Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Being Witnessed

Since Lent starts again today, I've been thinking and talking about Lenten disciplines again recently. That has included talking about my Lenten experiment from last year, in which I gave up playing solitaire (on my computer) and Bejewelled (on my cell phone)--both games that I used to procrastinate from my graduate school homework. If you've forgotten, not playing these games resulted, in part, in my spending more of my procrastination time hanging out with people in person, and I felt more guilty about procrastinating in that way (for some reason) than I did playing games.

Anyway, I was talking to a new friend about this, and she used just the right word to describe why I felt guilty: it was because my procrastination was witnessed.

The more I've thought about this word, the more appropriate it seems to describe an effect the technological revolution has had on society. For years we've been aware that new technology, especially the Internet, has been amazing for introverts--one can look, read, and participate anonymously, without feeling like someone is watching you. It fosters a sense that you're not being witnessed--even though with our awareness of cookies and other techniques, we know that in another sense we are being watched. But it's hard to feel as though we are.

And this sense extends to our online and electronic communications. IM, email, blogging, even talking on cell phones in restaurants or listening to iPods--it's easy to forget that others can be watching (or listening) in. Even some people who are introverts in the non-technological world find it easy to lower their self-censor when communicating through (or around) some of these new media.

As Gerry McGovern noted last week, sometimes that's a bad thing. But sometimes it's also a good thing, especially for those who have good things to say but have felt excessively shy about it before. All in all, it's a fascinating idea--one I'd like to explore more in-depth. How have people who would have felt witnessed (and self-conscious about it) in the world of twenty years ago been affected in their actions both on- and offline by this phenomenon? How has our culture changed as a result of this? I wonder...

And I wonder what those people who didn't like being witnessed were like before the printing press allowed for reading to become a general thing.

No comments: