Mini Portrait_H: Constantly Responding and Receiving

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This is a part of a set of selected, wonderful and insightful, observations about digital living from our NYC pilot interviewees. Read their experiences of a digital diet here, and their visions of a digital future here.

Note that these mini portraits are just initial ‘samples’. There’s so much interesting material to be processed and analysed. Stay tuned!

And thank you so much, H!

Constantly Receiving and Responding

“I’m on all the time. There’s a way that I’m aware of … I mean it’s either that I’m anticipating someone to communicate with me or I feel like I have to respond.”

Distance and Closeness, Technology-Driven

“I was really slow in getting into digital technology. I was the last one to get a cell phone… But when I moved to Australia (from the U.S., 1996) I wanted to stay in touch with my family and I would go to the library (to use the computer) and write letters, like really long letters, and through those letters my mom and I would get closer, become more interested in each others’ lives. And my mom has kept them all. They’re amazing.

So that’s when I started to appreciate email but it was still about writing letters. And when I moved back (to the U.S.) I was still slow to take up the Internet, but the speed was slow too. But now that I have the iPhone, I feel like (my internet use) has really magnified… And then I made a film about the Internet and now I’m really fascinated by it.”

Work and Leisure of Sharing

“I’m always watching things, like things that people send me. But that’s also kind of great because that’s how I find out about things that are happening. That’s a thing about Facebook: Now there are people I follow because I know they post interesting videos, links to interesting art shows…

It’s interesting how culture gets now transmitted through these channels, people emailing: ‘Did you see this?’ And then I send it to 20 people, that’s sharing and that’s exciting because there are so many wonderful things being made…

All over, people are using social networks for activism… I’m enthralled, but not only because of the Facebook aspect of it, but because of the organization, I guess that… they use these tools, all these ways of sharing, like in Egypt, they shared with the rest of the world this incredible imagery of revolution that was so positive!

I’m thinking (in terms of the U.S. and the Western world), if we would have more ownership of these (digital communication) networks themselves, if they were more local, like neighborhood networks, would that then promote more participation?”

Routines and Being Present

“I usually turn off my computer at 10 (at night), otherwise I get anxious… and so (in the morning), because it takes time I turn on my computer and make coffee.

I spend a lot of time responding to emails, like the past year, it has gone up so much. I think it’s my job, people communicate via email a lot, but also now I have the iPhone and people know I can be reached… I don’t have to respond right away, but I want to, like, ‘let’s get this out of the way’.

A part of this is useful, a part of it is that I always have something to do. If I’m sitting in a park I’m not really relaxing, I’m checking my emails…

So you’re always on, but not present, so your mind is in another space. That’s something I want to get better at, being present.”

Mini Portrait_S: Finding a Digital Balance for the Family

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This is a part of a set of selected, wonderful and insightful, observations about digital living from our NYC pilot interviewees. Read their experiences of a digital diet here, and their visions of a digital future here.

Note that these mini portraits are just initial ‘samples’. There’s so much interesting material to be processed and analysed. Stay tuned!

And thank you so much, S!

Finding a Digital Balance for the Family

Family Expertise

“It must have been 2nd or 3rd year of studies when I still wrote my papers with a typewriter, 1986, 87 when we did the 2nd year seminar… Maybe it was the next year or the following (that I started to do work with computer) it was actually a really long time before I took it up…

And it was 1993, when we started our cross-Atlantic life, then we had a laptop. But that’s because my husband’s father, he used to be a professor of computer science, and my husband used to be a computer science major… But that means I’m not capable of installing anything, I never had to do it! I code, I do all that (for my studies, field of expertise) but I always had the expert at home.”

Old and New

“We have a landline, and I’m not giving it up… We keep it because it’s cheaper to call (our families) abroad. It’s sometimes Skype but mostly phone. I just talked to my brother for 2 hours yesterday. He finally managed to get Skype but of course it didn’t work, he tried to chat with me on Facebook — I had it open but wasn’t by the computer —  so we talked on the phone.

I think I only got my first mobile by 1999 or 2000. At that point it was getting really inconvenient if one didn’t have one.

But I held to an old black-and-white screen one for the longest time, just because I didn’t give a damn whether I can listen to music with it. And it used to be such a joke amongst my students, I used to teach (economics) at the time, they would have all these phones that would do this and that, make cookies, and we would talk about necessities and luxury goods. As I mother of 2 I just needed a phone!

