The Gamer and the Ethicist: The High Tech-High Touch of Chatroulette and Farmville   Leave a comment

Being Real Neighborly
Being Real Neighborly

Pilgrimages are all about seeing things …from a new perspective.

I’m in the Midwest for the summer, in a sleepy little town striving to survive with the remnants of it’s blue-collar economy.

As I sat outside my new home for the next few months I noticed several things. First of all I noticed the Fireflies.  These beautiful glowing creatures rising from the grass, some lower, some higher, living a short life to mate and live again through future DNA.  Then as the final days of school ended I noticed something else. Children groups of children, playing outside, with each other, riding bicycles down the street, playing baseball in front yards. I was amazed.  No, I’m not the woman in the above photo.  That woman is a grandmother hanging out with her grandson.  They had just finished playing ball and were waiting for a ride and laughing about the game they had just played. They let me take a photo. The grandmother asked me where I was from and what I was doing here. We talked about the town, the weather and then about themselves.  Soon a group of teenage-ish kids trotted across the street with a gold and cream Lhasa Apso proudly leading the way, distracting everyone.  We all chatted together about the dog and what was going to happen next. I had to go. I left with a subliminal feeling of happiness in my soul.

The same thing happened to Andrey Ternoviskiy. He had been working in his Uncle’s souvenir shop and loved chatting with all the people who came in. Though he hadn’t been the best salesperson, he was fired, Andrey enjoyed the tourists, the conversations, the connections. So here he was, living in the disenfranchised state of Russia and wondering in his immersive technological life, how he could recreate that environment and those feelings.

Chatroulette is a window with two boxes, one for your image, via your webcam and then the other for your “partner”, whoever you happen to end up with as you click NEXT. Andrey had thought of a BACK button, in case you changed your mind, but decided that might be too messy.  Even Travelocity’s Roaming Gnome has made itself famous on Chatroulette.  Of course you can end up seeing a naked person and quickly choosing to move on, well or stay depending on your predilection, or engage in a lively conversation.  Silicon Valley is excited about Andrey, while Russia didn’t quite know what to do about him, and Andrey wasn’t quite certain about Russia.

When I moved to my present abode, two things happened to me which I know the probability of occurrence in my former home was low.  As I was returning the rental truck, I went over a railroad track which popped the car trailer off the hitch. Immediately two men in their respective cars pulled over and assisted me, simply happy that they could help.  Soon I was on my way. Then at a stoplight, a man rolled down the window and told me my chains were dragging on the ground off the trailer and he jumped out and put them back for me. Happily we both waved at each other and sped off when the light turned green. In a phone call to my friend in West Seattle, she mentioned how helpful and neighborly people were where I was now.  She said: “That’s the same type of neighborly friendliness that I get when I play on Farmville.”


John Naisbitt, in his best selling book, Megatrends, 1982; predicted that in a world of technology, we long for personal contact. It only makes sense, it is the rule of unexpected results. While we crave technology, an equal and opposite reaction is that we also crave human touch.

Social Networking programs like Chatroulette and Farmville can momentarily give us the feeling of high touch, the neighborliness our human social side needs to survive, but then we shut off the computer and we’re alone again, inside our houses, too frightened to go outside.  That combination allows companies to create simulations based on technological “touch” and that sells in our worlds of interspersed isolation.

I’ll admit, my neighbors are nosy, and not quite used to my Pacific Northwest attitude of  “Please don’t try to get up in my business or I’ll politely bite your nose off”, but it’s also refreshing to know that I’m not really alone in my neighborhood.  My neighbors truly want to know if I’m well enough to trim the bushes in the backyard so that they don’t feel like they’re are living next to a jungle. And somehow I think they really want to know what I’m doing in my back yard, because they want to know about me. Perhaps in moderation, that isn’t really a bad thing.

I took a drive out in the Amish farmland to the south and east of me. It was evening. Teenagers, girls with girls and boys with boys walked in groups, chatting and laughing back to their farmhouses after a long day of chores.  I looked at the land around me, smooth rolling hills and white tall farm houses and large barns that housed dairy cattle.  I know that our everyday technology is scant in these homes, but here they are talking, laughing and getting ready to go to bed for the night, knowing the next morning they will see each other again. The boys jostled playfully with each other, and parted ways, the girls clasped each others hands and hugged.

Next morning, they would see each other again, eat together perhaps, work and play. It’s in our DNA, we need community, though at times we need to have solitude. But as technology isolates us in it’s ability to individuate us, we yearn for neighborliness. It’s this need that keeps social programs and other simulations popular and keeps us participating and buying them, but does it really, holistically satisfy us? Like Marshall McLuhan’s example with the electric light-bulb, we will only know after we have embraced the technology for awhile whether staying up after dark is a good thing.  Or in the case of social networking programs, that the technology which simulates neighborliness, while making us strangers in our own real geography will bear strange fruit.

Amish Sunset

Community in Isolation, or Isolation in Community

While I don’t promote certain products, etc on this site, I want to give kudos out to Pamela Thompson of Boise, Idaho who tried very hard to get together with me as I crossed the vast expanses of the United States. Give her a complimentary check out at:
Pamela Kleibrink Thompson
The 911 Recruiter
Career Coach
read my online column “The Career Coach” at
Linkedin profile at


Posted June 17, 2010 by prosperospen in Culture, Game Theory, Games, Relationships, Society

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