On Staring at Machines

Reagle surveys this varied landscape in pursuit of a goal he calls ‘intimate serendipity,’ his term for successful online communities, places where people are able to express themselves electronically in a civilized way... But in the main, the Web conversation Reagle considers suffers from tendencies similar to the ones Turkle identifies: narcissism, disinhibition, and the failure to care about the feelings of others. It’s a world devoid of empathy.... How can we enjoy the pleasures and benefits of mobile and social media while countering its self-depleting and antisocial aspects? Turkle keeps her discussion of remedy general, perhaps because there aren’t many good solutions at the moment. She thinks we should consciously unitask, cultivate face-to-face conversation, and set limits on ourselves, like keeping devices away from the family dinner table.... Harris wants engineers to consider human values like the notion of ‘time well spent’ in the design of consumer technology... These are helpful suggestions—more thoughtful apps, and apps to control our apps. They also seem wildly inadequate to the problem.