As for the school (of my kids), it’s staggering how much paperwork travels back and forth. We do get a weekly email from school. And to sign up for the Parent-Teacher conference online (that I just did) was a new thing. But the best way to reach my kids’ teachers is to send them a note with the kids.”

Joy of Virtual Prizes

At one point during the interview, the children are wondering what to do while the adults are talking:

Boy: “Mom, I can do that kid’s math thingy?”

S: “OK, we’ll do your reading response afterwards.”

Minna: “Is math better than reading?”

S: “Yes… they have this online thing where they do math and then they get online prizes.. and then they’re like, ‘oh! I did it! I got it!’ We’ll show you that. And it’s amazing, it really is such a joy when they get a virtual elephant.”

(…Logging in, in the study)

S: “What was the password? Let me ask my daughter…

They (my daughter’s class) are studying multiplication and she does it in class and writes it down and when she’s done studying she goes (online) and tests it and plays with it. I think we’ve had this (math) programme, it’s something we actually pay for, for maybe 6 months.”

(Boy is playing and makes a mistake, a typo)

S: “Oh no… it was just a typo, now it takes 9 points away… That’s the problem with computers. There’s no flexibility.”

Favourite Thing

“The thing for us is that, of course everybody has a certain amount of gadgets but actually, you know, I’m still reading regular newspapers, we have a whole rack of magazines, it’ll take a while before we’ll get a rid of bookshelves!

Just to go to a coffee shop with my New York Times, that’s luxury!”

Mini Portrait_EF: Connected and Collaborating

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This is a part of a set of selected, wonderful and insightful, observations about digital living from our NYC pilot interviewees. Read their experiences of a digital diet here, and their visions of a digital future here.

Note that these mini portraits are just initial ‘samples’. There’s so much interesting material to be processed and analysed. Stay tuned!

And thank you so much, EF!

Connected and Collaborating

Close Personal History of a Digital Native

“Well when I was in 2nd grade I got my 1st phone but none of my friends had one, so I didn’t really use it, but when I got to like 4th or 5th grade I found out there’s a thing called IM and that’s when I technically started chatting with friends online and stuff.

First I had the LG flip phone and then a Nokia flip phone and then the iPhone. Most of my friends have iPhones or Blackberries.”

Digital Day

“Right now, I’m in Computer Tech so that’s my first period of the day (at school). I just use the Internet during the day but my chatting begins exactly when I get home from school, or, maybe, on the bus I text.

There are a couple of friends who are online a lot, like me, so then I’m usually talking to them, about 10 people go online there (iChat) but at school texting-wise, maybe 25 +.

When I went on the media diet they (my friends) were like, ‘where were you? I missed you!’ One of my friends texted me like 200 text messages! She was wondering where I was, she was bored, and hadn’t heard from me… But I couldn’t do the 24 hours because I had to do my schoolwork.”

Connected, Collaborating

“(My friends and I), we do homework a lot together. We videochat and if we have a problem we try to work it out together.”

[Amelia notes: “Well, I guess I used to do that… When I was in high school the Internet was just starting and we didn’t have cellphones or anything but I used to call my best friend every night and we would do our math homework together.”]

“I feel connected. I just have to go to the kitchen and turn on my computer and even though it takes a lot of time, to do homework and figure out a problem (with friends, online) it’s easier that way, if my mom’s at work and can’t help me.

There’s a difference between here (the US) and Europe (in terms of media use). For instance, I noticed that here, even if you’re at the dinner table you could be texting, but there you wouldn’t be. But they still text. I don’t think they use iChat and stuff.”

Privacy and Time

“In the future, everything’s growing so fast now that we have the iPad we will probably be able to iChat on it, you can probably just do that on the bus or something.

As for Facebook, some people think it’s very easy to stalk people there so some people don’t use it so much, so they’ve gone away from it.

And also, just like spending the time (on Facebook)… Even though it has so many applications, like games or whatever, but the things you could do is to put picture on your profile and people comment on them, so it’s sort of getting like too much…”


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This is one of my favorite images I’ve taken so far for the project. It’s from Minna’s apartment, on February 22.

