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Tim Kastelle

Interesting post Joe, as usual.

I think that McGonigal's argument is subtle, which leads to easy caricature (not that I'm saying you've done this!). The Evoke example that you bring up is a critical one. A lot of people are arguing that she is saying 'we should play more video games'. She is saying that, kind of, but more importantly, she is saying that the games we play should be designed to have an impact in the world. In other words, we need more opportunities to feel what gamers feel, but that we should be achieving this in contexts that pertain to the real world. That's why I love Evoke - it's a game, but the real world outcomes are substantial.

I'm still thinking through the implications of Reality is Broken, but I think that they are more significant than is apparent at first blush... Thanks for thought-provoking summary.

Joe McCarthy

Tim: thanks for shedding more light on Jane's provocative ideas. I did not play Evoke, but have read positive responses from other sources as well.

I deliberately chose an excerpt from Jane's WSJ article that I consider to represent the most opposing stance to the arguments that Sherry Turkle makes, but I actually believe that ultimately, they are not that far apart in their desires to promote more meaningful engagement with people (and problems) in the real world.

That said, I recall that the last time I tried to link Jane's ideas (on Alternate Reality Gaming) with someone I thought was, deep down, a kindred spirit (Adam Greenfield) - in the context of presentations on fun, games and magic at ETech 2007 - it turned out my perception of alignment reflected an alternate reality. Hopefully I'm not as far off this time.

Matthew Chalmers

I haven't read Turkle's book either, but her argument seems to have a type error. First is saying that digital media are unreal, or less real than... for example... the printed or written word.

Would Turkle complain so bitterly if people were reading books or writing letters in public spaces -- ignoring the people nearby at the time? Hold on, they already do... and civilisation has not collapsed in the face of such blithe dismissal of 'reality'. Quite the opposite, no?

Joe McCarthy

Matthew: I agree that reading books or writing letters in public spaces can serve as intentional or unintentional interaction shields. In my own experience in third places (such as coffeehouses), someone reading a book is somewhat more approachable than someone using a laptop, perhaps because the book cover offers more of a conversational affordance than a laptop cover (though I would also expect that the stickers that some people affix to their laptop covers may increase their approachability).

Keith Hampton, Oren Livio and Lauren Sessions conducted a fascinating study in which they retraced William Whyte's steps in observing and analyzing behavior in public places, paying attention to how technology was affecting such behavior (The Social Life of Wireless Urban Spaces: Internet Use, Social Networks and The Public Realm [PDF]). They discovered that the use of wireless technologies in public spaces is positively correlated with political and diverse social engagement.

In any case, I'm not sure that Turkle is concerned about digital media so much as digital connections and communications, and I believe she would argue that the breadth of connection (or "diverse social engagement") comes at the cost of diminished depth of connection and engagement. The arguments I've encountered thus far in the book have to do with the ease with which we can establish digital links or send electronic messages to one another vs the relative risk and inefficiency involved in establishing physical connections and engaging in face-to-face conversations (danah boyd's blog post about valuing inefficiencies and unreliability comes to mind).

Several years ago, I wrote about an earlier article by Turkle, in which she considered self-reflection vs. self-expression, and warned that the growing ease with which we can express ourselves and seek out others' opinions through digital media may diminish our capacity for - or willingness to engage in - a deeper form of self-reflection ... that seeking feedback and validation from others may crowd out seeking answers from within. In that case, I think she makes too strong a case against self-expression (for example, I find that writing blog posts - or comments - helps me gain a great deal of clarity, especially when others offer their own comments in response). I often find that authors overstate their cases, but I think that tendency can be helpful in sparking a broader - or deeper - debate about the issues raised in a book (or article) ... which, presumably, is one of the reasons one is willing to engage in such an endeavor of self-expression.


I guess there's no way of explaining my deep-seated unease with Jane's work that doesn't ultimately boil down to things I derive from my personal spiritual practice, and which I'm therefore (a) uneasy using as the foundation of a more general argument and (b) unwilling to cheapen by using as public discussion fodder.

That said, I thoroughly disagree with just about every major argument Jane makes, and most of the minor ones as well. I simply don't accept her premises, and was particularly disheartened by her discussion of "fiero" and plusoneme.

As Jane describes it, anyway, fiero strikes me as an exultation in the defeat and humiliation of an enemy we would clearly recognize as protofascist in most other contexts. ("Crush yuh enemies, see dem driven before you, hear de lamentations of dere women.") From the perspective of someone interested in underwriting experiences of community and solidarity, I do not believe we need more BOOYA moments in the world.

Plusoneme is just depressing. "Gold stars for adults"? I will confess that I barely even have the language to describe how trivializing and banalizing I find Jane's conception of incentive mechanics. If nothing else, I certainly don't need the world to be made to appear as an endlessly affirming place, because at root it is not anything of the sort, and I cherish honesty above most virtues. And you'll have to forgive me — I'm ashamed to admit it, even to myself — but way down deep I feel nothing but contempt for people who do need the world rendered solely in various flavors of NICE. What on earth is "adult" about that?

