Over a year later…

There have been many times in the past year when I have wanted to update this blog, but lack of time and exhaustion of the topic stopped me.  I knew that it would take me months to fully understand what happened to me and it has.  For many weeks after, I didn’t even want to talk about the project because I was so overwhelmed with it all.

As time goes by, I still notice the physical and emotional impacts the project has had on me.  My ability to effectively multi-task has lessened or I seem to have less of a tolerance for it.  I feel as though I am overwhelmed more easily by emails, text messages, and social media or at least I am more aware of its affect on me now.

In response to this, I don’t use facebook much anymore.  I will occasionally post images and I will sometime “like” something, but it’s difficult for me to really engage in it.  I have only logged on to Twitter a few times.  I opened a Foursquare account as part of another art project, but I’ve abandoned it now that the project is over.

Since starting grad school a few months ago, I have had little time to socialize on or offline.  For some, this may be a perfect example of when facebook helps you maintain your friendships with little investment of time.  However, it doesn’t work that way for me.  Instead, I try to squeeze in face-to-face interactions.  Although, they may be few and far between, it seems to be a better use of my time.

From my conversations with others, it doesn’t seem like I am missing that much on facebook these days anyway.   Many have told me that they think facebook is changing.   A common comment is, “It’s not as interesting as it used to be.”  There seems to be a shift from personal use to networking or more business-based use.  I keep wondering if the the novelty is starting wearing off.  However, these people I speak of still have their facebook accounts and so do I.  As much as I try not to participate, I still can’t seem to cut ties.  I feel that it is a social norm and I must have an account to be a part of society.  Plus there are still some nice conveniences.  Apparently, the positive benefits still out weigh the negative.

Here’s a quick update on the documentary.   Josh started working on it, but has yet to complete it.  The pressures of everyday life have gotten in the way.  We apologize to those who had hoped to see a final product by now. Especially to those who graciously volunteered to help with the shooting and many others who were filmed.  Your time and involvement in the project continues to be greatly appreciated.

The days after…

The day after I was “released” from the gallery space, mentally I felt great, but physically I felt ill.   It took me a few days to start feeling normal again.  I lost six pounds over the course of the month and for someone as small as I am that’s a lot.  It’s now a week later and I have almost gained it all back and I feel 100% better physically.

I spend the first two days out of the gallery cleaning out the space and returning all the furniture.  I really didn’t want to be in there, but I had to.  It felt claustrophobic and the difference in the air quality was very noticeable.  Even others noticed how stale the air felt. Anytime someone needed to talk to me on the phone or in person, I took the conversation outside.

The hugs feel great and the smells have been strong.  It’s amazing how sensitive you can be when you’ve been missing something.

I took a few days off of the computer right after I got out.  I only checked email, but didn’t respond to anything unless it was urgent.  It is more apparent to me now that I am out, how much I was addicted to the Internet and my phone. At the “opening” party, Josh took my purse to put it away, but first I asked to get my phone.  He said you don’t need it, but I felt like I did.  Thankfully, he didn’t let me keep it.

Now that I am no longer multi-tasking various communications, my attention span is better.  So much so that I have started reading a book and I don’t make as many mistakes typing and texting.  I am still trying to only do one thing at once.  I credit that as the reason my anxiety and stress have subsided.

It feels really good to finally be able to relax without being watched and to not be accessible 24/7.  It also feels really good to be able to express myself fully.  Now when I am frustrated that someone misunderstood me in a text, I ask if we discuss it on the phone or in person. It’s nice to have the option.

Day 30

What have I learned? This will be a question a lot of people will be asking me.  The answer is not so simple.  I don’t think I will know for weeks or months what all this meant and how it has changed me.  What I do know is that Josh and I have just scratched the surface with this project.  There are many more conversations to be had about how all of these new technologies affect us physically, emotionally, and socially.  In that regard, 30 days most definitely is not enough time.

However, it was enough time for me to realize that I can’t sustain all of the technologies the way I have been.  I will not be deleting my facebook account after this, but I will be using it much differently.  I have already taken the app off my phone and I will be cutting back the number of people I have as friends.  For me, the key is keeping a balance and remembering the importance of fostering my relationships face-to-face as much as possible.

