12 February 2010

Less Is More [Expensive]

Lately, I've spent some time reconsidering my online life and how it seems to have grown disproportionately large. Let me explain:

In the past decade I've relocated to another city, seen many of my closest and most durable friends likewise move to other cities, and for my own part disappeared into competing black holes of career and a long, tedious journey through cancer (and a multitude of treatments for said affliction) that have so consumed my life that I may as well have moved to another solar system. As many of my most important personal connections have grown geographically remote and the circumstances of my life conspired to kept me more homebound, my connection to the larger social world has slowly shifted from actual face-to-face to Facebook. And instant messaging. And email. And so on.

I'm as grateful as anyone for the way these tools have enabled me to maintain meaningful connections that would otherwise have been lost to geography and circumstance, but can't shake the feeling that too great a percentage of my social life is mediated through the internet. In a lucid and humane essay in The New Scientist, Yair Amichai-Hamburger also worries that the cultivation and maintenance of a rich online life sometimes comes at the expense of a more psychologically satisfying real one, that a growing percentage of people lead lonely, melencholy lives bereft of meaningful human contact despite their having 3,000 Facebook friends and a continent full of people following their every Tweet.

If there is a backlash against a perpetually connected life lived through iPhones or Blackberries, it's not making much of a ripple in the marketplace. But just in case, a few manufacturers have taken tentative steps at building products marketed explicitly to address the concern. Bang and Olufsen's now discontinued Serene mobile phone was a beautiful, but wildly uneven first attempt that offered a deliberately limited feature set absent of any rich internet access, instant messaging, Facebook or Twitter. More recently, Sony Ericsson introduced the Pureness mobile phone that it markets as a stylish* (and improbably expensive) alternative for affluent customers who very deliberately want not to be tethered to social media every moment of their lives (Sony Ericsson and Wallpaper magazine have created a microsite that offers insight into the design process and thinking underpinning the Pureness phone, as well a forum for debating the role of mobile devices in contemporary life. Link here). What the Serene and Pureness have in common are striking design, prohibitive pricing, and marketing campaigns that both elevate and differentiate the phones principally by the features they lack.

Of course there's no guarantee that disconnecting oneself from social media will result in a more rewarding life outside of it. But for my own part it's something that with each passing day seems more and more worth exploring.

*the Pureness is in every way a worthy successor to Sony Ericsson's one spectacular design classic, the lovely and equally feature-free T610.

[Posted with iBlogger from my iPhone]


creampuff said...

i love that this was posted via iblogger from your iphone!

Gary said...

Now you begin to see my dilemma.