The nostalgia of the young - Networked - Alone Together - Sherry Turkle

Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other - Sherry Turkle (2011)

Part II. Networked

Chapter 14. The nostalgia of the young

Cliff, a Silver Academy sophomore, talks about whether it will ever be possible to get back to what came “before texting.” Cliff says that he gets so caught up in the back-and-forth of texting that he ends up wasting time in what he thinks are superficial communications “just to get back.” I ask him about when, in his view, there might be less pressure for an immediate response. Cliff thinks of two: “Your class has a test. Or you lost your signal.” Conspicuously absent—you are doing something else, thinking something else, with someone else.

We have seen young people walk the halls of their schools composing messages to online acquaintances they will never meet. We have seen them feeling more alive when connected, then disoriented and alone when they leave their screens. Some live more than half their waking hours in virtual places. But they also talk wistfully about letters, face-to-face meetings, and the privacy of pay phones. Tethered selves, they try to conjure a future different from the one they see coming by building on a past they never knew. In it, they have time alone, with nature, with each other, and with their families.

Texting is too seductive. It makes a promise that generates its own demand.1 The promise: the person you text will receive the message within seconds, and whether or not he or she is “free,” the recipient will be able to see your text. The demand: when you receive a text, you will attend to it (during class, this might mean a glance down at a silenced phone) and respond as soon as possible. Cliff says that in his circle of friends, that means, “ten minutes, maximum.”

I will tell you how it is at this school. If something comes in on our phone and it’s a text, you feel you have to respond. They obviously know you got it. With IM, you can claim you weren’t at the computer or you lost your Internet connection and all that. But if it’s a text, there’s no way you didn’t get it. Few people look down at their phone and then walk away from it. Few people do that. It really doesn’t happen.... Texting is pressure. I don’t always feel like communicating. Who says that we always have to be ready to communicate?

Indeed, who says? Listening to what young people miss may teach us what they need. They need attention.

ATTENTION

Teenagers know that when they communicate by instant message, they compete with many other windows on a computer screen. They know how little attention they are getting because they know how little they give to the instant messages they receive. One sophomore girl at Branscomb High School compares instant messaging to being on “cruise control” or “automatic pilot.” Your attention is elsewhere. A Branscomb senior says, “Even if I give my full attention to the person I am IMing … they are not giving full attention to me.” The first thing he does when he makes a call is to gauge whether the person on the other end “is there just for me.” This is one advantage of a call. When you text or instant-message, you have no way to tell how much else is going on for the person writing you. He or she could also be on the phone, doing homework, watching TV, or in the midst of other online conversations.

Longed for here is the pleasure of full attention, coveted and rare. These teenagers grew up with parents who talked on their cell phones and scrolled through messages as they walked to the playground. Parents texted with one hand and pushed swings with the other. They glanced up at the jungle gym as they made calls. Teenagers describe childhoods with parents who were on their mobile devices while driving them to school or as the family watched Disney videos. A college freshman jokes that her father read her the Harry Potter novels, periodically interrupted by his BlackBerry. BlackBerries and laptops came on family vacations. Weekends in the country were cut short if there was no Internet service in the hotel. Lon, eighteen, says when that happened, his father “called it a day.” He packed up the family and went home, back to a world of connections.

From the youngest ages, these teenagers have associated technology with shared attention. Phones, before they become an essential element in a child’s own life, were the competition, one that children didn’t necessarily feel they could best. And things are not so different in the teenage years. Nick, seventeen, says, “My parents text while we eat. I’m used to it. My dad says it is better than his having to be at the office. I say, ‘Well, maybe it could just be a short meal.’ But my mom, she wants long meals. To get a long meal with a lot of courses, she has to allow the BlackBerry.” Things seem at a stalemate.

Children have always competed for their parents’ attention, but this generation has experienced something new. Previously, children had to deal with parents being off with work, friends, or each other. Today, children contend with parents who are physically close, tantalizingly so, but mentally elsewhere. Hannah’s description of how her mother doesn’t look up from her BlackBerry to say hello when she picks her up at school highlights a painful contrast between the woman who goes to the trouble to fetch her daughter and the woman who cannot look up from her screen. Lon says he liked it better when his father had a desktop computer. It meant that he worked from a specific place. Now his father sits next to him on the couch watching a football game but is on his BlackBerry as well. Because they are physically close, his father’s turn to the BlackBerry seems particularly excluding.

Miguel, a Hadley senior, says that having his father scroll through his BlackBerry messages during television sports is “stressful” but adds “not the kind that really kills you. More the kind that always bothers you.” Miguel says it is hard for him to ask his father to put the BlackBerry away because he himself texts when he is with his father in the car. “He has a son who texts, so why shouldn’t he?” But when parents see their children checking their mobile devices and thus feel permission to use their own, the adults are discounting a crucial asymmetry. The multitasking teenagers are just that, teenagers. They want and need adult attention. They are willing to admit that they are often relieved when a parent asks them to put away the phone and sit down to talk. But for parents to make this request—and this no longer goes without saying—they have to put down their phones as well. Sometimes it is children (often in alliance with their mothers) who find a way to insist that dinner time be a time for talking—time away from the smartphone. But habits of shared attention die hard.

One high school senior recalls a time when his father used to sit next to him on the couch, reading. “He read for pleasure and didn’t mind being interrupted.” But when his father, a doctor, switched from books to his BlackBerry, things became less clear: “He could be playing a game or looking at a patient record, and you would never know.... He is in that same BlackBerry zone.” It takes work to bring his father out of that zone. When he emerges, he needs time to refocus. “You might ask him a question and he’ll say, ‘Yeah, one second.’ And then he’ll finish typing his e-mail or whatever, he’ll log off whatever, and he’ll say, ‘Yeah, I’m sorry, what did you say?’”

It is commonplace to hear children, from the age of eight through the teen years, describe the frustration of trying to get the attention of their multitasking parents. Now, these same children are insecure about having each other’s attention. At night, as they sit at computer screens, any messages sent or received share “mind space” with shopping, uploading photos, updating Facebook, watching videos, playing games, and doing homework. One high school senior describes evening “conversation” at his machine: “When I’m IMing, I can be talking to three different people at the same time and listening to music and also looking at a website.” During the day, prime time for phone texting, communications happen as teenagers are on their way from one thing to another. Teenagers talk about what they are losing when they text: how someone stands, the tone of their voice, the expression on their face, “the things your eyes and ears tell you,” as one eighteen-year-old puts it.

When I first encountered texting, I thought it too telegraphic to be much more than a way to check in. You could use it to confirm an appointment, settle on a restaurant, or say you were home safely. I was wrong. Texting has evolved into a space for confessions, breakups, and declarations of love. There is something to celebrate here: a new, exuberant space for friendship, a way to blow a virtual kiss. But there is a price. All matters—some delicate, some not—are crammed into a medium that quickly communicates a state but is not well suited for opening a dialogue about complexity of feeling. Texting—interrupted by bad reception, incoming calls, and other text messages (not to mention the fact that it all goes on in the presence other people)—can compromise the intimacy it promises. There is a difference, says an eighteen-year-old boy, “between someone laughing and someone writing that they’re laughing.” He says, “My friends are so used to giving their phones all the attention … they forget that people are still there to give attention to.”

We met Robin, twenty-six, who works as a copywriter in a large and highly competitive advertising agency. She describes the demands of her job as “crushing.” She has her BlackBerry with her at all times. She does not put it in her purse; she holds it. At meals, she sets it on the table near her, touching it frequently. At a business lunch, she explains that she needs to leave it on because her job requires her to be “on call” at all times. During lunch, she admits that there is more to the story. Her job certainly requires that she stay in touch. But now, whether or not she is waiting for a message from work, she becomes anxious without her BlackBerry. “If I’m not in touch, I feel almost dizzy. As though something is wrong, something terrible is wrong.” The device has become a way to manage anxiety about her parents, her job, and her love life. Even if these don’t go quite right, she says, “if I have the BlackBerry in control, I feel that at least everything isn’t out of control.” But something has gotten out of control. When Robin thinks of stress, she thinks of being without her BlackBerry. But she admits that she thinks of being with her BlackBerry as well.

Robin says that her need for the BlackBerry began with business e-mail, but now she uses it to spend many hours a day on Facebook. She makes no pretense that this is about “business.” But Robin is no longer sure it is about pleasure. She describes being increasingly “annoyed” on Facebook. I ask her for an example—one of these moments of annoyance—and Robin begins to talk about her friend Joanne.

