Anthropologist Genevieve Bell’s recent talk at Web Directions 2017 “Being Human in a Digital World” asked the digital and design community to challenge the discourse that technology is changing everything:
We live in a world where people tell us that change is happening really quickly. The technology is changing everything. The technology will change everything and we see all the signs and signals of it all the time.
Bell continues to note that it is easy to be taken with the things that have changed or currently are changing that we can forget both the things that don’t or the things that are constantly changing. In developing technologies and services of the future, the focus is often on what is changing, but what about the things that stay the same?
Bell suggests that there are things that make us human that are pretty much constant. It so happens that if you develop technologies that appeal to one of these constants, you have a strong chance at success.
5 STABLE ASPECTS ABOUT BEING HUMAN
- we are social creatures, we are nested within social relationships. We need family and friends. (note, that what is a family, friends etc can change, also how we stay in touch etc)
- we want to belong to a community – guilds, unions, – be with others who share our values Pinterest, Tumblr. how to find ppl that share your interests, values and activities?
- we want to have meaning in our lives – to belong to something bigger than ourselves. e.g. country/ nation states, church, causes, #hashtags on Twitter, suffragettes and the right to vote
- we use objects to talk about who we are – toourselves and other people. e.g. Apple v PC, clothing choice, car brnads about who we are, what we value, what services do you use, what worlds do you belong to? All contribute and are used to talk about who we are. we use things to ahve those conversations
- we need to keep secrets and tell lies – Each person tells 6-200 lies /day. things we choose not to say or to not hurt other people’s feelings, greasing the social wheel, avoiding conflict, – the things that are impotant for social reciprocity and bonding. It can be hard to keep secrets on the internet e.g. Snapchat. This also reminds me of the PostSecret community where people mail their secret anonymously that has turned into an ongoing art project
So these are the stable aspects of being human – friends and family; shared interest, something bigger, our objects, and our secrets. Technology that is successful appeals to one of these (often in the space of innovation mostly)
There are also aspects that are in flux
5 IN FLUX ASPECTS THAT HAVE ALWAYS BEEN CHANGING (and impacted by technology)
- We worry about our reputations – what others think about us. e.g. current debates about privacy laws, IoT people get concerned that the gadgets will gossip and reveal things rather kept hidden
- we need to be bored, we want to be surprised – Heidegger 1917 debated about the loss of boredom via introduction of new tech. Boredom is needed though. It is a direct conduit to creativity. When bored brain configures itself differently. We like familiarity to a point then we want something different and to be surprised. Algorithms work well to show us what’s familiarity, because they go on historical behaviour (e.g. Amazon, Netflix), but they are not so good at something that will surprise and delight
- we want to be different – globalisation/localisation arguments about whether the Internet is making us more the same or consuming things differently. This has been a long standing conversation/concern e.g. concerns about early trade routes leading to a loss of distinctive cultural identity. We worry about what makes us similar AND different to others e.g. why different electrical voltages around the world. We can share values but we are also desperately wanting to be different from eachother
- We want to feel time – religious rituals like Ramadan encourage to take time out and think of time in different ways. Electricity came along and turned night into day it readjusted how we used time. Our devices are constantly on and work best when connected to power. Employees are ‘always on’ via technology. France’s recent email law to provide workers with the right to disconnect. The ‘digital detox’ movements such as Camp Grounded are examples of how we feel about time. We also see this in flux aspect in discussions/etiquette about spaces where devices are appropriate e.g. do computational device go on holidays, what rooms should they NOT be in?
- We want to be forgotten – what does it mean to be digitally recorded the whole time? What does it mean to have everything you’ve ever said or done recorded and retrievable? Psychologically we need to be able to forget. Being forgotten, means being forgiven and space to reinvent ourselves
Full video of the talk here