Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Relearning How to Talk in the Age of Smartphone Addiction

Sherry Turkle studies how we relate to our devices, and thinks it’s high time we start talking to each other again.

Sherry Turkle, a professor of the social studies of science and technology at MIT, has studied our relationship with technology for decades. While some of her earlier works highlighted the ways in which technology could help us construct self-identities, her more recent writing warns that we are overinvesting in our devices and underinvesting in ourselves and each other.

In Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, published in 2011, Turkle explored the implications of replacing real intimacy with digital connection. Her new book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Agecontinues that thread. Turkle uses Thoreau’s three chairs - one for solitude, two for friendship, and three for society - as a framework, describing how our devices disrupt conversation and healthy development at every stage. 

When we turn to our phones constantly, we deny ourselves the capacity for solitude and identity development. This, in turn, blunts our ability to form healthy relationships. And vice versa: when we text instead of talk, or look at our devices instead of each other, we diminish our abilities to relate to other people as well as ourselves. Turkle ends the book with a discussion of what it means that we have begun to relate to machines as sentient beings when, in fact, they have no feelings, no experiences, no empathy, no idea what it means to be human.

Turkle—a psychoanalytically trained psychologist who founded and directs the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self—is no Luddite. But she argues for moderation, and for a deep look at how over-invested we’ve become in new technology. She is also optimistic that we are at just the right moment for this rceexamination, and for a return to conversation, reflection, and real intimacy. Turkle and I began our phone conversation by hailing that old thing, the landline.

Jessica Gross interviews Sherry Turkle
... One thing I’d like to say that is very much on my mind is about the first responses to my book. There seem to be two over-arching misunderstandings about technology and the construction of self. One way that technology interferes with us is that we use it when we are together, and so it interferes with our communication with each other, which is the “alone together” argument I’ve made for years. And then technology also interferes because we use it when we’re alone. What people seem to be arguing in the early response to this book is that, in this case, it shouldn’t be counted as interfering with our sociality, because we’re just using it to fill in this kind interstitial time. You know, “Give it a break, because that time was down time. It wasn’t social time.” They’re saying, “Well, Turkle doesn’t understand that if you’re using technology when you’re alone, it’s not interfering with sociality, it’s not interfering with conversation.” But fundamentally, this book is making the argument that it is. 

That solitude and conversation, time alone and time together, are fundamentally linked.
Time alone is when we create a self that will be prepared to be fully social. That is, a self that will be able to know itself as individual enough to be able to be with other people as an other. So saying that if people use technology when they’re alone, it’s not taking away from social time, is not just missing my point, it’s missing the point about how in fact a self is constituted. It’s not like this is my invention. [Laughter]


And the second misunderstanding came in another review of the book, which said I don’t talk enough about apps that help us focus our attention. I’m thinking, I want children to be able to focus their attention because they are adults talking to them, not because there are apps buzzing to remind them to get off their phones! I don’t talk about apps that will help us focus our attention because I want us thinking about conversation as a way to focus our attention on each other... read more:

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