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A Digital Life

Forced to Live a Digital Life before we know how

A Digital Life

Stacey Edmonds, MAR 21, 2011

I recently attended the X Media Lab, Global Media Ideas and particularly enjoyed the presentation by Anand Giridharadas “In Search of a Digital Philosophy”. His main point being that we are operating online – and we don’t really know how – there are no ‘human rules’ for our online life.  I agree and disagree…

Why? here I’m going to randomly reference Milton Keynes (UK), the home of the famous concrete cows and Alain de Botton.

I’ve just finished reading The Consolations of Philosophy and Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton, both of which describe very practically the human condition.  How we strive to meet our basic human needs – one of which being to raise and maintain status.  The consequence of this need is prominent in every aspect of our lives, how we choose to look, where we live, what schools we send our children to.  At every moment humans are striving for the respect of their peers.

He states “Given human nature, they [the Bohemians] have reasoned that those who succeed in society will rarely be the wisest or the best, they will be those who can pander most effectively to the flawed values of their audience”. (pg 289, Status Anxiety)

What happens when this driving need is played out virtually?  I’m thinking we have the beginnings of a digital philosophy – we simply remember what we understand about us humans in ‘real life’ and apply – liberally…

A simple example would be this whole online ‘disinhibition’ behaviour where people say more online that they would do face-to-face.  What I’ve experienced is once people understand that what goes online STAYS online forever… and ever – suddenly that behaviour is ‘controlled’ the same as it is in real life by the human need to fit in and be accepted by peers, to maintain status.

Why Milton Keynes?  So here’s the thing…throughout the ages we have organically grown our living spaces.  Our lack of awareness of our preferred way to live and why it works for us humans would explain the new town of Milton Keynes.  12 years ago I worked for Bucks County Council as a Youth Worker and filled in for an absent worker for a week or so in the Concrete Cow Town,  I admired the barbed wire on the roof of the Youth Club… and the plastic windows.  Milton Keynes at the time was suffering high levels of crime, suicide, domestic violence and youth offending.  David Grove, Town and Country planner states that one of the design features of Milton Keynes was that is “was designed deliberately for car use” and amenities were purposely spread around to assist in traffic management.   The impact of this design was that it made the town really hard to walk around, difficult to build a human habitat in a place where you need to drive and there is no ‘town centre or high street’.

What was designed was a new place for people to to live yet the design was seemingly without awareness or consideration of how we need to live in order to create a nurturing human habitat, the consequences of which still resound off the flat-roofed houses.

I agree that we are really asking people to live an online life before we have ready-made digital guidelines, we are constantly playing catch up.

I disagree with the premise that no digital philosophy exists, we just need to remember what being human is and apply online.  To quote a line from Terence  “I am a man, I consider nothing that is human alien to me”.

Lets face it, we are forced to live life in general before we know how.  Takes us years to work it out, hopefully at some point we will be wise and then we die.

Long term human use means that we will inhabit the worlds we live in and make them fit the human condition.

Rome wasn’t built in a day… and neither were Facebook’s security settings.