I'm fully aware that mine are not widely shared beliefs. The generous reception, even the enthusiasm, accorded Jane's ideas suggests to me that whether they fully acknowledge it or not, reality is for very many people a bridge too far. And this is a shame, because as I've argued elsewhere, reality, however terribly it hurts, is both an excellent school and a compass to which one will always have recourse.

I haven't read the Turkle, but from what I've heard of it I suspect that — however well- or poorly-argued the book may be — I agree with her at a visceral level.

Joe McCarthy

Adam: I appreciate your perspective, and your willingness to share it here. The post-ETech 2007 debate that emerged on your blog between you, Jane, Raph Koster and others - On happiness, "better" and the Ludic - was (and still is) a tremendously engaging and enlightening discussion of alternate perspectives on the costs and benefits of magical thinking and doing.

I agree that a fiero exclamation such as "Boo yah, motherf*cker, how you like me now! I ate me some raisins!" seems to exhibit an unnecessarily domineering attitude (though with a playful intent). An alternate interpretation of fiero might be the "I rule!" exultation that Kathy Sierra wrote about in the context of the "Featuritis Curve" and the "Happy User Peak" back in 2006. While I suppose this may [also] be interpreted as a potentially protofascist perspective, my own interpretation is that "I rule!" / fiero represents a sense of pride and mastery, which may or may not be accompanied by a dimension of domination over others (which your quote from Conan the Barbarian so effectively illustrates).

Having recently tweeted a short rant about the banality of LinkedIn's 1-click "congratulate" button (when an email update notifies the recipient that a contact has a new job), I can appreciate your reaction to Several years ago, I read and wrote a review of "How Full Is Your Bucket", a book on positive psychology that uses a metaphor of an emotional bucket and a dipper that one can use to add or remove drops of positivity to another's emotional bucket. At the time, I noted how blog comments and other online tools can have an affirming effect, but I do find the growing proliferation of 1-click electronic affirmations - whether it be LinkedIn's "congratulate" button, Facebook's "happy birthday" feature or PlusOneMe - to be ultimately demeaning.

Ultimately, your comments - and earlier comments (and the books by Turkle and McGonigal) - raise a fundamental tension I've long felt between friction and flow. On the one hand, I believe that Life is Difficult (as articulated by M. Scott Peck) - or life is dukkha (as articulated by the Buddha) - and that leaning into discomfort and working through potentially painful or unpleasant challenges is an important ingredient for personal and professional growth. However, I also believe that sometimes it is best to seek out and go with the flow, as is articulated in Mary Oliver's poem, Wild Geese:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Jane McGonigal

I almost never weigh in on virtual debates, but what the heck, Joe is an old friend. :)

I don't think there's a debate between Sherry and myself in the making... I think more of a shared goal: wanting to grapple with the promises and realities of technologies to figure out how they can best serve us in our desire to live satisfying, meaningful, connected lives. We clearly both care deeply about quality of life -- and have hope for the future that we can use technology to achieve meaning, deep social relationships, and well-being.

I thank Tim for pointing out the subtleties of my argument. ^_^

With Adam, it's just a case of projection -- what I hear from Adam is:

"When *I* experience deep feelings of triumph, it is usually in the context of beating someone else who I consider an opponent." (Perhaps this is why he likes to pick intellectual fights!)

Whereas, in my reality, deep feelings of triumph more commonly are experienced when working together with others to achieve a shared goal -- like putting on a successful Ten Year Forecast conference at IFTF!

Or I feel vicarious fiero (also described as "naches") when someone I care about, or have mentored or helped, achieves their goal. For example, when an EVOKE player won a social entrepreneurship award to make their EVOKE project a reality!

Or I feel personal fiero when I overcome a deep obstacle in my own life -- such as when I was able to deliver a TED talk just 6 months after being barely able to string together a couple of coherent sentences as a result of my mild traumatic brain injury. (Actually, I think my husband had some vicarious fiero there too)

When I play games, these are the same kind of fieros I experience -- personal in a singleplayer game, shared when my husband helps me beat a tough game or vice versa, or collective in a multiplayer co-op game (like beating extreme difficulty together in Rock Band!)

(For AG to have missed all these variations of fiero by the way suggests he hasn't actually read the book.)

LIkewise with plusoneme. What I hear Adam projecting is this:

"If I were to receive a +1 from a friend or stranger, I would not experience that as an act of kindness. I would experience it as silly or useless. I personally am not looking for more ways to give other people positive feedback -- either I feel like I have plenty of useful ways already or I just don't spend a lot of time offering people positive feedback." (I can't say for sure which)

In my reality, I am very much heartened when I receive a surprise email from someone sharing a plus one with me... and I enjoy sending one to others. In my experience, it is like a Hallmark card -- a token of social support, a way to make sure someone knows they have had an impact or that their effort is really visible to others.

