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Woman in solitary ONLINE confinement for Public Isolation Project

Called the Public Isolation Project, a woman is living alone in a glass room, located at bside6 in downtown Portland, Oregon. The woman, Cristin Norine, will be physically isolated from others for a full month, communicating with the outside world only via the internet and other modern technologies. She is examining the modern way we communicate via social networking and cell phones, and wondering if these modern forms of communicating with others could replace in-person interaction? 

Norine’s “art work” is being titled, The Future of Socializing. The website notes: “An analog analogy of the contemporary experience of living in the Internet age, Cristin Norine will spend one month living within the confines of the bSIDE6 Gallery


—in total view from the gallery’s windows. Her isolation will be alleviated solely by digital interactions with the outside world. Viewers of the piece will reflect on their own expanded accessibility that technology has brought them.”   

She explains, “Technologies like social media and smart phones make it easier to correspond with others more frequently, but could these forms of communication replace analog interactions completely?” Her communication restrictions “will allow her to explore this idea and determine how it affects her physically and emotionally.”

I find this a fascinating topic and it fits in perfectly for the Media Analysis and Introduction to Communication courses I am teaching at Multnomah University this semester. In my classes, we have discussed modern technology “famines” where people have given up the internet or cell phones for a period of time; we’ve analyzed the impact that has had on their lives. But I have not seen the opposite — where someone is using online means of communication exclusively for a period of time.

The reality of addiction to  modern technology has been the subject of this blog as well as articles for The Oregonian. Adults are attached to their cell phones and Facebook as much as kids are, only in different ways. I have seen parents talking on the phone at cafes or in their cars while their children sit there alone. The etiquette issue is everywhere. You see people texting during movies and hear of others checking Facebook every five minutes, during dinner. Internet and cell phones and other modern technology have become so all consuming in our lives and we are just learning the effect that is having in society. 

 You hear of kids not being able to socialize in person with other kids due to living mostly online. There are reports of cyber/social network bullying. Kids are not getting outside enough due to their indoor online saturation. As a parent, I see the importance of teaching my kids to limit their electronics and modern technology. We need to remind our children of cyber etiquette, and the value — and indeed, need — to turn it off! Turning it off does something to our souls. That is our Sunday tradition. An electronic famine after church on Sundays.

A Windows phone ad tag line summarizes how addicted we have become to our technology: “It’s  time for a  phone to save us from our phone.” The YouTube video shows it all too clearly.

Info on the Public Isolation project can be found at:

Update – My Oregonian How We Live Cover story- Nov. 20, 2010

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Posted in Communication, Culture, Life, Live the Questions, Oregonian stories.

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15 Responses

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  1. Kristen Leach says

    I found the project intriguing. I would like to think that I could do it, and I would be up for the challenge. Realistically, I think it would be hard for me to be on display in a cage for all the world to see with no physical human contact. It’s a neat idea, but at the same time I do not know if I would even want to give up 30 days of face-to-face relationships. It’s already too important to me. I would maybe want to spend those 30 days doing things that really matter to further or build relationships with people. It was a great project, and it must be a lot harder than it looks. I wonder how this project would have gone if there were not glass walls and she could not even see people. This blog was a great reminder to me about how easily we let technology and communication rule our lives. This kind of communication is fairly recent, and daily life was not always full of facebook, texting and twitter. Sometimes I wonder what the next generation will be like, and how they will use or abuse communication. Will they use it well and be wise in their usings? Or will they invest more time in their cellphones and computers than we already do? Will technology define their relationships? I suppose worrying about the future or dwelling in the past is not the answer. Maybe just embracing life for what it is now and making the most of it in being wise with the technology and relationships we have is all we can really do for ourselves.

  2. Andrew Kruse says

    I think this is a great piece, especially in light of what we’ve been learning in our media analysis class. I know that I couldn’t pull it off. Having the physical interaction with people even when they are just sitting by me in a class makes me feel more comfortable in the envirionment.
    It is interesting what happens when a part of our lives become so mechanical and digitalized. The extremes of making our lives on the internet versus not engaging online are both dangerous. This project will be a really awesome social study. Like Derek said, this is going to be something that people are talking about for a long time.

  3. Matthew Janz says

    There was a time in my life where I think I could have actually done thing, just had communication through internet/cell. But I like people too much now, and to see them all right outside but not being able to interact with them would be very depressing. So, to actually do what she is doing would be very difficult. Also, to have entire month of your life in full view would be very uncomfortable for me.

    If all of life were like this, where you had no contact with people aside from digitally, it would become quite dysfunctional – in the relationship part of it. Business could still take place, basic “small talk” conversation could still take place and I’m sure, for a while, good friendships could still be kept. Yet if it continued there would be a breakdown in the actual relationships people have, and then the loss of actual human contact would be terrible.

    Yet as Jared brought up, there is still a massive significance to the ability and the using of all this technology. It has significantly increased our ability to communicate with others. The point I want to make is I think that the relationally of communication would (most likely) disappear if all communication went “online.”

  4. Faith Mutagubya says

    it will be interesting to know how she is affected emotionally. i think people love technology and would rather spend so much time on internet, phones but they would never completely trade that with physical/emotional touch relationship because it is a natural instinct. We are created with that spice of relationships and nothing can bit that reality.

  5. Natalie Tidswell says

    After watching the youtube video of the upcoming Windows Phone 7 teaser, I was slightly frightened! In my opinion, the video was showing that the media believes we are headed for a “robot” future. Everyone in the video seemed so engrossed with themselves, their priorities, and an unhealthy way of living. Then again, the video also showed chaos surrounding the public- showing the drastic compromise between the muddle and how much the people were willing to give up.