Snapping the photo I commented in surprise that she had a simple, analog calendar, something that I haven’t had since I got a PDA as a gift a number of years ago (and felt obligated to trade in my paper planner & wall calendar for this device, even though it took me more time to use it that those ‘old’ methods of keeping dates). Minna, replied, “yes, it’s analog, and that’s why it’s out of date …”

Here’s another calendar from the home of one of our New York pilot participants:


Digital Living and Dangers of the Everyday

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Analog / Digital overlaps

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A few weeks ago I visited Minna at her apartment in preparation for our first New York interview. I had just been describing how much I liked being able to order books online (digital technology enhancing my ability to find and read the “old media” of books), when a book from was delivered to her door.

The book, Winter of Our Disconnect: How Three Totally Wired Teenagers (and a Mother Who Slept With Her iPhone) Pulled the Plug on Their Technology and Lived to Tell the Tale),  fit the conversation perfectly:

Autoethnography – offline activities


I, along with Minna, embarked on a ‘digital diet’ for 24 hours. It took me a while to work up to the concept: At first I decided to not check email all day, then to not go online all day (but still be able to use my computer).  In the end I convinced myself to shut off everything digital for 24 hours. This meant that I put away my laptop and media hard-drives, turned off my cell phone, and even covered up the digital clock on the stove in my kitchen:

I allowed myself to use my home phone – though it wasn’t much use as I only have, I realized, 5 phone numbers memorized or written down on paper, and no phone book. I also allowed myself to take 36 photos with my digital camera, e.g. an amount analogous to 1 roll of analog film.

Perhaps the first thing I noticed was how nice the light is in the morning at my desk. Usually I put down the curtains immediately as I begin work because the sun makes a glare in my computer screen. But, working with pen and paper, the light was lovely!

As the day wore on I decided to write a few letters – one to a friend, one to my grandmother – though I was limited by the addresses I had written out by hand vs. the ones stored on my computer. I remembered that I used to have an address book …

Later in the day I decided to bake a cake with the hope of inviting my lovely neighbor to tea (which I did). I usually look up recipes online, but I was confident that that would not matter as I knew we had a few cookbooks at home. One was for pasta dishes: not that useful. Another was for healthy vegetarian meals: no good deserts.  But, there was a lovely Swedish holiday cookbook. I was able to decipher all of the ingredients for a honey cake without the aid of an (online) dictionary, as well as the instructions for baking. But … I then realized that the measurements were metric and I had no reference (like Google) for converting them. I toyed with the idea of trying to make the recipe anyway – just going by the basic proportions – but I got stifled by the difference measuring systems for the liquid and dry ingredients – grams vs. dl:

Interestingly enough the most difficult thing for me during the whole diet was not having a clock readily available. I realized how much I usually glance at my computer clock, the clock on the stove, and/or my cell phone throughout the day – adjusting my activities accordingly. For example, deciding whether to eat lunch or wait a bit, calculating whether to call someone or not, to go outside and take a walk or wait an hour, etc. Living without that measurement felt quite different.


Now, a few days later, there are a two specific things I have been thinking about related to my digital diet. Firstly, most of the things that I was not able to do because I was not allowed to use my computer or phone were things that would have been easily and quickly accessible to me just a few years ago. That is, by having a (paper) address & phone book, cookbooks, and a watch most of my difficulties would have been solved. Digital technology has not necessarily made these activities – calling a friend, writing a letter, cooking a quiche, knowing what time it is – so different; similar information has simply been transferred to digital places.

The other thing that I have been reflecting on is the question: Do digital technologies save us time? If so, what do we do with the time that is saved?  I think that the question is more complex than I’d initially assumed. For example, during my digital diet it was quite clear to me that the digital world did allow me to accomplish things more instantaneously, but not necessarily always faster.  For example, if I write a friend a letter the actual act of writing takes me about the same amount of time regardless of whether I put the letter in the mail or if I send it by e-mail. I do perhaps save a bit of time by not walking down to the mailbox around the corner if I send the letter digitally – but, it’s often quite pleasant to get five minutes of fresh air, and I typically pass by the mailbox at least once a day on another errand which can’t be accomplished online.

Therefore, the difference in time between the act of writing and sending a letter online vs. by post is, in some ways, not so large for me. What is different is the time it takes to arrive at my friend’s residence – instantaneously by email vs. a few days wait as a paper letter.  During the days that the letter is on its way to her house, and her reply on its way back to me, I have plenty of free time to do other things: that is, this time of waiting is not “wasted”. Of course the speed or iterations of our correspondence can multiply significantly with the use of the internet – we can send many more messages back and forth within a shorter period of time. This iterative speed can of be quite useful in some situations: but, can it lead to not-so-useful clutter in others?

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