Robin and Joanne went to college together in Los Angeles. After graduating, Robin went to Chicago for a first job in publishing; Joanne stayed on the West Coast for graduate school in anthropology. Five years ago, Joanne’s dissertation research took her to a village in Thailand. Joanne had e-mail access during her year in the village, and she wrote Robin long, detailed e-mails, five or six pages each. There was a letter every two weeks—a personal journal of Joanne’s experience of Thai life. Robin describes them warmly—the letters were “elegant, detailed, poetic.” Robin printed out the cherished letters; on occasion she still rereads them. Now Joanne is back in Thailand on a new project, but this time, she posts a biweekly journal to her Facebook page. There has been no falling out between the two women; Joanne has simply chosen a more “efficient” way to get her story out to all her friends. Robin still gets an occasional e-mail. But essentially, what was once a personal letter has turned into a blog.

Robin says she is ashamed of her reaction to Joanne’s Facebook postings: “I was jealous of all of the other readers. They are not friends the way I am a friend.” Robin understands Joanne’s decision to “publish” her journal: “She is reaching more people this way… . Some can help in her career.” But despite herself, Robin feels abandoned. The all-friend postings do not make her feel close to her friend.

After she tells this story, essentially about a personal loss, Robin adds a postscript that she describes as “not personal. I’m trying to make a general point.” She says that when Joanne wrote her letters, they were “from a real person to another real person.” They were written to her, in all her particularity. Behind each letter was the history of their long friendship. The new letters on Facebook are generic. For a moment, Robin, the professional writer, allows herself a moment of judgment: “The journal is written to everyone and thus no one. It isn’t as good.” Robin misses receiving something that was just for her.

SPONTANEITY

In a discussion of online life among seniors at the Fillmore School, Brendan says he is lonely. He attempts humor, describing a typical day as “lost in translation”: “My life is about ‘I’ll send you a quick message, you send me another one in fifteen minutes, an hour, whatever. And then I’ll get back to you when I can.’” His humor fades. Texting depresses him. It doesn’t make him “feel close,” but he is certain that it takes him away from things that might. Brendan wants to see friends in person or have phone conversations in which they are not all rushing off to do something else. Here again, nostalgia circles around attention, commitment, and the aesthetic of doing one thing at a time. Truman, one of Brendan’s classmates, thinks his friend is asking too much. Truman says, “Brendan … calls me up sometimes, and it’s really fun, and I really enjoy it, but it’s something I can’t really imagine myself doing.... Well, it seems like an awkward situation to me, to call someone up just to talk.” Truman wants to indulge his friend, but he jokes that Brendan shouldn’t “bet on long telephone conversations anytime soon.” Truman’s remarks require some unpacking. He says he likes the telephone, but he doesn’t really. He says conversation is fun, but it’s mostly stressful. For Truman, anything other than “a set-up call, a call to make a plan, or tell a location” presumes you are calling someone who has time for you. He is never sure this is the case. So, he worries that this kind of call intrudes. It puts you on the line. You can get hurt.

When young people are insecure, they find ways to manufacture love tests—personal metrics to reassure themselves. These days I hear teenagers measuring degrees of caring by type of communication. An instant message puts you in one window among many. An extended telephone call or a letter—these rare and difficult things—demonstrates full attention. Brad, the Hadley senior taking a break from Facebook, says, “Getting a letter is so special because it is meant only for you… . It feels so complimentary, especially nowadays, with people multitasking more and more, for someone to actually go out of their way and give their full attention to something for your sake for five or ten minutes. What is flattering is that they take that amount of time ... that they’re actually giving up that time.”

Herb, part of the senior group at Fillmore feels similarly; he and his girlfriend have decided to correspond with letters: “The letter, like, she wrote it, she took her time writing it, and you know it came from her. The e-mail, it’s impersonal. Same with a text message, it’s impersonal. Anyone, by some chance, someone got her e-mail address, they could’ve sent it. The fact that you can touch it is really important.... E-mails get deleted, but letters get stored in a drawer. It’s real; it’s tangible. Online, you can’t touch the computer screen, but you can touch the letter.” His classmate Luis agrees: “There is something about sending a letter. You can use your handwriting. You can decorate a letter. Your handwriting can show where you are.” It comes out that he has never received a personal letter. He says, “I miss those days even though I wasn’t alive.” He goes on, a bit defensively because he fears that his fondness for handwriting might make him seem odd: “Before, you could just feel that way, it was part of the culture. Now, you have to feel like a throwback to something you really didn’t grow up with.”