What are you going to do when you get out?  This is the other question people want to know the answer to.  To start, I will be celebrating tonight with many of you.  I look forward to hugging my family and friends, but I am starting to wonder if all the noises, smells, and physical contact will put me into sensory overload.  It’s possible and that’s okay. It will still be fun.  After that I will be unplugging for a little while.

As I mentioned, I will be cutting back on my facebook friends, but I want to thank all of the supporters and everyone I have had conversations with this month.  It’s those discussions that made this project a success in my mind and I hope that you will continue the conversation with those in your lives.

Day 29

What is a month in public isolation like?  Well, it’s not isolating in a traditional sense – it’s public.   There is no place to hide except the bathroom (which I haven’t done but wanted to many times) or under the covers (which I have many times, but doesn’t give much comfort.)  It’s a place where your brain is in constant motion and you can’t seem to stop it long enough to focus on one thing.  It’s where the notifications of text messages and emails are continually pouring in all the while people need your attention at the window.  Everything you do seems to be fragmented so much so that you are constantly rewriting, rereading, and asking people to repeat what they just said.  You can’t seem to write a simple text without a typo.

You become so obsessed with the idea that you are behind on emails and other work that you hardly leave the computer to take a break and do something else. In a word, you become addicted to these limited forms of communication. Which is right about the time you begin to feel so incredibly overwhelmed that you wish it would all to go away.

Through this experience, I have been reminded that human beings need rest and I feel as though I have had little.  It’s hard to feel at rest when you are constantly being watched on and offline.  I never turned my phone off and my laptop was only shut off at night while I slept. Being accessible all of the time has taken a toll on my body.

Public isolation is much like many of our lives.  Someone described it perfectly to me in an email, “There are many people living just like you through the screens of their phones and laptops. These machines, always on, always open, are the equivalent of the windows you have around you, allowing anyone to contact them, wake them and take their attention at any time.”

Day 28

This month, I have seen many of the same faces outside of these windows.  Some of whom I have been able to talk to on Facebook, Twitter, or email.  Some I haven’t spoken to at all, but we wave and smile. I find a sense of comfort in our daily interaction.  When you spend this amount of time seeing the same people you feel like you know them.  Like the gentleman who taps on the window to say good morning or the group of day laborers who check-in to make sure I am okay and sometimes like to play friendly tricks on me.  I have grown a sense of fondness for them, but I don’t know anything about them.  I wonder what their lives are like and how they spend the rest of their days. I recognize that it would have been unlikely for our paths to cross if I was not doing this project. And I wonder how would this be different if I was standing on the corner instead of inside this glass box.  Would they show empathy for me or me for them?

I will miss seeing these people, as I will miss the interactions that I have been able to have with those new friends online.  If I had covered the windows so that I couldn’t see out like I had originally planned, I would not have had the same experience and although that may have made more of a legitimate social experiment, I am okay with that because this is an art installation and those people have become part of the project.

The media coverage has also had an effect on the project and I have wondered many times if it would have been better to ignore these requests.  It’s not something that Josh or I ever planned for.  In fact, I have been uncomfortable with all the attention, but the media has made it possible to talk to people all over the world about this topic.

People have asked me frequently, why are you doing this?  The answer is simple, to start a conversation.  I don’t pretend to know the answers to all of the questions we have.  I only hope to shed light on the things that have I noticed changing in my relationships with others.

This conversation doesn’t have to be with me.  In fact, I want people to discuss this among themselves.  Art can be a useful tool to get this started.  So even though some may think introspective art exhibitions are boring, that’s okay. Because for me the fact that people are talking about this and how it affects them makes me feel like the project was a success.

Day 27

Recently, I was talking to a person who I met right before I started this project.  I only met him a couple of times and we spoke very little in person, but over the course of the month we have spoken a lot.  When asked if he would consider me a friend he said maybe and then followed that up with he had not doubt that we would be friends after this project ends.

He and I chatted a little about how we feel that our “friendship” is similar to how well you’d know someone if you only knew them through their facebook profile. I explained that I would call him a friend because I have talked to him more then my “real friends” this month and that I feel like have gotten to know him, but he doesn’t think that’s enough and I would agree.  I really don’t know anything about him except for trivial things and he said the same about me.

