Regarding: “Being elsewhere” than you might be has become something of a marker of one’s sense of self-importance. (Always on, Sherry Turkle)

According to Sherry Turkle, “being elsewhere” can be defined as people ignoring those they are physically “with” to give priority to online virtual others .(Always on) Despite their physical presence in a certain environment, they are considered as “absent” from the perspective of their correspondents. Such “absence” often makes people they are actually with feel ignored and humiliated.  Is this “absence”, or “being elsewhere” a phenomenon of recently developed behavior patterns caused by modern technology; historically, was there anything similar to this phenomenon? Just imagine a high school classroom in 1920’s.  There are no electronic devices that lead students to somewhere else other than the classroom they are in. All of their eyes are on their teacher. The room is quiet except the teacher’s voice. Still, the students’ mind can be easily drifted to anywhere they want to be. One can be in a secret place where he or she met with his next door sweetheart the other day. Another can think of Charlie Chaplin, which he or she has been passionate about these days. Conventionally, those “being not attentive to some people they are physically with” has been considered “rude” and “highly inappropriate”. The same ethical standard might apply to people’s “being elsewhere” that modern technology; Internet, Blackberry, Ipod and so on has brought in.

Sherry Turkle illustrates how “being elsewhere” becomes a marker of one’s self-importance: students do e-mail during classes; business people do e-mail during meetings; parents do e-mail while playing with their children; couples do e-mail at dinner; people talk on the phone and do e-mail at the same. Once done surreptitiously, the habit of electronic co-presence is no longer something people feel they need to hide. Indeed, “being elsewhere” than where you might be has become something of a marker of one’s self-importance. (Always on) Truly, more and more people are doing e-mails in everyday life. Then, why does students’ doing e-mail have something to do with their sense of self-importance? If business people feel proud of themselves when doing e-mails during meetings, where is their sense of self-importance based on? Maybe it is from the pride in their multitasking skills, or vanity that they can show other people what they are capable of, or self contentment that they are up-to-date with these modern technology. Whatever it is, their basis is so fragile. It could easily be broken by simply realizing everybody else is doing the same thing in front of themselves. When all the people around them do the e-mails, they don’t feel themselves special and important any more. When they are leading a business meeting and watch participants doing e-mails during whole meeting, they come to realize how inappropriate it is to “be elsewhere” and the importance of “being present”. Sooner or later, people’s “not being elsewhere”, or “being present physically and mentally where they are supposed to be” will be a marker of their self-importance.


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