Online, offline – is there a difference anymore?

Do you require a digital detox from time to time, a period of logged-off real life? Maybe you are generally skeptical and wary of big data and algorithms taking over? Or are you enthusiastic about constant connectivity, technology augmenting your reality and “the internet of things”? All of the above? Or do you just use the internet and your digital devices without any deep thoughts about your motives or how this connectivity changes your life, personally, and society, in general?

One reason I am asking you this, is that some of my friends and some colleagues at mediaman are doing that digital detox thing in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day that the Germans call “between the years” (“zwischen den Jahren”). Quite honestly, I don’t understand this desire or the need to specifically set aside a special time to be offline. As if being online kept me from doing more meaningful things or having more meaningful human interactions. As if offline was more “real” than online. Thinking about this I remembered an essay written by Nathan Jurgenson last summer about the IRL (in real life) fetish. He wrote:

Facebook doesn’t curtail the offline but depends on it. What is most crucial to our time spent logged on is what happened when logged off; it is the fuel that runs the engine of social media. The photos posted, the opinions expressed, the check-ins that fill our streams are often anchored by what happens when disconnected and logged-off. The Web has everything to do with reality; it comprises real people with real bodies, histories, and politics.

This pretty much sums up my experience with facebook. Lately I realized that facebooking and posting on my private blog become especially important to me during times that are emotionally and spiritually relevant. Such as spending Christmas thousands of miles away from my friends and family in Germany or the death of a close family member over the Thanksgiving holiday. It is important to me that I am able to share what is going on in my life through these channels and to receive the likes and comments that my posts solicit.


That doesn’t mean that I sit under the Christmas tree with my iPhone in my hand for days. But it is a routine for me now to take these pictures and share them. It connects me to the people back home (or wherever in the world they chose to live). Just like the Skype session with my family on Christmas morning does. Or how hand written Christmas cards used to do, just not as immediate as a facebook or Instagram post.

Here is another quote from Jurgenson’s essay:

Social media is more than something we log into; it is something we carry within us. We can’t log off. Solving this digital dualism also solves the contradiction: We may never fully log off, but this in no way implies the loss of the face-to-face, the slow, the analog, the deep introspection, the long walks, or the subtle appreciation of life sans screen. We enjoy all of this more than ever before.

This ties in wonderfully with a video I watched over the holidays (and would have missed had I been logged-off). And which is also the second reason I asked these questions in the beginning. It’s an 18 minute documentary, an “exploration of the future of Interaction Design and User Experience from some of the industry’s thought leaders”.

As I listened to people from Nokia, Twitter, Frog Design and others speak about the future of interfaces and the coming (or already arriving?) “internet of things”, I was wondering if I shared their enthusiasm about constant connectivity, about my food containers communicating with my fridge and the fibers in my shirts communicating with my deodorant (I just made that last one up, but hey, why not). Is that too much? Or is it just the “natural” development of technology? And I do share that enthusiasm. After all, I talked at SXSW 2012 about a future in which an algorithm (my friend the Algovisor) would take care of my financial planning completely in the background, communicating with my Mint, facebook and Tripadvisor accounts.

I am curious to see how far we will get in 2013. What are your thoughts and predictions (I am looking at you, digital detoxers)?

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