Misery and delight of a virtual room of our own

A few months ago I wrote about the distinction between vision and reality of online socialization that Russell Beale made in his talk at CHI2006.

The Vision was about what’s good about the digital connected world: plenty of free information and the ability to connect with many individuals in real time. The Reality was about what’s not so good about technology: isolation, bias, and self-centeredness. “Information is selected and filtered out based on preference: we cut out what we don’t like or don’t agree with. Technology enables an ignorance society. Even when we are physically present, we are socially absent.”

Second LifeA recent post by David Wong on Pointless waste (via Karl Martino) lists seven reasons why living in this wonderful networked world makes us feel miserable. David Wong describes how technology allows us to lock ourself in our own little cozy world and progressively lose the ability to deal with the annoyances and roughness of the real world. The real worlds is not as pleasant and comfortable as our virtual worlds (Second Life, anyone?) but it’s, indeed, real.

A couple of quotes from David Wong’s 7 reasons:

Reason #1. Not enough annoying strangers in our lives – (…) As long as you have needs, you’ll have to deal with people you can’t stand from time to time. But that skill, the one that lets us deal with strangers and tolerate their shrill voices and clunky senses of humor and body odor and squeaky shoes, is being burned right out of us. Our Annoyance Immune System is being weakened. So what encounters you do have with the outside world, the world you can’t control, make you want to go on a screaming crotch-punching spree.

Reason #5. We’re not criticized enough – (…) And as much as we hate to admit it, most of what we know about ourselves we’ve learned from other people. I only know that I’m overweight because I’ve observed other people who were thinner. I only know that it’s irritating when I celebrate things by making a “Cha-CHING!” sound because I see the looks on their face when I do it. And the really big mistakes in my life, I’ve only avoided them because other, honest people sat me down and told me.

Tragically, now, there are a whole lot of people who never have those conversations. The interventions, the brutal honesty, the, “you know, everybody’s pissed off because of what you said to Trevor last night but nobody wants to say anything because they’re afraid of you,” sort of conversations. Those horrible, awkward, wrenchingly uncomfortable sessions that you can only have with someone who sees right to the center of you.

Pema ChodronDavid Wong’s post reminded me of something tibetan buddhist nun Pema Chodron wrote about the apparently harmless desire of creating “a room just for you” in Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living.

Ego is like a room of your own, a room with a view, with the temperature and the smells and the music that you like. You want it your way. You’d like to have a little peace: you’d lie to have a little happiness, you know, just “gimme a break!”

But the more you think that way, the more you try to get life to come out so that it will always suit you, the more your fear of other people and what’s outside your room grows. Rather than becoming more relaxed, you start pulling down the shades and locking the door. You become touchier, more fearful, more irritable than ever. The more you just try to get it your way, the less you feel at home.

The more you just try to get it your way, the less you feel at home. Mmmhhh. I have the suspicion that the trend towards creating ego-rooms of our own is much older than the Internet and virtual social systems. Perhaps with the Internet it just got easier and more entertaining to lock ourself in a cozy custom environment.

Time to go out and play with the other kids. Especially the annoying ones.

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