Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Digital blankies

In a recent Wired article, Grant McCracken considered our propensity for comfort consuming as such, “I believe we binge on TV to craft time and space, and to fashion an immersive near-world with special properties. We enter a world that is, for all its narrative complexity, a place of sudden continuity. We may have made the world “go away” for psychological purposes, but here, for anthropological ones, we have built another in its place. The second screen in some ways becomes our second home”.

McCracken makes a strong point, but I believe it goes beyond TV. I think we’re inching towards a mindset of “wherever I lay my phone, that’s my home”.  Like a blankey, we associate our devices with a deeply personal feeling of security, belonging and reassurance. But, unlike a blankey, it’s not the object itself we are attached to – phones and laptops are interchangeable – but the data they hold and the people they connect us to.

As our emotional connection to physical objects and locations dwindles, so our definition of ‘home’ changes. ‘Home’ instead, is wherever you and a wifi connection are. We can travel halfway around the world, but the things that make us feel at home (our families, our friends, our favourite films, the things that make us laugh, cry and feel nostalgic) are all there, at the swipe of a screen. These days, it’s rarely ever “goodbye”, more often “see you on the Internet”.

Philosophically moving into our second, digital homes, however, throws up new challenges. Writer Quinn Norton muses on how we tackle “a world where falling in love, going to war and filling out tax forms looks the same; it looks like typing”. So much of history, of culture, of storytelling is about setting a scene – the land we stand on, the smells, sights and sounds around us, the things we’ve discovered and invented, the objects and people we treasure. Now the scene is set on screen, in the cloud and amongst users. Before, we used to obsess over what we’d rescue if our houses burned down. Today we can walk out and need only look back to Instagram the fire.

Snaps to Andy Ellis for the enlightening chat on this subject.