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Being human in a digital world: 10 key ideas of who we are

15 years of research in social sciences sounds massive. What could it reveal about who we are and how do we respond to fast changing world around us ?
Genevieve Bell, an anthropologist and a leader of Intel Labs’ interaction and experience research. In the following video, she shares gems of results that come from 15 years of research about us, humans.

First time I've seen this video in Jan 2015 and since then I've been re-watching it every couple month. There is something fundamentally appealing in what Genevieve is saying. Moreover, I keep on finding numerous examples of Genevieve's words in my professional and personal life. In a light of my last post about the change I thought it will be a good time to watch that video again and write about things that are not changing as fast as everything else.

"Everybody who is in the tech business are telling the stories about the future." 

Stories we tell about future suggest that everything will be different, but some things do not move that quickly. There are things that change really slowly and there are other things that always been changing.

"Stable" or what makes us humans

Friend and family 

We need to have friends and family. Not only biological family but what we now call "the close circle". The first phone calls that were made in the world were made to friends and family to check how are they. Same story with first text messages. We are social creatures and we define ourselves in relation to others. The way we manifest it changes over time, but our need for social relations stay stable.

Shared interests (communities)

We want to be a part of a community. We want to belong to something bigger than our self-identity. Communities are the ones who share our values and interests. Guilds and unions some time ago vs Pinterest and Tumblr nowadays. Communities we belong to are telling something about us to ourselves first and to the entire world.

Something bigger (ideas, beliefs, religions)

We want to be a part of something that is bigger than ourselves. Ideas, beliefs, religions. We want to belong to a cause. Do people biologically need this? History most definitely answers - yes. Does future have any other ideas?

Our objects (that tell who we are)

We use objects to tell who we are to others and to ourselves as well. The cloth you wear, the car you drive, the neighborhood you live in. Objects, physical but also digital. Apps we own, pics we use to represent ourselves, nicknames we choose in video games. We tell stories to ourselves using objects we own. It is a kind of re-assurance. We need to feel we are of a worth.

Our secrets (and our lies) 

We have a twin need of keep secrets and tell lies. Average human being tells about 6 to 200 lies a day. Men lie more often - woman lie better :) Digital world has facilitated that behavior in a number of ways. More importantly, in a digital world telling lie may not mean the same shame and guilt implications that lie in the real world might have. Some studies show that when you lie online you're filled with a small feeling of glee because you got away with something. That creates all kind of problems. It may affect your online quantitative research. It creates a problem for the idea of e-government. For some time telling lie on the Internet was a way to keep secrets. Lying as a way to keep our privacy. And we need our privacy. We need our secrets.

The point about lying applies pretty well to all previous "stable" points. We lie and keep secrets about our friends and family, about our interests and beliefs and we most definitely use objects to tell lie about us.

There are things about us that always changing. We think they are changing now, but the fact is - they've been changing for at least past 200 years.

In a flux for a long time

Privacy and Reputation (what other think about us)

Privacy was a topic of conversation for hundreds of years. What you chose to display on your body, what was OK in the public domain, cloth, and language standards. All that were discussed for many, many years. Not only privacy was discussed but a reputation as well. In the past what people were saying about you - was, in fact, your reputation. Now we have much more data to judge people on. A full set of data that was disclosed about you. Nowadays we are able to collect massive amounts of data about an individual, explicit and implicit. What these sets of data actually tell us? Maybe that we are not that cool as we want to be? If so, do we want to know that? And do we want others to know that? Answers seem obvious to most.

Surprise and Boredom 

We need to be bored and we want to be surprised. The word "boredom" first appeared in 1850 in Dickens novel. Some say that boredom is the result of the industrial revolution. We need to be bored from time to time as this is the way we reset our brain. The moment of deep boredom may be the moments of great creativity as well. We like things that are familiar and we can repeat our experience again and again until we are chronically bored. And then we desperately looking for things that can surprise us. Technologically, it's kinda easy to recommend something similar to what you just heard, seen or read. Yet, it's quite difficult to identify when you approach boredom and suggest something different that surprises you. All that  without being too creepy. In close future, we will need to learn how to design for a surprise.

Difference (be a part , but be unique)

The great paradox: we want to be like everyone else but we want to be unique. A bit different, maybe slightly different, sometimes recognizably different, but not "freakish" different. How would you design for a difference in mass production world? How can you make a person feel unique without designing for every single individual?

Time (we want to feel it)

First, we introduced clock to formalize time. Then we invented indoor lighting that changed everything, including sleep patterns and work\rest cycle. Our sense of time been changing constantly. Mostly because of our tech. Technology feels time differently. Technology wants and needs to be constantly connected.  Humans function better when we are disconnected. We need those moments of disconnect. Technology needs "instant", while humans sometimes might benefit from a bit of waiting.

Forget and Forgive

We want bad things about us to be forgotten or\and forgiven. Surely, we don't want to be reminded of them. What would it be to imagine a world of constant data? Some technologies are doing that. Imagine every bit of you being saved forever. Do you want that? No, thanks. Part of what makes us human is that we are able to go past mistakes we've made. We can re-invent ourselves, even if a little bit. We want to have a right to be forgotten.

All majorly successful technologies of past years, digital or physical touched upon one of the things above. They hit on one of those things.

We design things not for them to be technical, we design for people. The future is not digital - it's human. And what makes us human - will make our products successful.

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