Brad says that digital life cheats people out of learning how to read a person’s face and “their nuances of feeling.” And it cheats people out of what he calls “passively being yourself.” It is a curious locution. I come to understand that he means it as shorthand for authenticity. It refers to who you are when you are not “trying,” not performing. It refers to who you are when you are in a simple conversation, unplanned. His classmate Miguel likes texting as a “place to hide,” but to feel close to someone, you need a more spontaneous medium:

A phone conversation is so personal because you don’t have time to sit there and think about what you’re going to say. What you have to say is just going to come out the way it’s meant to. If someone sends you a text message, you have a couple of minutes to think about what you’re going to say, whereas if you’re in a conversation, it’d be a little awkward if you didn’t say anything for two minutes, and then you came up with your answer.... That’s why I like calls. I’d rather have someone be honest with you… . If you call, you’re putting yourself out there, but it is also better.

At Fillmore, Grant says of when he used to text, “I end[ed] up feeling too lonely, just typing all day.” He has given it up, except for texting his girlfriend. He returns her long text messages with a “k,” short for “okay,” and then holds off on further communication until he can talk to her on the phone or see her in person. He says, “When someone sends you a text or IM, you don’t know how they’re saying something. They could say something to you, and they could be joking, but they could be serious and you’re not really sure.”

These young men are asking for time and touch, attention and immediacy. They imagine living with less conscious performance. They are curious about a world where people dealt in the tangible and did one thing at a time. This is ironic. For they belong to a generation that is known, and has been celebrated, for never doing one thing at a time.

Erik Erikson writes that in their search for identity, adolescents need a place of stillness, a place to gather themselves.2 Psychiatrist Anthony Storr writes of solitude in much the same way. Storr says that in accounts of the creative process, “by far the greater number of new ideas occur during a state of reverie, intermediate between waking and sleeping.... It is a state of mind in which ideas and images are allowed to appear and take their course spontaneously … the creator need[s] to be able to be passive, to let things happen within the mind.”3 In the digital life, stillness and solitude are hard to come by.

Online we are jarred by the din of the Internet bazaar. Roanne, sixteen, keeps her diary in a paper journal. She says she is too weak to stay focused when she has the Internet to tempt her:

I can’t use the Internet to write in my diary because at any moment I could watch Desperate Housewives, or even just a few minutes of it, or Gossip Girl or Glee. If you want to have an uninterrupted conversation, you might talk to somebody in person. If in person is not an option, then the phone. But there’s so many interruptions you can have if you’re sitting in front of a computer, because the computer has so many things you could be doing rather than talking to someone.

The physical world is not always a quiet place. There is performance and self-presentation everywhere—at school, in your family, on a date. But when young people describe days of composing and recomposing their digital personae, they accept the reality of this new social milieu, but also insist that online life presents a new kind of “craziness.” There are so many sites, games, and worlds. You have to remember the nuances of how you have presented yourself in different places. And, of course, texting demands your attention all the time. “You have no idea,” says an exhausted Brad.

THE PERILS OF PERFORMANCE

Brad says, only half jokingly, that he worries about getting “confused” between what he “composes” for his online life and who he “really” is. Not yet confirmed in his identity, it makes him anxious to post things about himself that he doesn’t really know are true. It burdens him that the things he says online affect how people treat him in the real. People already relate to him based on things he has said on Facebook. Brad struggles to be more “himself” there, but this is hard. He says that even when he tries to be “honest” on Facebook, he cannot resist the temptation to use the site “to make the right impression.” On Facebook, he says, “I write for effect. I sit down and ask, ‘If I say this, will it make me sound like I’m too uptight? But if I say this, will it make me sound like I don’t care about anything?’” He makes an effort to be “more spontaneous on Facebook … to actively say, ‘This is who I am, this is what I like, this is what I don’t like,’” but he feels that Facebook “perverts” his efforts because self-revelation should be to “another person who cares.” For Brad, it loses meaning when it is broadcast as a profile.

