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In the past ten years, technology has evolved to the point where our digital connections have become just as important as our real-life connections, if not more so. But as renowned author and researcher Sherry Turkle argues, this reliance on digital poses a real threat to who we are and how we relate to one another. If we text rather than talk, we are never alone, yet we don’t have to listen. And texting, email, and posting let us edit the self we want to be to the world.. We represent ourselves, but at a remove. As a convenience, it does no harm. But when absenting ourselves becomes our habit, we move from conversation to mere connection. Our relationships suffer; our humanity is diminished.
Renowned author and researcher Sherry Turkle interviews hundreds of people, from middle-school students to lawyers and CEOs, to document both the flight from conversation and what is being lost:
Solitude: Studies show that people are so dependent on their devices that they would rather self-administer an electric shock than be alone with their thoughts for a few minutes. Without that solitude, we cannot prepare ourselves to have something to say that is authentic, ours.
Family: The average American family has twenty different media streams active during mealtime. Children learn early that phones are never to be ignored.
Romance: You can edit yourself in an email or text. And you can always find a better” prospect online. Dating in the digital era is a fraught enterprise.
Friendship: All of us are learning to behave based on the rules of social media. Real listening and empathy, the basic elements of friendship, never develop if we’re always glancing at our phones.
Work: Colleagues work like pilots in the cockpit, wired and unavailable. When the water cooler is lost, collaborationand the bottom linesuffers.
Education: Students in classrooms and online toggle between apps and dip in and out of a lesson. The Socratic Method no longer teaches students to refine their thinking in real time.
Politics: Study, analysis, and listening have become difficult in a stream of always-on communication and the easy "clicks" of online activism.
The solution, Turkle argues, is conversation, the most humanand humanizingthing we do. The virtues of person-to-person conversation are timeless, and our most basic technology, talk, is the answer to our modern challenges.
It’s time to talk. We have everything we need, we have each other.
SHERRY TURKLE is a professor, an author, and a psychologist, who has spent the last thirty years studying the psychology of people’s relationships with technology. She is the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT and the founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. Turkle is the author of five books and three edited collections, including a trilogy of three landmark studies on our relationship with digital culture: The Second Self, Life on the Screen and most recently, Alone Together. A recipient of a Guggenheim and Rockefeller Humanities Fellowship, she is a featured media commentator for CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, the BBC, and NPR. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and she has spoken at major forums including multiple times at Davos and TED.