   If I turn down a friend request because I don't want to share my digital world with that person doesn't it translate into the real world as meaning I don't like you and I don't want to be your friend anymore?  The etiquette, the social rules, the empathy, just hasn't evolved yet to deal with this intermingling of our real and digital lives.  There is no pause button on real life so likewise there is no pause on digital life.

So while I can say that suddenly I just don't get my digital life because the digital world is so intertwined with the real world isn't what I'm really saying is that suddenly I don't understand life?