Alan Cooper writes the following in his company’s newsletter: “Although it is difficult to predict exactly what the other second-order effects of wireless technology will be, it is clear that widespread, high-speed, always-on, wireless connectivity will have enormous cultural impact in the near future. One area that interests me is the concept of “face.” When you drive down the street, strangers can see what kind of car you drive, read your license plate, and view your bumper stickers. This is one “face” you display. When you hand a colleague a business card at a conference, this is another “face.” We all have many “faces,” but they are generally informal, and are rarely constructed digitally.

In the wireless future, you will be able to automatically share a lot of very rich information with others, some of them strangers, some colleagues, and some intimate friends. These will be your “faces.” You will have to choose what information you want to give to these individuals. Do you want to offer up a resume, a blank wall, or an autobiography? Photographs of your family? Glimpses into your hobbies or interests? If you want, you could give a twenty-page, copiously illustrated bumper sticker to every person you meet.”

Bad analogy. Faces are dynamic, expressive, and communicative. What Mr. Cooper describes here has as much faciality as a steak has life. No, less.

Digital artifacts, documents, files, and other forms of information have no face. They are tokens. Structured, interpretable, useful perhaps. But contextless and insubstantial… As soon as a “face” is removed from its wearer, and more importantly perhaps, from communication, it becomes a mask. I think that might be a better term here. For a mask neither changes expression to manifest inner feelings, nor to mirror perceived expressions. It’s through face that we integrate in the company of others. Face is shared. Masks are worn, hung on the wall, and perhaps traded. Face wears belonging. Masks belong on a face.

If we are truly to understand the implications of second order effects of wireless and other communications technologies, we need to think about the substitution of mask for face, and of how the loss of face compromises our experience of communication.

This entry was posted in All and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.