Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Welcome to the digital dystopia

In his new book Cyburbia James Harkin paints a particularly bleak picture of our online world, one in which we are slaves to electronic information and caught in an endless feedback loop. He has posted the introduction on his website.

Here is a taste:

'... no longer content with staring at garish websites on a computer and sending the odd email to our friends, millions of us took to spending vast tracts of our time hooked up to a vast online information loop – mainly on sites like eBay, Google, Facebook, Second Life and YouTube – peopled and governed by ordinary people like ourselves. In doing so, we volunteered ourselves act as human nodes ferrying information back and forth between ourselves on a vast electronic information loop - and, at least for the time we spent there, we would find ourselves behaving as such.'

It's all a bit on the gloomy side but a welcome corrective to those who seem to think texting and video conferencing are adequate substitutes for a chat over coffee.


  1. well i would like a chat over coffee and get to know the person than be online and chat with strangers. Yes we are slaves cause right form shopping to online chat to travel we do it all online . In a day we at least spent more than few hours online . Take the online students we spent a lot of time online . So we are slaves of internet. The old fashion way of catching up is no longer in existence ;sad but true.

  2. I share some of his gloomy sentiment. In my blog post Paradox Of Social Media I refer to the isolation that goes with our virtual world. The trend of technology has been to make everything 'personal' (walkmans...iPods... cellphones...PCs). Supporting the social trend of mobilisation and globalisation and the disintegration of traditional communities, we have shut out our neighbors and become anonymous urban dwellers in large cities. Ear plugs stop conversation. We value our personal space. Communication is impersonal. More and more people are signing up to the virtual community to make up for their lack of real community.

  3. I would agree with him. Texting, video conferencing , emailing and twittering have certainly overtaken the chat over coffee. Social media is increasingly taking the place of families, creating virtual communities who are more loyal and closer to each other than real families. The sense of belonging they create is dangerous because it allows everyone to explore everything without the sanctions of social control or necessary parental guidance as in the case of children. I would root that social media needs some form of moderation.

  4. Thanks for the comments. I think there is something here about those in PR having a responsibility to the 'relations' side of their work. Simply adopting new tools to throw out content will not be good enough. Some clients might like the whizzy new stuff but beneath the surface appearance of greater connection what will be achieved? Not much for the client and, worse, PR merely feeds online alienation by adding more vacuous distractions. I am struck by the number of social media gurus who stress how blogs, twitter, facebook etc can be used as a way to bring people together face-to-face. So things may not be as bleak as Harkin thinks. Let's hope so.