Social Networking = Prison?

Posted by Caitlin Foster

Cristin Norine is on display 24/7.  People surround her as she eats, sleeps, exercises works. Yet she’s all alone. She can’t touch the people who reach out to her. She can’t talk to them, at least not directly.

That’s because Norine lives in a glass box. Her home is a sidewalk-level storefront with floor-to-ceiling glass windows on a busy street in Portland. She moved in 22 days ago. And she can communicate with the outside world only through technology.

Norine is living in her “prison” as a social experiment called The Public Isolation Project. It began when she and Josh Elliot, a fashion and lifestyle photographer, began discussing the effects of social media and new technology on people. Elliot knew about the empty storefront; Norine moved in. They embarked on a 30-day journey into the constantly accessible realm of the Internet. Anyone walking past Norine can video chat her or read her blog to learn about what she’s doing– or to just say “Hi.”

The project aims to make a statement about the lack of privacy and the new types of interactions the Internet age has brought us. Our Facebook friends know more about our lives than our relatives. Anyone can follow our Tweets. We can talk to people across the globe at all hours of the day and night. As long as we have our cell phones, we never have to stop talking. But few people are talking about what all these connections mean for our existing relationships. Norine and Elliot are trying to start the conversation. Norine told CNN they are not anti-technology; rather they want to learn how social networking sites and video chat and blogs are shaping lives.

On The Public Isolation Project’s webpage, Norine says “Technologies like social media and smart phones make it easier to correspond with other more frequently, but could these forms of communication replace analog interactions completely?”

I understand her fear and frustration. My best friend is constantly glued to her phone. When we go out to eat, our “conversations” consist of her saying “What?” and me not repeating what I said because she can’t text and listen. Drives me crazy. Is her texting driving us apart? Is my Facebook-creeping building walls between me and real people? Maybe, in some instances. There are people I know (really, know of) solely through the Internet. I don’t consider that a relationship though. But there are loads of people way more tech-savvy than me, people who do spend half their lives online and whose relationships flourish in cyber-space. Where will all that screen time lead them?

What do you think about Norine’s project? Elliot said on the project’s site, “Cristin’s constantly accessible life holds a prism up to our current situation and gives us perspective to question it values.” Are he and Norine making their point? And how do you think technology will effect our relationships and lives? Will we eventually spend our entire lives behind a screen, à la the humans in Disney’s Wall-E? I hope not.

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4 responses to “Social Networking = Prison?

  1. Nicole Sternhagen

    I think Wall-E was a scary glimpse into our future. I can see it already in my younger brother, who is more comfortable online than interacting even with his own family. Employers are now taking notice of a generation that is constantly being sidetracked by phone calls, texts, and facebook – even during interviews. We need a serious reality check to realize that social interactions outside technology are important to being a functioning member of society. Our generation and those below us are slowly losing this abality, and let’s be honest, it’s scary.

    • I hate to think the form that reality check will take, though I agree we will need one soon if we don’t change our behavior. Wall-E could come true all too easily. The way technology has replaced or overridden social interactions in most situations is unbelievable. I can’t stand it. Maybe kids will have to take a class on how to talk to other people in person soon. That used to be called “life.” What will happen to it?

  2. I think this is a very interesting project idea, but it would be hard to determine what kind of factual results it yields. The experiment will be purely observational and self-reflective, and there’s no real scientific merit behind it. But there is sociological merit and that’s why we need to keep an eye on this story. We all know social networking can reach a neurotic extreme, but it is part of our culture and our technology. We can’t give our back to it, it’s the way the world is moving.

    • I agree that we cannot, and should not, abandon technology and the advancements we have made. They’re amazing. And no, there is definitely no way to scientifically analyze the results of this experiment. But I do think Norine is making an important point, and one to consider as we continue to make technological advancements: we should not live our lives through screens. As this gets easier to do, people have to remember to seek balance and enjoy real-life things, like trees and dogs. 🙂 Also, I think this experiment brings up the question of privacy, another thing we need to keep in mind. If all our information is available online, privacy will become an even more flexible notion, and one that is more easily violated. It could be dangerous.

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