augmented Life

The Augmented Life

As long as I’m stealing being inspired by my friend J.P., I’m going to finally start a series of posts addressing this term he put to me well over a year ago. We were walking down the streets of Toronto, discussing some of the various technologies we both enjoy, and I commented on how it’s often felt by people to “take away” from reality when they get texts, or emails, or tweets (though twitter wasn’t as big a deal back then).

“I don’t think of it as taking away,” he said, pausing for a moment. “I think of it as allowing me to be…more.”

More what? More present in more places with more people more of the time, basically. That’s what we have available to us with technology, and that’s what I want to talk about in the next few posts (some on life, some on love, and probably a few on practices after we tackle the first two).

First let’s agree on some points:

It’s All Real

Scenario: You’re in a coffee shop. You’re chatting online with a good friend, having a very fun and lively discussion. Suddenly another friend – in fact, strangely enough (since I’m making up the scenario) they are exactly as close to you as the friend online. They obviously want to sit and chat with you. Do you:

  1. Say “Oh, sure, I was just chatting, have a seat!” and close the online chat?
  2. Say “Oh, I can’t talk right now, I’m chatting with my other friend online. Later!”?
  3. Say “Cool, you’re here too! Look, I’m chatting with my other friend – want to join us?”

I’m not going to give you the answer – because I’m not sure there is one. I know that regardless of the answer, I can come up with a devil’s-advocate point of view that will make it the wrong one. Because the fact is, regardless of the physical presence, there are three actual humans with feelings, needs, likes, and interactions in that scenario. They’re all real.

Scientists have shown (research citations coming up) that the endorphin jolt we get when we get a text message from that special someone, or that email from the job search, or even just see a thumbs-up on a video, is just as strong as when a friend grabs us by the arm and says “Guess what? I’ve got great news!” That’s part of the problem, in fact – it’s a little too easy to get those jolts all day long just by looking at our “feeds” (now, there’s an unpleasantly named metaphor).

Are You More Real?

Is a text-message breakup really the lowest form of cowardice? Are relationships that form in online chat rooms any less real than those that form during church socials? How does your status message shape the way people see you? You may be surprised, especially at that last one. According to Jeff Hancock, who researches lying, if your facebook profile was viewed by both close friends and complete strangers, both groups would have about the same view of your personality. That’s good, right?

My response is to say: does that mean that your profile gives an accurate view of who you are? Or do your friends possibly not know you as well as you or they think?

Here are the main ways I have technologically augmented interactions:

  • Email
  • Twitter
  • Tumblr
  • Text message
  • Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networking “profile” sites (including a few like LiveJournal I no longer use)
  • iPad
  • Kindle
  • Goodreads
  • Google + (still haven’t figured it out, but I’m sure it’s good for something)
  • Webinars
  • Skype
  • Podcasting
  • This blog
  • My journal
  • Public speaking
That’s a pretty broad presence, really. Each of these is another mirror that I am reflected in, to one extent or another. Sometimes visually in two dimensions, sometimes through a medium such as words. I know of at least one person who takes these blogs and reads and records them aloud – how do I look when filtered through her voice? Are my tweets any difference when retweeted by someone I am close to as opposed to someone who I’ve never met?

One way or another, we are all affected by the augmented experience. Even the most luddite brick-phone using person is surrounded by other people who do engage online, so it’s important to try and understand the ways this technology changes the ways we interact.

More importantly, from my point of view, it’s important to notice how it hasn’t changed the way we interact, even when we think it has.

Love, Life, Practice on the Road!

That’s why I’m pleased to announce that my proposed topic on the subject has been accepted by the upcoming CatalystCon!

CatalystCon East '13Passion 24/7: Love & Apathy in an Always-On World

Twitter proposals, facebook breakups, email erotica and instant-message affairs: the same old forms of love are finding new expression in our “always on” world. This session will explore some of the ways that these connective technologies affect our relationships for the better and for the worse. Attendees will find themselves thrust into simulated relationship dramas as Gray facilitates improvisational exercises that explore the ramifications of social theory applied in real-time. How can we use this technology to be ourselves and love more authentically without, as Dr. Turkle puts it, “substituting connection for real conversations?  Whether participating in the “social experiments” or simply observing, you will come out of this session with a feast for thought about love and communication in our world.

Can’t make it? Don’t worry, you get a much better view from here, as we go looking at the Augmented Life together.

For starters, I invite you to think about the different technological ways you express yourself. By “technology” I am including everything beyond physical noise and expression. Language is a technology; so is a paintbrush, or a potter’s wheel, or a dance studio.

Put it that way, suddenly we’re all pretty mediated individuals, aren’t we? Don’t let it worry you; we always have been. We just haven’t always considered how, and that can prevent us from choosing consciously how we are going to shape and be shaped by these mirrors around us.

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