What does it really mean to own or possess something ? Something that we can touch, physically locate or ‘legally’ add to our list of things that belong exclusively to us ?
A new study carried out by the Carnegie Mellon University’s (CMU) Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII) and School of Design (1) suggests that virtually accessible immaterial internet artifacts like Facebook updates, digital images, email threads may be just as real as material ‘stuff’ when it came to things like person memorabilia that generations of people have lovingly preserved in their attic. As a distinct example of this phenomenon, the young participants of this CMU study reported immediately uploading photographs of an event they have been to, geo-tagged, commented upon and annotated by other friends too, which in turn made the digital photograph comparatively more valuable than if it were put in a picture frame.
“A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.”
– George Carlin
In an increasingly online interaction-based landscape, the Internet is now generating newer virtual artifacts than ever before – gaming avatars, foursquare badges, rankings, in addition to personal digital collections of music, e books and videos. And interestingly, the fact that these artifacts are online create more of a sense of belonging by virtue of its placelessness : they are always there, along with their ‘owner’ accessible by the touch of a button wirelessly.
But what does imply in terms of cultural psychology ? Perhaps that a sense of belonging does not necessarily need a ‘physical’ presence. Maybe this explains why we can hold cultural beliefs , institutions we’re not physically associated with as part of our psyche. And also the fact that humans can develop quite strong bonds with imaginary figureheads, ideologies and objects of veneration.
There is nothing inherently irrational about it – its just the way we are wired.
Carnegie Mellon University. “Virtual possessions have powerful hold on teenagers, researchers say.” ScienceDaily, 10 May 2011. Web. 11 May 2011.
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