Nicholas Givotovsky is one of those people who thinks in such rich, vivid and forward thinking terms that his intellect sometimes frightens you. I have been having conversations on and off with him for 6 months or more and even now I sometimes fear that I only fully grasp some of what he's saying (in a good way!).
That being said... he says it beautifully. So I am proud to include a guest post by him here today. If you feel you have something to say on this blog then please drop me a line.
From Nick (warning - unusually long and eloquent post ahead.)
Underlying almost everything related to digital media and everything to do with the present and future of our digitally enabled lives is one thing. Us. Whether we are called “users”, “consumers” “viewers” “engaged participants”, “stake holders” or “members”, it all comes back around to us, we who are increasingly both the subject and object of the overall digital media enterprise.
So, as we are playing roles as both consumers and producers of the digital experience in its ever shifting forms, we might consider not only the return on investment, the creative rewards, the competitive advantage, and the professional stature that our digital “children” may reap for us. We might also consider how the media and technology that we shape, shapes others, and in turn, shapes our society as a whole.
Walking in New York City the other day after being stood up for a meeting I’d traveled a hundred miles to attend, I noticed an incredible number of people who really weren’t all there. They were somewhere else – on their phones, into their music, plugged in and dropped out of the world immediately surrounding them in favor of some mediated other place of their own selection. By “engaging” in virtual environments, we abandon at least in part our physical selves in favor of virtual presences that extend our abstract experiences at the cost of our direct participation in the physical world.
Could this have a moral, as well as a commercial consequence? Does our digitally connected self carry from the physical world into the digital the human instinct for cross-boundary empathetic connection, or do we leave in the realm of atoms the part of ourselves that connects to others independent of our self-interested or self-centered criteria? Do our digital tools make us more or less human, or both?
We might ask ourselves, is it always okay to turn off the outside world, even if diminishing it in the process? When I see someone marching down the street elbow cocked outward in self-salute, fully “engaged” in the very audible half of a dialog in which no one but he could have any interest whatsoever, and to which none but he is invited though all in earshot are obligated to attend and I think, is this a digital liberty worth defending?
Surprisingly I think in fact it is. For all the undesired outcomes we can name, the digital revolution is reweaving the social fabric, and if some threads are dropped in the process, we can’t be too surprised, though we might do well to take more care on the “local” costs of our “remote” presence. Just as technologies can have a dehumanizing and alienating potential, so also do they have the potential to rehumanize us, by putting us into contact and dialog with others beyond our immediate circle, by connecting us to knowledge and community beyond our doorstep, and equipping us to empower ourselves and others in thousands of new ways. They are the reality-changing reality of our modern world, but they only take us so far.
While it is the technology that provides the context, it does not create the content or the consequence of the experiences it enables. Ultimately, it is we who do or don’t do the connecting and the empowering, and when we are so engrossed in our mediated, filtered environments that we become so disengaged from others that we will shout over them, walk into them and look at, without seeing them, we become something both more and less than human. So no matter what you are doing “out there”, please hang up the phone, turn off the tunes, and check back in with the rest of us from time to time, good people. There is a here, here, and you are invited, though of course not obligated to attend and help attend to it.
In closing here is modest principle to observe in the creation and use of digital experiences, that of coexistence. We should design and use systems and services in such a way that we ourselves would not object to being in the presence of our creations while engaged in another at least potentially equally engrossing and important activity right nearby, one which requires our full attention and also has outcomes that matter.
And a final note (to the person who missed our meeting because, because, although we were verbally confirmed, the electronic invite he’d subsequently sent hadn’t made it into his electronic calendar); thank you for bringing me down to street level in New York where I learned (again) that real flesh and blood human commitment should trump mediated digital connections, each and every time.