    All that to say, this experiment that Ms. Norine is tackling is captivating. I agree that modern technology (facebook, texting, twitter, etc) can become addictive and can start defining us if we are not aware of it. I also think that modern technology has been helpful in many ways- advertising, promoting, networking, etc. I’m anxious to read her blog during her last few days of this venture! To hear how she’s feeling physically, emotionally, and mentally will be quite interesting.

  6. Chris Thiessen says

    I think that a voluntary FAST from technology is a great idea once in awhile. I don’t think that digital communication is the way of the future however. I think that when we cease to communicate with each other face-to-face, we forfeit the very traits that make us human. I know this might be somewhat of an extreme view, but I believe that we were designed by an amazing creator to be relational, and i think that digital communication creates an unseen barrier between people. we were meant to observe body language and hear vocal inflection.
    That’s just my point of view. In light of all that I just said, I do think that this is an intriguing project.

  7. Alaina Arp says

    I think the concept of this experiment is interesting: seeing if people can fulfill their social interaction needs solely through technological communication. I can see how technological communication (such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and IM) can be addictive. It’s easy. This sort of communication requires little focused commitment (people can chat on IM and surf the web) and allows the safety of distance and semi-anonymity. These qualities allow people to be more irresponsible during communication, which can damage relationships. While technological communication can lead to bad communication habits, I still think it provides a beneficial aspect of communication. I use technological interaction almost as much as face-to-face interaction because many of my friends live far away and because I don’t get to see my family as much because of college. Using Facebook and IM this way has been beneficial to my relationships, but I don’t think technological interaction could completely replace face-to-face interaction, especially not long term. I’m looking forward to the results of Ms. Norine’s social experiment.

  8. pongboy says

    I totally concur with Mark’s comment bellow! His paraphrasing of Andy Crouch’s “Culture Making” thesis sums it all up beautifully. And I might also add that with speed and convenience comes inaccuracy and misinformation (such is the case with the internet), thus rendering truth subjective. And in an impatient (read: Lazy) culture of sound-bites, instant-gratification, and quick-fixes, we must be very careful. Relationships and truth can get lost.

    This is probably the most thought provoking and observational blog I’ve read to date. Excellent! Thanks for sharing!

  9. AJ Elzinga says

    I think this idea of physical isolation from people is a very intriguing one. Although it is very interesting to me that this type of experiment has not been done before. It would seem entirely possible that many people in today’s world spend very little to almost no “real” interaction with physical people in the analog sense, due to television, the internet, and smart phone technology.

    After spending an entire month without physical contact with people my guess is that Cristin will have felt the deep need for interpersonal interactions that I think exists in all of us. Digital interactions just feel empty and shallow, probably because they generally are. It would be interesting to compare her thoughts and reflections on the experiment with those of the people who have lived in the International Space Station. Although they do have some interactions with other people, I would guess that they would have an “in-between” perspective between an isolationist to analog interactions and a “normal” person who uses digital communication sparingly.

  10. Derek D. Dix says

    I would have to say that this is one of the neatest things I have heard about in the past few months. What makes it even more mind boggling is that it is happening no more than 5 miles away from where I live in the dorms at Multnomah University. And is just under 11 miles from my mother’s home in SE Portland. To think that somone would be doing an experiement that close to my neighborhood is SHOCKING!!! I find it interesting that the Public Isolation Project isn’t trying to change the lives of people. Rather it is trying to bring awareness to the situation of communication with others via face to face, or technology.
    I get so tired of reading articles about people, or schools that are banning social technology (Facebok, Twitter, Myspace, Txting. etc.) for the purpose of showing you (them) they can live without their technology.

    The thing that makes this different is that they are using the technology (that everyone enjoys and loves) to see if truely all a person needs is technology, rather than face to face interactions. TO make this even deeper, they didn’t just stop form having face to face interactions, they have put Cristin Norine (the lady staying in the public “buble”) in a situation where she not only can’t verbally communicate with somone face to face, but she can’t have any kind of physical contact with them either. This is definately going to be a story people in Portland will talk about for years!

  11. Jared Reando says

    I empathize with the reaction against over-saturation of social media in our culture, but I wonder what a reasonable response to it is. Clearly, allowing social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to dominate one’s life is in many ways unhealthy and even counter-productive to social growth. However, couldn’t one argue that the relatively recent arrival of these new forms of media is similar to past inventions in communication? How many people must have decried the invention of the telephone — a societal boon that eliminated the necessity of face to face communication. And then the rise of the internet resulted in widespread criticism that information became too easy, too accessible. Nobody had to work for it anymore. Yet, both of these inventions, when used appropriately, provide great benefit to advancing science, industry, technology, as well as societal relationships. I can communicate with relatives 2,000 miles away because of Facebook in a way that telephones and texting simple cannot accommodate.
    So, is this glass box experience interesting? Sure. Will Ms. Norine learn a great deal about the effects of multimedia on her relationships? Most likely. Will this experiment teach us anything that we did not already know about ourselves — that we presently tend to rely on technology in ways bordering on obsessive? Probably not. More power to her though. I wish I had a month to fritter away in a fancy room talking to friends.

  12. Cornelia Seigneur says

    Mark, Culture Making is one of my favorite books and that quote says a lot. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Mark McIntire says

    As described in “Culture Making” by Andy Crouch, new artifacts of culture often render other artifacts difficult or impossible to use. Wisdom lies in choosing how much to embrace the new technology or allow it to crowd out truth and reality. In this case,we are rapidly sacrificing relationship for speed, convenience and avoidance of true interaction.

  14. Karen Robbins says

    Great idea to leave technology off on Sundays! I remember the days when stores were closed on Sundays. Let’s go back to honoring God on His day.

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