Saturday, January 28, 2012

Reading, Thinking, and Reflecting #4

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, chapters 16-22:

"Because without the Mercerism experience we just have your word that you feel this empathy business, this shared, group thing" (209-210).

After our 1/23 class when Dr. Rodrigo shared that one reason we are reading this book is to think about empathy as we study new media, I have found myself pondering this idea even more. When I first wrote about empathy, I was thinking about whether digital networks can ever replicate the empathy drawn from physical proximity that underlies non-digital social networks. Dick wrote (see above quote) that empathy will always be the divider between human and android -- which makes me think about whether humans can ever find full empathy through digital connections. Does the inherent lack of empathy in something digital create a barrier to the conveyance of human empathy across digital channels? Dick's empathy box does generate human empathy across its technology -- is this something possible outside of science fiction?

As I explored digital empathy more, I came across this assignment from Enrique Allen at the Stanford Digital Design School on exploring the paradox of digital empathy. Allen defines empathy in the digital realm as linked to intimacy -- that close connections create empathy because people understand human desires and needs through intimacy, thus gaining empathy. He offers two ideas on intimacy to ponder:
  • "... intimacy in the digital realm is by nature a paradox. On the one hand, people use media to explore and gain intimacy (chat-rooms, second-life, facebook, we feel fine, skype) but on the other, media, by definition, is an indirect relationship between people. How are people bridging this gap? In what ways are people using media to gain intimacy with others?"
  • "Think about the identity of a person 40-50 years ago and someone today. In those days, an identity was about a physical person but today identity is increasingly becoming a pattern of digital information about a person. Does your digital self have a greater impact than your physical self? How does digital intimacy interact with digital identity?"
The idea of people becoming as much their digital identities as their physical ones leads to the idea that digital intimacy does create empathy across digital identities. This is something I definitely will be thinking about more. I am someone whose digital identity is very much smaller than my physical one, but I also know that I am not like many in this way. My digital identity is broad -- if you Google my name, you will see that I am all over the place online -- but it is shallow because it is 95% professional. Therefore, intimacy is not the goal of most of my digital interactions ... so if I want to explore this idea more, I have to remember that my own experience is not a great benchmark. I would say that when I look at what I see as important to my whole identity, 25% would be digital and 75% physical. I wonder how you would break down your total identity into digital and physical identities?

On a side note, a presentation for Allen's assignment was really neat for me to see because it quotes Marshall McLuhan ... my canonical book author!
  • “We become what we behold. We shape our tools & afterward our tools shape us.”
  • a medium is “any extension of the self”
I am now even more intrigued to read Understanding Media.
Lingua Fracta, chapters 5-8

"If this book can help persuade some in my discipline that technology is a more central concern than they previously thought, then I will consider it a success" (197).

The ideas of empathy and our ever-increasing digital identities only add more credence to Brooke's hope that one day technology will be seen for what it is: the main way we mediate our lives. As McLuhan writes, technology does indeed shape us -- we can allow that to happen unexamined or explore these ramifications.

Allen, Enrique. "Digital Design Thinking." E281: Media+Design. Stanford Design School. Web. 28 Jan. 2012. .

Brooke, Collin Gifford. Lingua Fracta: Towards a Rhetoric of New Media. New Dimensions in Computers and Composition. Ed. Gail E. Hawisher and Cynthia Selfe. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, In., 2009. Print.
Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? New York: Del Rey, 1968. Print.

(Image from Left Coast Voices)

1 comment:

  1. I loved your survey questions; I think they did a great job of getting the reader to think about what you are reflecting on. Too bad you didn't do them as multiple choice so you could automagically share the results (and what will you do with the results?!).
    As we talked, read, thought, and reflected about DADES it got me thinking more about the concept of "transactional distance" as it is used in Distance Learning scholarship. Is empathy/affective domain a part of that distance?