The Internet can play a part in constructive identity play, although, as we have seen, it is not so easy to experiment when all rehearsals are archived. But Brad admits that on Facebook he only knows how to play to the crowd. We’ve seen that he anguishes about the cool bands and the bands that are not so cool. He thinks about the movies he should list as favorites and the ones that will pin him as boring or sexist. There is a chance that admitting he likes the Harry Potter series will be read positively—he’ll be seen as someone in touch with the whimsy of his childhood. But more likely, it will make him seem less sexy. Brad points out that in real life, people can see you are cool even if you like some uncool things. In a profile, there is no room for error. You are reduced to a series of right and wrong choices. “Online life,” he says, “is about premeditation.” Brad sums up his discontents with an old-fashioned word: online life inhibits “authenticity.” He wants to experience people directly. When he reads what someone says about themselves on Facebook, he feels that he is an audience to their performance of cool.

Brad has more than a little of Henry David Thoreau in him. In Walden, published in 1854, Thoreau remarks that we are too much in contact with others and in ways that are random. We cannot respect each other if we “stumble over one another.”4 He says, we live “thick,” unable to acquire value for each other because there is not enough space between our times together. “Society,” writes Thoreau, “is commonly too cheap.”5 It would be better, he says, to learn or experience something before we join in fellowship with others. We know what Thoreau did about his opinions. He took his distance. He found communion with nature and simple objects. He saw old friends and made new ones. All of these sustained him, but he did not live “thick.” In the end, Brad decides to leave his digital life for his own private Walden. When he wants to see a friend, he calls, makes a plan, and goes over to visit. He says that life is beginning to feel more natural. “Humans learn to talk and make eye contact before they learn to touch-type, so I think it’s a more basic, fundamental form of communication,” he says. Abandoning digital connection, he says, he is “sacrificing three hollow conversations” in favor of “one really nice social interaction with one person.” He acknowledges that “not doing IM reduces the amount of social interacting you can do in one day,” but doesn’t mourn the loss: “Would you rather have thirty kind-of somewhat-good friends or five really close friends?”

I meet other teenagers, like Brad, who go on self-imposed media “fasts.” Some give up texting, some IM. Because of its centrality to social life, the most decisive step they can think of is to leave Facebook.6 Some, like Brad, are exhausted by its pressure for performance. Some say they find themselves being “cruel”—online life suppresses healthy inhibitions. Others say they lose touch with their “real” friends as they spend hours keeping up contacts with the “friended.” Some, not yet many, rebel against the reality that Facebook owns (in the most concrete terms) the story of their lives. Some believe that the site encourages them to judge themselves and others in superficial ways. They agonize over what photographs to post. They digitally alter their Facebook photographs to look more appealing. But even after so much time, writing profiles and editing photos, the fiction of a Facebook page is that it is put up with a kind of aristocratic nonchalance. Luis says, “It’s like a girl wearing too much makeup, trying too hard. It’s supposed to look like you didn’t care. But no one believes this myth of ‘Oh, I just threw some stuff up on my page.... I’m very cool. I have so much else to do.’ You see that they are on their Facebook page all day. Who are they kidding?” His tone turns wistful: “It must have been nice when you could just discover a person by talking to them.” For all of these reasons, dropping out comes as something of a relief.

The terms of these refusals—to find oneself and others more directly and to live a less-mediated life, to move away from performances and toward something that feels more real—suggest the refusals that brought Henry David Thoreau to Walden Pond nearly two centuries before.

WALDEN 2.0

In his essay about his two years of retreat, Thoreau writes, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary.”7 Thoreau’s quest inspires us to ask of our life with technology: Do we live deliberately? Do we turn away from life that is not life? Do we refuse resignation?

Some believe that the new connectivity culture provides a digital Walden. A fifteen-year-old girl describes her phone as her refuge. “My cell phone,” she says, “is my only individual zone, just for me.” Technology writer Kevin Kelly, the first editor of Wired, says that he finds refreshment on the Web. He is replenished in its cool shade: “At times I’ve entered the web just to get lost. In that lovely surrender, the web swallows my certitude and delivers the unknown. Despite the purposeful design of its human creators, the web is a wilderness. Its boundaries are unknown, unknowable, its mysteries uncountable. The bramble of intertwined ideas, links, documents, and images create an otherness as thick as a jungle. The web smells like life.”8

But not everyone is as refreshed as Kelly. Brad talks about the “throwaway friendships” of online life. Hannah wonders what she really has to show for the time she has spent hanging out with a small, sarcastic in-crowd and with a best friend who she fears will simply not show up again. It is hard to accept that online friends are not part of your life; yet, they can make themselves disappear just as you can make them vanish. Anxiety about Internet friendships makes people cherish the other kind. The possibility of constant connection makes people value a bit of space. Pattie, fourteen, no longer carries her cell phone. “It feels good,” she says, “to have people not reach you.”

