Life is Hard When People are Mean Week 2 blog post

With regards to technology and our better selves, I feel that both Turkle and McGonigal touch on aspects of the truth but their views seem a little too far to certain extremes.  Turkle, in my opinion is far too negative and McGonigal is much too positive, to the point that her ideas are impractical.  I am convinced that the simple solution to both problems would be for people to be nicer to one another.  For Turkle, we might not be driven towards the ever-seductive technology that seems to be rapidly replacing personal interaction if we were more confident in said interaction.  If people were more patient with one another and with life in general we wouldn’t feel any need to simplify and filter our interactions.  Also, if we sought to interact more kindly with one another, the digital might feel a little less cold.

McGonigal acknowledges the fundamental problem of her plans when she references Edward Castronova and the “mass exodus” towards the virtual.  To be blunt, we seek the virtual because the real sucks sometimes.  Tremendous tasks and seemingly insurmountable odds are all the more tremendous and insurmountable when you cannot load from your last quick save, and when the people around you, the spectators of your potential failure are not like-minded individuals and just might laugh at your fall.  Even if my assertion about the cruelty of the real world is off base or plump with hyperbole, it might come as a shock to those hiding themselves away in the virtual.  Trust is easily broken and very difficult to regain. The virtual, with its lines and lines of well-rendered and planned code is easy to trust.  Another problem with McGonigal’s plan is somewhat basic.  The fact that she feels that we need to dress up our problems as games exposes the ‘it’s not my problem’ paradigm that seems to be dominant right now.  The dirty dishes in my current residence can stand in for any given global issue (poverty, debt, ethnic strife, etc.).  The facts of the matter are thus, I left for winter break with a net dish contribution of zero.  I was gone the entirety of the break and the kitchen was in halfway decent shape upon my departure.  However in the comings and goings of my roommates the dishes piled up until there were essentially no clean dishes left.  Upon my arrival home I felt no responsibility for the situation since I did not sully the dishes, and neither did my roommate who manages to survive on takeout.  The other two roommates each blamed the other and seemed to feel no responsibility.  Even if we got up the nerve to take a crack at the problem the sink had stopped draining weeks ago and had also developed an unhealthy leak.  In short, nobody felt like they were responsible and it was too overwhelming to tackle anyways.  So we did what humans seem to always do, passed the buck from one to the other hoping that we wouldn’t be the one stuck with the bill.

I suppose we may well be our best selves with video games, however with such a perfect escape, there is little reason to expect more from each other and less from technology when one seems to continually disappoint and the other offers us respite.

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One Response to Life is Hard When People are Mean Week 2 blog post

  1. cstabile says:

    Hmm. You begin by discussing kindness, but your dirty dishes example takes us in the realm of community-mindedness. Not that the two are entirely distinct, but they do seem separate tracks.

    Let’s take kindness to begin with. Is it true that our political culture is less kind or civil today than it has been in the past? I’m not sure about that. In 1840s New York, newspapermen were fond of beating one another up over perceived slurs. Senator Charles Sumner (R-Mass) implied that Congressman Preston Brooks’ uncle was “a pimp for slavery” and Brooks nearly beat Sumner to death with a cane on the Senate floor in 1856. Senator John Rankin was a notorious racist and anti-Semite whose views were explicitly voiced in Washington and elsewhere. We may well perceive our culture as being less kind, but I’m not sure that we can actually prove that it is in any meaningful way. I think that in the US, at least, it’s a lot more just than it was fifty years ago (was struck by this as I watched the inauguration today) and I think with regard to that, I could cite evidence to support my views.

    As for community or civic-mindedness, I find that question more interesting and perhaps more relevant when it comes to videogames. That college students today are less politically engaged than they were in 1965 seems undeniable. But here again, we need to think about the narrow form of causation that Turkle proposes. Are college students less politically engaged because of videogames and other distractions? Are they less politically engaged because there’s no draft? Are they less involved because of the absence of a widespread political movement (e.g. Civil Rights)?

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