Working – and living – within screens

Surely, once everything’s back to normal, we can stop bothering with Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meets and so on. But, as the first of these two Guardian articles explain, there are plenty of other companies out there — Mozilla Hubs, Gather, Wonder for instance — who are hoping that, not only will we continue to meet online, but we’d do so even more deeply. Needless to say, not everyone agrees.

Can virtual meeting spaces save us all from Zoom fatigue?The Guardian
These platforms are meant to improve remote work, but is a virtual experience that fills the entire day better or worse than spending a couple of hours on video calls but being otherwise generally invisible? “Employers probably want to help people gel, but they risk trying to do too much,” says Dr Linda Kaye, who studies the psychology of gaming and online behaviour. “I’m not saying it’s not useful in a work context, but when you force it on people it becomes inauthentic.” Her research reflects the fact that valuable social connections can be forged online. But just because we can create virtual worlds to work in, should we? […]

Much depends on the type of workplace you’re in – its culture and the sector in which it operates. While Hubs, the platform used by the engineers at the University of Nottingham, could work brilliantly for design, technology or architectural businesses, I’m not sure I can see social workers holding a case conference in a virtual world. Would it feel appropriate for a legal firm dealing with serious crimes to hold their meetings as avatar versions of themselves on Gather? Similarly, it’s hard to imagine holding a disciplinary session as a cartoon version of yourself.

As much as I’m enjoying my weekly book club on Second Life, I’m not sure about swapping the office for it. But it’s not just at work where we feel like we live in a screen. As this fascinating study from UCL shows, thanks to our smartphones we’re living in screens all the time.

Smartphone is now ‘the place where we live’, anthropologists sayThe Guardian
A team of anthropologists from UCL spent more than a year documenting smartphone use in nine countries around the world, from Ireland to Cameroon, and found that far from being trivial toys, people felt the same way about their devices as they did about their homes.

“The smartphone is no longer just a device that we use, it’s become the place where we live,” said Prof Daniel Miller, who led the study. “The flip side of that for human relationships is that at any point, whether over a meal, a meeting or other shared activity, a person we’re with can just disappear, having ‘gone home’ to their smartphone. … This behaviour, and the frustration, disappointment or even offence it can cause, is what we’re calling the ‘death of proximity’. We are learning to live with the jeopardy that even when we are physically together, we can be socially, emotionally or professionally alone.” […]

“The smartphone is perhaps the first object to challenge the house itself (and possibly also the workplace) in terms of the amount of time we dwell in it while awake,” they conclude, coining the term “transportal home” to describe the effect. “We are always ‘at home’ in our smartphone. We have become human snails carrying our home in our pockets.”

Author: Terry Madeley

Works with student data and enjoys reading about art, data, education and technology.

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