In February, I attended for the first time an author event held at the Newport Beach Public Library as part of their Foundation Lecture Series. This month’s speaker was Sherry Turkle, who recently wrote a book entitled, Alone Together (why we expect more from techology than each other).
Turkle is a professor, author and founder/director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self and has been researching the psychology of people’s relationships with technology for the past 30 years. While some may disagree with her message on some levels, I truly related to it and loved the emphasis on having real connections with others –not just being connected thru technology to others.
Turkle believes that when it comes to technology—too much of it is not a good thing when it comes to relating with one another. As she said to television personality Steve Colbert when he compared communicating via texts to sips of drinks–“unfortunately a lot of sips of interacting through texting does not amount to one Big Gulp of quality communication.” Turkle believes that while texting is nice for little “thinking of you” type messages, that is no comparison to a quality connection in person or at least by phone.
She points out that one of the reasons people (especially today’s youth) are always “connected” to cell phones is they hate the idea of being bored and would rather text than talk in person because they can control the conversation better through texting. It seems that being in control is a big issue today when it comes to communicating. To see Turkle in action speaking on this topic, click here for a 20-minute Ted Talk from last year.
She says that real conversations with people can be messy and unpredictable and the thought of that often prevents people from wanting to engage more in person or by phone. In fact, in one of her studies she found that there were a number of people who actually wished there was a more advanced version of Apple’s “Siri” so that she could be more like a “friend” to them. Why? Because Siri is safe, predictable and is always ready to listen. Really? A gadget over a real friend–one with a heartbeat who has actually lived a life?
Since I am a promoter of real connections with people, Ms. Turkle’s research saddened me but then made me realize that we can have both. As a writer, I love having research readily available on the Internet or being able to stay connected with friends from my past on Facebook or having my daughter only a text away when she is at a sleepover. But I also know the pleasure of having real conversations with people, taking time to really listen to a friend who is going through a tough time or spending a few minutes conversing with the gal who is ringing up my groceries. I believe it is in these face-to-face interactions that make us feel more connected as a whole, more alive and actually happier in general.
So much more can be written about this and I will save that for later blog posts but what do you think of the impact technology, especially cell phones, is having on our connections with people? Do you think we need to work as a society to be more connected to one another the old fashioned way of talking face to face? Would love to hear your thoughts!