I’ve been intensively studying the literature on how technology changes society. My focus has been on technologies much more simple and less ubiquitous than current communications and information technologies. This is primarily to understand technological change in its essence. Lately I’ve read a few things that have inspired some thoughts that I’d like to share.
The first came when reading a colleagues paper that cited John Suler’s studies on what he calls “the Online Disinhibition Effect.”
The Online Disinhibition Effect displays in the following ways:
- You Don’t Know Me (dissociative anonymity)
- You Can’t See Me (invisibility)
- See You Later (asynchronicity)
- It’s All in My Head (solipsistic introjection)
- It’s Just a Game (dissociative imagination)
- We’re Equals (minimizing authority)
Suler explains, “the disinhibition effect may not be so benign. Out spills rude language and harsh criticisms, anger, hatred, even threats. Or people explore the dark underworld of the internet, places of pornography and violence, places they would never visit in the real world. We might call this toxic disinhibition.”
You can read more about the Online Disinhibition Effect at Suler’s site, here.
I also just started reading Jaron Lanier’s new book You Are Not A Gadget. The first chapter outlines some of the recent changes in internet technologies and programs that encourage anonymity and the social problems this can cause.
In this book, Lanier writes:
If you feel fine using the tools you use, who am I to tell you that there is something wrong with what you are doing? But consider these points:
- Emphasizing the crowd means deemphasizing individual humans in the design of socitey, and when you ask people not to be people, they revert to bad moblike behaviors. This leads not only to empowered trolls, but to a generally unfriendly and unconstructive online world. [...]
- Pop culture has entered into a nostalgic malaise. Online culture is dominated by trivial mashups of the culture that existed before the onset of mashups, and by fandom responding to the dwindling outposts of centralized mass media. It is a culture of reaction without action.
- Spirituality is committing suicide. Consciousness is attempting to will itself out of existence.
(Lanier 2010: pp. 19-20, emphasis added)
So what can we do? Lanier suggests “some of the things you can do to be a person instead of a source of fragments to be exploited by other.”
- Don’t post anonymously unless you really might be in danger.
- If you put effort into Wikipedia articles, put even more effort into using your personal voice and expression outside of the wiki to help attract people who don’t yet realize that they are interested in the topics you contribute to.
- Create a website that expresses something about who you are that won’t fit into the template available to you on a social networking site.
- Post a video once in a while that took you one hundred times more time to create than it takes to view.
- Write a blog post that took weeks of reflection before you heard the inner voice that needed to come out.
- If you are twittering, innovate in order to find a way to describe your internal state instead of trivial external events, to avoid the creeping danger of believing that objectively described events define you, as they would define a machine.
(Lanier 2010: 21)
Sherry Turkle’s The Second Self identified long before the wide public availability of the internet that just interacting with computers has created a fragmented or separated identity – a ‘second self.’ The comments from Suler and Lanier have implications which extend far beyond their subject matter. It is a social fact that technologies change culture, social relations and the people who use them. It is also a fact that intended and unintended design elements of a technology confine – and dictate – these relationships. I post this blog not to share my own thoughts on these matters but to inspire its readers to deeply ponder these implications, to think about the technologies you use, and how this effects you, your family, your community, and the world you live in.