A watched society

I am now entering my second full-fledged week of my New Media course, and I have found the course to be both interesting and challenging. Oddly enough, the challenge for me lies in the amount of monitoring I feel by participating in this course. First, I had to get a blog.

“What?! Write my thoughts and feelings online for everyone to see?” I asked myself. “Isn’t a blog essentially an online diary? If so, I remember keeping a lock on those things as a child because the purpose was to keep everyone OUT!”

But oddly, these days, technology seems to invite everyone IN. The ease with which people exchange pictures, videos, comments, posts, blogs, information, articles, thoughts, etc. is astounding. Think about it. In an ordinary month (or even week), how many photos of your life have you posted on to some site for others to see (Facebook, flickr)? How many times have you had some sort of personal exchange with a friend that others could monitor (Hello! Writing on people’s Facebook wall!)?

The big question remains for me -why are we making these exchanges (blogs, Facebook posts, pictures) so public?! Sure – privacy settings exist, thankfully, but if we want to send a note to our friend that we miss them and want to see them, why don’t we send them an email or call them? Why do we put it out there for others to see? Why do we blog our thoughts and feelings so that all of our friends and families can read it? Is this narcissism or interconnectivity? If it’s the later, are we narcissistic because we think so many people want to be connected to us? What are the implications of this “watched” society that we are creating for ourselves in a virtual space? Fear not – I’m preaching to the choir. I engage in all of these behaviors, but I want to know why I do! Remember, I am a social psychologist which means I long to understand what motivates humans to engage in certain behaviors.

For myself, I am slowly getting used to the high levels of monitoring that exist online. I fought getting a Facebook account for several years, and now I have one and communicate on it regularly. I am now (mostly) comfortable with the insane number of photos tagged of me on Facebook. But now I face new levels of monitoring that I am uncomfortable with. For instance, this blog is an adjustment. Why should people be able to read my thoughts? Why would anyone care to? Also, the other day in class we had to record videos of ourselves discussing passages from a book on our iPod Nano. Why must I be documented and permanently archived in video form? I prefer my ramblings/thoughts to exist only in their purest and briefest form – while discussing them. But then I suppose you could ask what this says about me. Either way, I am intrigued to see where I end up at the end of this class. More importantly, however, I am still left with these two questions – 1) why do we engage in such a “watched society” and 2) what are the implications of this society that we are creating for ourselves?

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About Megan Johnson Shen

I am a social psychologist graduating with my Ph.D. from Baylor University this May and moving to NYC this summer to start a new job as a postdoctoral researcher at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in the Cancer Prevention and Control Department. I love the brain, human behavior, and anything to do with understanding them better. I love research and a good dinner party. Fine wine and cheese - I'm there. Interesting experimental data? I'll probably show for that too. View all posts by Megan Johnson Shen

3 responses to “A watched society

  • Gardner

    Fascinating questions all. Surveillance and sharing are two aspects of similar behaviors. When does connectivity become oppressive, and when does it empower new forms of collaboration and collective intelligence? It's probably no consolation that the printing press elicited similar fears–including the fear that vernacular Bibles would become simply an occasion for mockery and sport at the village pub.My hope is that some of the readings we're doing will stimulate new ideas and perhaps enlarge the contexts in which we judge and choose our mediations…. Stay tuned (to use an old media cliche).

  • Megan Johnson

    Thank you for your thoughts! This is one reason I'm glad we are going back over the history of technology in where we have come from. It is, of course, strange for us today to think of fears surrounding the invention of the printing press. But I sort of like that ability of humans…that questioning of where we are going. I have decided to apply rigorous questioning to my use of technology to make sure it promotes, as you phrased it, "collaboration and collective intelligence" rather than carelessly using it. Slowly, I'm coming out of my little "hermit crab shell" and beginning to reap the rewards of such amazing technology. I look forward to where we will be going in the class.

  • Kristin Ray

    whoa megs. these are great questions. You remain over my head here. But if/when you figure out why we all blog then let me know. I am always looking to be more self aware. 🙂 way to take the plunge!

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