That bit of space could leave room for a child to be a child a bit longer. One of the privileges of childhood is that some of the world is mediated by adults. Hillary, sixteen, is taking a long break from her cell phone. She doesn’t want to be on call, and so she leaves it at home. “I don’t like the feeling of being reachable all the time … of knowing about everything in real time.” For a child—and for this purpose, adolescents are still children—one cost of constant connectivity is that adults lose the ability to act as a buffer against the world. Only a few months before, Hillary was at a party to celebrate the release of a new volume in the Harry Potter series when her father suffered a seizure. She didn’t learn about it until she was at home and with family. She was glad for this. Without a cell phone, the bad news waited until there was an adult there to support her, to put it in context. She didn’t want to hear it alone, holding a phone.

Hillary is fond of movies but drawn toward “an Amish life minus certain exceptions [these would be the movies] ... but I wouldn’t mind if the Internet went away.” She asks, “What could people be doing if they weren’t on the Internet?” She answers her own question: “There’s piano; there’s drawing; there’s all these things people could be creating.” Hillary talks about how hard it is to keep up “all the different sites you have to keep up,” and above all, how time-consuming it is to feed Facebook. These tiring performances leave little space for creativity and reflection: “It really is distracting.” There is not much room for what Thoreau meant by a life lived deliberately.

There is nothing more deliberate than the painstaking work of constructing a profile or having a conversation on instant messenger in which one composes and recomposes one’s thoughts. And yet, most of the time on the Net, one floats and experiments, follows links, and sends out random feelers. One flips through the photo albums of friends—and then the albums of their friends. One comments on the postings of people one hardly knows. Thoreau complained that people are too quick to share an opinion. Online, social networks instruct us to share whenever there’s “something on our mind,” no matter how ignorant or ill considered, and then help us broadcast it to the widest possible audience. Every day each of us is bombarded by other people’s random thoughts. We start to see such effusions as natural. So, although identity construction on the Net begins in a considered way, with the construction of a profile or an avatar, people can end up feeling that the only deliberate act is the decision to hand oneself over to the Net. After that, one is swept along.

For those so connected, there may be doubts (about life as performance, about losing the nuance of the face-to-face), but there is the pleasure of continual company. For those not connected, there can be an eerie loneliness, even on the streets of one’s hometown. Kara, in her fifties, feels that life in her hometown of Portland, Maine, has emptied out: “Sometimes I walk down the street, and I’m the only person not plugged in. It’s like I’m looking for another person who is not plugged in.” With nostalgia—which can come with youth or age—for the nod that marks a meeting in shared streets and weather, she adds a bit wistfully, “No one is where they are. They’re talking to someone miles away. I miss them. But they are missing out.” Nostalgia ensures that certain things stay before us: the things we miss.

There are no simple answers as to whether the Net is a place to be deliberate, to commit to life, and live without resignation. But these are good terms with which to start a conversation. That conversation would have us ask if these are the values by which we want to judge our lives. If they are, and if we are living in a technological culture that does not support them, how can that culture be rebuilt to specifications that respect what we treasure—our sacred spaces. Could we, for example, build a Net that reweights privacy concerns, acknowledging that these, as much as information, are central to democratic life?

The phrase “sacred spaces” became important to me in the 1980s when I studied a cohort of scientists, engineers, and designers newly immersed in simulation. Members of each group held certain aspects of their professional life to be inviolate.9 These were places they wanted to hold apart from simulation because, in that space, they felt most fully themselves in their discipline. For architects, it was hand drawings. This was where design implicated the body of the architect. This was where architects were engineers, certainly, but they were also artists. This was where the trace of the hand personalized a building. And this was where architects, so often part of large teams, experienced themselves as authors. The most enthusiastic proponents of computer-assisted design defended hand drawing. When their students began to lose the skill, these professors sent them off to drawing class. It was not about rejecting the computer but about making sure that designers came to it with their own values. A sacred space is not a place to hide out. It is a place where we recognize ourselves and our commitments.

When Thoreau considered “where I live and what I live for,” he tied together location and values. Where we live doesn’t just change how we live; it informs who we become. Most recently, technology promises us lives on the screen. What values, Thoreau would ask, follow from this new location? Immersed in simulation, where do we live, and what do we live for?