A woman in Portland, Oregon, has shut herself off from society in an attempt to show whether online interaction is a satisfactory subsitute for in-person interaction. Newspaper to New Media characterizes it as a sort of experiment, stating that she aims “to learn how technology walls people off even while connecting them.” Her site itself explains it as not an experiment, but as a kind of performance art, and her living quarters, showcased on a city street, are a companion piece.
If it’s art, I’m not the judge (the only significant art I own consists of a handpainted pig on the wall and my children’s crayon drawings covering my office door like wallpaper).
But as experiment, I have a few things to say about this. It offends me not as a scientist (as a scientist, I love seeing nonscientists try changing the variables to see what happens – the basis of some of the greatest experiments), but it offends me as a cancer patient. Unless handled carefully, work like this belittles the vast experience that people who live this every day have. That people who suffer from depression, agoraphobia, isolation, disesase, or compromised immune systems live with every day.
There are many people for whom social media is not just a fun distraction on the commute home or between meetings, but for whom social media is a lifeline. . . their only interaction with the outside world, and one that is vital to keeping their own sanity.
I ranted in a blog comment:
How privileged, do be able to do this as an experiment. Why not just ask those of us who have to live this, or a form of this everyday? I’ll give you a hint: many cancer patients in treatment, with compromised immune systems, are largely confined indoors when treatment season (4-6 months) conflicts with flu season. Many of us have found solace, and friendship, and a way to keep up with our lives through social media. I know I have.
I have, and I’ve written about the way that blogging is my window to the world, both as a mother of very young children needing frequent naps (remember those? as many as five a day for the littlest ones?) and then as a woman in chemotherapy, with an immune system not strong enough to fight off flu season, as in 2007. My immune system is strong as I fight cancer this time (I have the white blood cell counts to prove it!), but it does take me longer to shake off infections; I’ve been down for a week with the latest preschool virus.
Which makes the count nearly 3 weeks that one or the other of us has had a fever and such, precluding playdates and coffees, and Mommy’s too tired for any activity after noon, so it’s been pretty quiet around here.
Is online interaction a satisfactory subsitute for in-person interaction? No. Hell, no. But some days, it’s the best you’re gonna get, and for that, I am grateful.
Know someone who is isolated from the world because of a new baby, an ailing family member, or the simple ravages of old age? You CAN help make it better for them, not by “like”ing something on Facebook or RT’ing it on twitter – but with a simple phone call. Go ahead. Use those minutes on your cell phone this month. Call Grandma or that nice old lady from the church who smells like peppermints. Ask that shy mom with two kids under 3 to coffee at the park — or ask if you can bring her a treat from Starbucks. Spend your facebook time today on the phone instead, or dropping by a friend’s house (after calling!), talking and connecting with someone who may not have any other contact with the outside world. Do your own experiment, and find out whether that makes you feel better than another round of Words With Friends or bringing someone an item for their Facebook Farm. And come back and let me know. Maybe I’m wrong in the post above. Maybe this is a good social media experiment in the reverse — and maybe, just maybe, your particpation could make someone happy.
Happy Thanksgiving, my American friends, and Happy Day-That-We’re-Alive to all of the rest of you around the world. This year, as I have every year since 2006, I give thanks for not the institution of social media, but the friends that it has brought me and allowed me to keep through the isolation of early motherhood and severe illness. You are so important in my life, and in the lives of so very many others.