Living in the “Physical Real”… Or not

Response to Turkle’s Alone Together, Chapters 8-10:

Of all the reading I am doing for my graduate studies, and trust me, that’s a lot of reading, Alone Together is the most interesting and engaging. Turkle uses anecdotes of individuals she interviewed in order to illustrate particular concepts about new media and culture. For me, what makes this book fantastic, and thusly, helpful on my journey to learn new media, is that I can put myself in the shoes of those described in the book. I understand what they are going through and I get why they do what they do.

One particular story stood out to me. In chapter 8, Turkle designates a segment called, “The New State of Self: From Life to Life Mix.”

It is not uncommon for people who spend a lot of time on Second Life and role-playing games to say that their online identities make them feel more like themselves than they do in the physical real. This is play certainly, but it is serious play.

Turkle describes Pete a man who has a wife and children in the “physical real” and another wife in the game Second Life. Yep, you read it correctly… Two. Wives. Pete calls it his “life mix.” The idea that he can have multiple lives, a new one in every internet realm, gives him an opportunity to make his physical real self better because he can construct it from pieces of his other selves. Turkle says,

We have gone from multitasking to multi-lifing.

His story is fascinating and although I think it’s very very wrong, I totally understand. The Internet provides this whole realm where you can be whomever you want. You can experience a completely different set of environments because through the Internet you are someone else. Someone who is not beautiful, can be. Those who lack courage, are emboldened.

Later, Chapter 9, Turkle addresses what she calls, “presentation anxiety.” She talks to high school and college students who antagonize over what information should and should not become part of the online image. Every social media network requires us to create a profile. These profiles need to be constantly updated and for some this is a strenuous exercise. It reminded me of a meme I came across on Facebook a while ago (shown below).

Why are we so concerned with our online "image?" Why do we worry about how it compares to others?

Why are we so concerned with our online “image?” Why do we worry about how it compares to others?

The quote above is a great summation. Online profiles are highlight reels. We only include the most flattering pictures, the most exciting vacations, the most dynamic tidbits of our lives. Every element is hand picked by us in order to present our best selves. For some reason, we don’t take those same factors into account when we view the profiles of others. To us, those people are that interesting naturally. We can’t imagine [insert perfect person you know, love, but secretly envy] taking 50 pictures and only using 1 the way we do. But the truth is that’s exactly what [insert same person from above] does.

To be yourself to great but to be someone else is altoegther greater.

The Key to this is Awareness

Last week, my best friend and I attempted to have a conversation via text, nothing serious just some gossip about a mutual acquaintance being pregnant, and I was having a complete slow moment; my brain just was not comprehending what she was typing. Finally, she just gave up and called me. We ended up talking for at least an hour and it was enjoyable but I kept trying to check Facebook, Twitter, and email while she was talking to me.

I had to tell myself to stop it, just be in this moment, this phone conversation, and be ok with it.

On this journey with new media, I’m becoming much more aware of my use of computers and the Internet. Author, Howard Rhiengold asks his readers to do the same thing the excerpt my class is reading this week from his book, Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. We are not as good at dividing our attention as we think. In our attempt to remain connected to everyone, the whole world, we are starting to lose a grip on those closest to us. I noticed the same thing happening to me. My relationships with those I cannot text or Facebook, mainly my older relatives, falter greatly. Rhiengold also talks about his students using devices in class and how it bothers him; he knows he doesn’t have their full attention. It reminded me that I used my computer and phone during class. There are only six of us in there!

Where do I get the gall to just go off somewhere on my phone or computer in the middle of a class?

Finishing up Turkle’s Alone Together made me think about how I could be more healthy about my use of media in my life. She tells the story of a young man named Brenden who does not like to text because it cannot relay all the nuances of face- to-face communication. His need for face-to-face communication bothers his friends and girlfriend. But why do the people that claim to love him not want to talk to him? Why are they so picky about format? I thought that was unfair of them. After noticing these events I’ve decided that more telephone calls are in my future, less text messages. More house calls, less Facebook messages.

Even if I’m not totally unsuccessful, more “physical real” is good for me. If nothing else it will make me more aware of what is happening around me. I won’t misunderstand my friends text. I won’t space out during lunch with a friend. I will hear the entirety of my professor’s lecture.

This week I am determined to live in the physical real. No compromises.