So listen, differences of opinion about big ideas usually boils down to different experiences and different ways of living in the world. So it's not even an intellectual disagreement. It's just AG experiences the world differently than I do --and I dare say there are plenty of people who experience the world more like one of us than the other to mean that there will continue to be lots of disagreement about the ideas in Reality is Broken. My principal concern is to give voice to at least the real experience that exists as I see it and experience it, and support and optimism and real practical steps for people who experience a similar reality.

Joe McCarthy

Jane: thanks for your thoughtful and thorough response.

I share your perspective about the shared goal(s) you and Sherry Turkle are striving for, and proposed a "debate" primarily as a means to clarify that common ground, though I suspect it would also reveal interesting differences in your respective assessments of relative costs and benefits.

Your personal experience with PlusOneMe serves as a valuable reminder of yet another dimension of the How Full Is Your Bucket book I mentioned earlier:

The Reverse Golden Rule

This is powerful: "Do unto others as they would have you do unto them." The golden rule applies insofar that we all want to have our buckets filled, but how to effectively fill someone else's bucket must be individualized.

So PlusOneMe will be effective for some (in some contexts) and ineffective for others ... and I've sent you a +1 to express my appreciation for your contribution here.


I think, Jane, that if you really had confidence in the substance of your ideas, you wouldn't need to resort to ad hominems.

Joe McCarthy

Adam: I perceive a level of irony in the accusation of "ad hominemity", given that the only trace of potential ad hominemity (ad hominemnity?) I read in Jane's response is her perception of a projection of your experience onto others. Given that you prefaced your remarks by saying "I guess there's no way of explaining my deep-seated unease with Jane's work that doesn't ultimately boil down to things I derive from my personal spiritual practice", a perception of projection does not seem unwarranted to me.

FWIW, I believe that I regularly - and largely unconsciously - project my experience onto others, and would not be surprised if Jane has a similar perception of her own projections.

I believe one could make a stronger case that calling into question one's confidence in the substance of his or her own ideas constitutes a clearer case of ad hominemnity ... but this may be another case of projection.


I like Jane's comment that "We clearly ... care deeply about quality of life -- and have hope for the future that we can use technology to achieve meaning, deep social relationships, and well-being." I'm guessing this statement reflects pretty much a desire by everybody in discussions like this one.

And yet the tone of this comments discussion reflects more the shadow of that desire than its fulfillment. (To me that's where the irony is). Maybe in part the source of the shadow is that we can never really separate people from their ideas and the illusion we can ever do so results unconsciously in creating the very barriers to that 'quality of life' we desire.

How we talk to each other is not separate from what we are talking about -- and vice versa. "Debate" easily becomes personal because from the beginning it was never really anything else. Trust is based on people affirming and reaching out to one another, not attacking one another's perspectives. How about building each other's ideas, appreciating intentions, acknowledging one's own challenges and asking for feedback?

Joe, you sent me that great article by David La Piana (@DavidLaPiana), "The Non-Profit Paradox," based on the tweet: Nonprofits tend to recreate within their own organizational cultures the problems they are trying to solve in society by @ReginaHolliday and @kelshew. Perhaps some of the same dynamics apply here, too.

Seems to me a valuable part of this unfinished discussion would be personal and compassionate reflection on the emotions and unspoken thoughts about the people that sit in a column to the right of this conversation. The goal would not be to create some kind of encounter group that continues the war of words and ideas and values -- no further comments are required -- but simply to consider in a private way for learning and awareness and "mindfulness" what triggered the reciprocal defensiveness expressed here.

Ellen Weber

Great discussion and thanks! Both sides suggest to me that when we truly set out to learn from views on several sides of issues -- we exchange desire for flame wars - for curiosity and awareness.

Love Dan's notion of mindfulness as his comments resonate with the human brain's equipment to interact with alternate sides - while growing outer edges of our previous or unexamined ideas.

If trust is based on reaching out and affirming (and I suspect it is) then how could we alter more of what is referred to as "real life" in article to "ideal" life in reality? How could we reboot learning by using keen tone skills several allude to here.

Seems to me that would be the launching pad into that deeper, and more abiding narrative of human craving - online or offline. You?

Joe McCarthy

Dan: thanks for the invitation to compassionate reflection, a practice I want to better cultivate (and a goal I may have fallen short of in this comment thread). Thanks, too, for the reminder about the paradox of work. Seeing that tweet again, I'm struck by the broader application beyond the realm of "non-profit". It seems to me that nearly every organization embodies the personal "work" of the founders, and typically reflects both the shadows and light they bring.

Ellen: I enjoyed reading more about what you have to say about tone skills and innovation on your blog. I do believe that both Jane McGonigal and Sherry Turkle - and others who have commented on this thread - are all committed to improving life in the real world, but differ on whether or how various dimensions in the online world might contribute to that goal.

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