Are you :) ?

Are you  :) ?

Or

Are you happy?

It might seem like a semantic or perhaps a design pictogram question.

But maybe not.

Sherry Turkle is an MIT professor who in 1995 wrote a book called “Life on the Screen(Amazon link) where she posited her view of the constructive aspects of people’s ability to experiment with their personalities on the Web. A good summation of her view would be the now famous line “on the Internet no one knows you are a dog” – meaning that you are free to be whomever you would like – whenever you would like. It was an opportunity for free expression and personal development and the future looked boundless.

Some 16 years or so later she has written a second book “Alone Together,” (Amazon link) and to say she has changed her tune is an understatement. Not that anyone can know you are a dog – that is still true – it’s that she now sees the Web as a limiting factor in human development – and a serious one at that.

Turkle feels that Facebook has ringed us in and that we have been reduced to banalities as technology binds us to devices on one hand and limits our ability to be expressive on the other, while allowing us to be virtually present and open even when in reality we are not available and have no desire to communicate.

Her new thesis simply put is “We expect more from technology and less from each other.”

FULL STOP – What do you think?

Here is my view.

I was worried, personally, all those years ago, by the dog scenario as I saw it as a way to evade and avoid accountability – in my opinion a surefire and direct road to social alienation. In other words, I disagreed with her original contention – in fact I’d argue that is what has desensitized so much of the world today.

On the other hand I cannot agree, wholeheartedly, with her new observations because I believe that with all the lack of accountability, with all of the alienation, with all of the stupidity and triteness that sadly overwhelms the digital channels today, there is much to be thankful for and much that allows us to connect and communicate with true feeling and depth of meaning using the technology to our benefit and not being controlled by it.

I use various forms of IM to “reach out and touch…” family and friends when I have the urge. I use my Windows 7 Phone group text app to let my family know that I’m thinking of them when I’m on the road. I still call – will always call – when I have critical information to impart or want to get a sense of someone else’s emotions or attitudes. E-mail is efficient – but for personal contact, cc lists are obnoxious (Facebook agrees) and bcc’s don’t deserve mention in polite company. And on and on…

All in all I see technology as a powerful enhancer/catalyst/enabler for human contact the same way the invention of speech and writing was in the dawn of our existence.

It’s what you do with technology that counts – it’s only the vehicle – you need to drive it.

Which brings me to the following notion – listen:

“The medium isn’t the message…the message is the message.”

Andrew Bosworth, Director of Engineering, Facebook

Imagine! From Facebook yet! So Sherry Turkle – there is hope – and as always it rests with us…

Now – here is how you can experiment yourselves – the NY Office of Wunderman has been exploring these very themes — in fact, exploring them with Facebook. There is a very strong belief in the market that while we all have many “friends” (a new norm), we really retain and nurture a small group of our real friends – the ones who pick you up at the airport, bail us out of jail, pull that last drink out of our hands – you get the picture.

So if the new norm is hundreds of friends, the real truth is about 6.5 on average – just look at any Facebook page and see how many people actually participate in your conversations and who they are vs. how many posts there are.

All leading to the notion that we still – despite Professor Turkle – value our prime, deep relationships and if anything all of our technology can help make them better, closer, more meaningful.

Try it yourself – and report back!

I for one am very optimistic – in fact, I just texted my wife that I miss her…

What’s your view??

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