Get real. An argument for leading an unmediated life.

Having sat through yet another (very good) social media presentation, I again came away examining the differences between wired life (that is, life lived through technology) and real life (the one in which we actually inhabit).

It brought to mind a great article I read recently on psychologytoday.com by Dr. Jim Taylor, clinical associate professor at the University of Denver. As he sees it, there are two fundamental differences.

First, wired life is not real, meaning experiences are created by technology with the aim of being as close as possible to the actual experience. The problem with this wired life is that, though it shares similarities to real life, it lacks the ‘texture’ of real life. Email, for example, is a wonderful means of communication, but it lacks visual input, the nuance of facial expressions and body language, and clear emotional content. We’ve all been caught out at one time or another by misreading the tone of an email and responding inappropriately.

Second, wired life is mediated by the technology that makes it possible. There’s a yawning gap between us and our experiences, whether a Facebook status update, txt message or a Wii game and, as just noted, a great deal is lost in the translation.

Susan Greenfield, a noted British neuroscientist, believes that for all of its appearance of freedom, technology puts us in a box – albeit a very bright, shiny and fun box. We may kid ourselves that those dropdown menus give us options, but what they really do is limit choices that limit our thinking, imaginations and actions.

Dr. Greenfield suggests that the fixed quality of technology may inhibit the development of creativity that is, by its very nature, open and undefined.

She’s also critical of the “contracted, brutalised” writing skills inherent in Twitter and txt messages that lack the vocabulary and structure essential for sophisticated thinking and expression.

So what makes real life so real?

1.       We have direct access to our experiences, unmediated by technology. We can experience life head on with all that it has to offer, both tidy and messy.

2.       The richness of the sensory experience that it provides: sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, balance, movement, temperature, pain – and the emotions they invoke. That said, technology has made great advances in replicating the experience of real life with improved visual graphics and sound, the sensation of balance and movement, and emotionally provocative content. But it comes nowhere close to the full spectrum of human sensory experience!

3.       It offers us experiences that are open-ended. The only limits that exist are those of our creativity and the physical parameters of real life.

4.       Real life is value driven, meaning the direction that we take our lives is based on what we consider most important. As a result, life has personal meaning and relevance to us. And with that meaning and relevance comes investment – that is to say, caring about what we do and where we direct our lives. Values, meaning, and relevance give real life its power and most of what technology offers is devoid of it.

5.       Finally, and perhaps most importantly, real life, and much of the meaning and satisfaction accrued from it, comes from our relationships with others. The development of our social lives is essential for our psychological and emotional wellbeing. Yes, social media is obviously social in nature, but it limits the richness of human interactions and keeps relationships at a comfortable distance. One of the great ironies of the social media era is that some of the least social people in the world created it – the most notable being Netscape founder Marc Andreessen and Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Fundamentally, technology creates a mediated approximation of life that does offer utilitarian benefits and some entertainment value. But is it a good enough substitute for the real thing? That’s for you to decide.

Drew is Creative Director of justONE