The reason why we are having a hard time defining our relationship comes down to one thing for me, physical interaction.  There is something about being in someone’s physical presence that makes you feel more connected to that person.

Another person that I have meet this month, I have shared a lot of personal information with.  Based on our conversations, you would think that we are very close, but yet we have just met.  Again, there is definitely something still missing.  We don’t know how to define our relationship either, but we know that we will be friends when we are able to met in person.

In contrast, a friend that I have known for a year feels our friendship is closer because we have been video chatting a lot this month.  He doesn’t think we would have been as close are we are if I wasn’t doing this project.  This is because it’s rare that he sits down to talk to someone one-on-one like we have. For him, it works because we had already established the physical connection.  For me, I still want more, but that could very well be because I don’t have any physical interaction with anyone.  We both recognize that the senses are a very big part of how we connection with someone when we first meet them.  It could be the smell, sound, touch, or the ability to see someone three dimensionally, but the senses play a very big role.

There has been a lot of emphasis put on the word friend this month.  Which makes me wonder how we define that and if we need to redefine it for our current times.  So I looked up the definition online:

1. a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.

2. a person who gives assistance; patron; supporter

3. a person who is on good terms with another; a person who is not hostile

4. a member of the same nation, party, etc.

I was surprised at my own reaction.  I read this and I thought, maybe we are just forgetting that there are multiple ways to define friend?  After all there are adjectives that we can attach to the word, i.e. best, close, etc. So maybe those friends that aren’t really friends could still fit in the category if we think of them as supporters, etc.?  The way that we are interacting with people is changing so maybe we need to adjust they way we think about the word.

Day 26

‘The Dumbest Generation, Mark Bauerlein asserts that social media and youth culture undercut the skills necessary to be a global citizen when he writes: “We need a steady stream of rising men and women to replenish the institutions, to become strong military leaders and wise political leaders, dedicated journalists and demanding teachers. Judges and muckrakers, scholars and critics and artists.  We have the best schools to train them, but social and private environments have eroded.”  Do you agree with this assessment or not?’

That was a question posed to me today by a high school student working on a college essay.  It’s from a book called The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30).  I can see why he doesn’t like Twitter.  He’d have a hard time tweeting that title.

Seriously though, it was difficult trying to answer this question through the glass.  I haven’t read the book so I don’t know all of the ideas behind it.  I find the statement above to be pretty extreme.  I do know that Bauerlein argues that reading habits have slipped, along with general knowledge, which I would believe.  The conversation that I had with the student ended up being about the effects of digital technology on him and his friends.

I have been happily surprised to get emails from teenagers telling me that they are concerned about how their generation views communication, but they are quick to point out that they feel like they are in the minority. This is the group of people that I find most interesting to hear from because they are our future and they have grown up in a purely digital age.

The student that visited me told me that nothing in high school is official until it’s posted on facebook.  He also said that he finds it difficult to communicate with others through text messaging because they can easily be misunderstood without hearing the tone in someone’s voice.  However, most of his friends think there’s nothing wrong with it.  He also expressed that his friends profiles are not representative of who they are.  The same goes for his profile. It’s a persona to sell themselves to others.

I got an email today from a 16-year-old girl that had a lot of the same concerns.  She likes her privacy, but feels like she is the only one.  She thinks it’s strange to have pictures out there of herself that she can’t control.  The thing she finds most frustrating with facebook and any sort of virtual communication is that she can sit in front of a screen and catch up with so many peoples lives without ever talking or seeing anyone.  She feels more connected to words rather then people.  She recently deleted her facebook account because of these concerns.

However, there are many more youth that choose to live in public rather then in private.

Day 25

Today is Thanksgiving so some family and a couple friends stopped by, but it was really cold so they didn’t stay long.  I video chatted with my dad and step-mom in California, my mom here in Portland, and a couple friends in other cities. At the end of the night a few friends surprised me by coming down with a laptop so we could Skype through the window, but again they didn’t stay long because it was cold.

I am thankful for many, many, things this year, but especially my family and friends who continue to amaze me with their love and support.  I am also very thankful for the ability to communicate with them so easily across the country.  This project was never intended to take away from the fact that these technologies do have positive benefits.

