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It's ok to switch off the social web..

Social web, iPhone 4, technology, privacy

Is it just me or does anyone else find it a little odd that Jenna Wortham felt the need to write this NY Times article: Feel Like A Wallflower? Maybe It's Your Facebook Wall? Wortham writes of a problem that certainly appears to have a solution: she complains of her iPhone flashing notifications from friends while she's trying to watch a movie; she also complains their Tweets and IMs disconcert her, and leave her feeling as if she's missing out on something cooler than staying home and watching a movie. Reading the article I sense her desperation..

Yet it's hard to blame the device, in this case the iPhone, as obviously the device doesn't care. While technology has certainly shortened the distance between us, one is not forced to partake in the 'always on' world of the social web. Settings can be set, notifications can be stopped, the device has a mute button. In other words it's a user issue, not the technology or the ease of access to the communication platforms.

And there's also the prickly issue of human irrationality:

When we scroll through pictures and status updates, the worry that tugs at the corners of our minds is set off by the fear of regret, according to Dan Ariely, author of “Predictably Irrational” and a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University. He says we become afraid that we’ve made the wrong decision about how to spend our time.

Clearly, if one was fretting about how to spend one's time before the onset of the wide array of available social web communication tools, then those tools must only heighten the sense of dread over "missing out." For instance, this paragraph saddens me: "A friend who works in advertising told me that she felt fine about her life — until she opened Facebook. “Then I’m thinking, ‘I am 28, with three roommates, and oh, it looks like you have a precious baby and a mortgage,’ ” she said. “And then I wanna die.

Hopefully she doesn't really mean "I wanna die.." but surely there's more to life than getting a mortgage because your friend on Facebook has one?

As might be expected, Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, has a level-headed response: “In a way, there’s an immaturity to our relationship with technology,” she said. “It’s still evolving.” We are struggling with the always-on feeling of connection that the Internet can provide, she said, and we still need to figure out how to limit its influence on our lives. I asked Professor Turkle what people could do to deal with this stress-inducing quandary. She said she would tell herself to “get a grip and separate myself from my iPhone.

The 'always on' device issue also raises concerns over how we act in social situations too. In yesterday's NY Times Style section, David Carr ruminates in an article about the shift in how we now perceive being slighted when talking to people at events or parties:

You are at a party and the person in front of you is not really listening to you. Yes, she is murmuring occasional assent to your remarks, or nodding at appropriate junctures, but for the most part she is looking beyond you, scanning in search of something or someone more compelling. Here’s the funny part: If she is looking over your shoulder at a room full of potentially more interesting people, she is ill-mannered. If, however, she is not looking over your shoulder, but into a smartphone in her hand, she is not only well within modern social norms, but is also a wired, well-put-together person.

We've probably all come across this quite often and yet I think Carr let's his new acquaintance off too easily. There is no excuse for her behavior and also, why does he assume that "she's a wired, well-put-together person"? What if she's like the person quoted above who's envious of a friend having a mortgage? It's a context problem. I would argue that Carr's "friend" was simply ill-mannered, no assumption or justification required. Technology and devices do not excuse bad manners.

In the same article Anthony De Rosa, a product manager and programmer at Reuters, had this to say in an email: “I’m fine with people stepping aside to check something, but when I’m standing in front of someone and in the middle of my conversation they whip out their phone, I’ll just stop talking to them and walk away. If they’re going to be rude, I’ll be rude right back.” I have an issue with this though - It would not be rude of Anthony to walk away from that conversation under those circumstances. The other person was the rude party. Period.

It's worth noting that in the same issue was this article: Multitasking Takes Toll on Memory.

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