The wonderful Ian Kerr, a man who organizes one heck of conference and generally fizzes with ideas, notes that a principal in a private school in Australia has banned pupils from using iPods because he believes that “iPod-toting children were isolating themselves into a cocoon of solipsism.”
Ian comments that,
one common conception of “privacy” is as a kind of “space” that enables intellectual consumption/exploration/achievement by allowing people to be “more or less inaccessible to others, either on the spatial, psychological or informational plane.”
And, on that view, iPods generate privacy, which we should see as a good. On the other hand, Ian (who has transcended the shift-key) continues,
ever since nicholas negroponte coined the concept of the “daily me” (referring to people's growing desire for only that information & news that pertained to them individually), much attention has been paid to network technologies and their ability to isolate rather than connect people.
after years of thinking about this, i still have no firm point of view on this subject — it is interesting to note that the article on the iPod referred also to the Blog as a technology used by “ego-centric 'social minimizers'” — but i do think it is worth raising the question whether these technologies are tools of that sort, or whether their use is better understood as a symptom of deeper social ills.
As Ian suggests, the iPod can be seen as a tune-out, turn-off technology, but it can also be described “as the last resort means of achieving intellectual solitude” in “the booming, buzzing confusion of technosociety”.
Personally, having children who seem quite capable of tuning me out without any technological help whatsoever, I have some trouble getting worked up about this. And being relatively libertarian on most social issues, I think whether people choose to be communitarian or solipsistic at various times of the day is their business. What's more, just because someone chooses to tune out for even a few hours per day does not mean that this activity defines them; people are complicated and can move between moods and roles during a day, and during a life.