It’s a rainy Saturday afternoon here in Orlando, and I find myself out of Post-its. I’ve spent the last few days with a book and can’t seem to stop tabbing sentences that I know I’ll want to revisit. Within 24 hours, I’ve posted about it on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. I text a friend who does a lot of work in the social sciences, and I sent a photo of a passage to my partner because I couldn’t wait for her to get home to read it. The authors bring up so many relevant points, and I want to share them with, appropriately enough, everyone in my network.
The book is Rainie and Wellman’s Networked: The New Social Operating System, and networking about Networked makes me feel like I’m in some sort of meta-reality. I’m about 100 pages in, and I’m overwhelmed with the thoughtful use of social commentary and research. There’s so much in the text that I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to talk about, so I let the final green Post-it decide: Chapter 4, “The Mobile Revolution,” it is.
In this chapter, the authors discuss connected presence, absent presence, and present absence and the blurring of public and private spaces (pp. 101-105). A lot of points are made in these few pages, but the one that stood out to me was their reference to Keith Hampton’s sociological study that found that some people use their mobile devices as “visible barriers to interaction” while they are in public spaces. I’ve often thought about this because, well, I’m one of those people.
In general, I’m a smiley, warm person, so I tend to engage with a lot of people whenever I’m out in public. But like everyone else, there are times when I want to go to my favorite coffee shop, have my espresso and cupcake, and take in everything that’s going on around me, without actually having to talk to anyone. So I’ve started bringing my tablet with me, opening it to a PDF or spreadsheet, and positioning it in a way that it looks like it’s in my direct line of vision. Totally normal behavior, right?
The part that I find so fascinating about this quirk takes me back to that meta-reality I joked about earlier. It is as though we are aware of the absent presence and are using it to our advantage to avoid connected presence. I’m not actually absent. It’s quite the contrary; I’m very aware of the physical spaces and beings around me. But because we are so accustomed to people sectioning themselves off with technology, like the people in the park (figure 4.5 on page 106), we observe these unstated rules (most of the time) and avoid invading those manufactured private spaces. With our now ever-present devices, we’ve created social constructs that are based on shared assumptions, but not necessarily reality.
Hmm, I feel like I should quote Habermas here - or maybe The Matrix - red pill, anyone?
Who knew a chapter about mobile devices could spark so many thoughts? I think that’s why I’m so involved with this book right now. Technology is changing so much more than the way we work or connect – it’s changing the way we behave, and the authors are able to capture and present those behaviors in a powerfully eloquent way. I've put the book away for tonight, but I flipped ahead a few pages and can't wait to see where the next green Post-it will go.