Because of these technological advances we feel closer to family overseas, people who have physical disabilities who are restricted to their homes feel less isolated, the hearing impaired are able to communicate more effectively, and there are many more examples we could add to the list.

Another thing to remember though is that those of us who have accessibility to these technologies are very privileged.  There are many that can’t afford these luxuries. We are lucky to have these problems of overuse to think about.

Day 24

A question that I have been thinking about a lot lately is what would it be like if it was a man in here instead of a woman.  I don’t know the answer to that question, but I know it would be different. They would probably ask him questions about what it feels like to live without privacy, but I am pretty sure that people wouldn’t be concerned about his safety nor would they be asking him if he feels objectified.

I don’t feel objectified by anyone’s behavior.  In fact, people have been incredibly respectful towards me.  However, the fact that I am a woman living in a very public way I can’t deny that it’s a very voyeuristic experience for those watching. In some cases though, I think people watching are more uncomfortable then I am.  Multiple people have emailed me to tell me they feel so uncomfortable watching me that they look at my surroundings instead of looking directly at me.

The fact that I am a woman probably does bring more attention to the project, but it was not a deliberate decision.  In fact, Josh was originally going to collaborate with a man who was going to try and create a small carbon footprint. When that didn’t work out and he and I started collaborating, we didn’t discuss the implications of me being a woman. I think we both though of it in a rather gender neutral way.

However, a few days leading up to my coming in here, I did start to get concerned for my safety.  I also wondered if anyone would try to flash me or do something else to make me feel uncomfortable.  Those thoughts faded quickly once I was in here and nothing of the sort happened.  Other then a couple facebook comments on my hair and a phone number taped to the window things have been really quiet in the objectification department.

I have been reluctant to discuss this element of the project in interviews because the media tends to get fixated on this topic and there is much more to our project then that. I recognize that this is part of the project too and I am happy to discuss it, I just don’t want it to be the only thing we discuss.

That being said if we had done this without people being able to see me, it is likely that the response would have been much different.  I am most definitely not the first artist to put themselves in this situation to make a statement.  It is what gets people’s attention, but I hope that it is the other concepts that continue to hold people’s interest.

Day 23

Today I witness something out of the ordinary.  A friend of mine came to say hello to me.  While we were texting back and forth, a young man that looked as if he has fallen on hard times came up to my friend and started talking to him. My friend went to his car and got some money to give to him. They continued talking, then the man became emotional and my friend tried to console him.  At first, my friend touched him on the shoulder to as to provide support and then they hugged. They continued to talk and then they eventually parted ways.

I watched all of this from behind the glass without hearing a word, but as I watched I felt like I was seeing something powerful unfold it brought tears to my eyes.  It was one of those moments where you feel peace in knowing that complete strangers can find compassion for one another.  It is amazing to me how that man’s demeanor changed after they hugged. At least for a few moments he felt better.  After my friend left, he still wanted to help this man.  He went home and got a sleeping bag and jacket to give to him, but when he returned he couldn’t find him.  I kept a lookout and made a note to show him if he came back, but he didn’t.  We hope he went to the homeless shelter not far from here.

It was one of the few times I have watched what happens outside of these windows.  Most of the time I try to ignore what’s going on out there so that I don’t notice that I am being watch.  I think I will change that behavior the rest of the time I am in here.

After I posted the blog, my friend text messaged these comments to me in regards to meeting the man:

“I was standing there trying to have a real human interaction with you (through a glass wall) via txt. This guy, this human being fighting for his life, is right next to me (almost in my personal space) trying to have a human interaction, and he’s competing with my iPhone.”

“Can’t tell you how many times that same competition for my attention happens on a daily basis (even now, I should be on my way to work.)”

“Erika & Owen are always asking me to come away from my work and to unplug.  Makes me sad.”

“Does it take someone being that fucked-up and in of help to get me to unplug?”

“And I wouldn’t even have been there on that corner if it weren’t for your project and the point you are trying to make.”

“I think the reality of our condition is that our biology evolves MUCH slower then our ability to manipulate it (technology.)”

Cristin Norine and Joshua Jay Elliott