Back in 1996, Sherry Turkle, a Psychologist at MIT was on the cover of Wired Magazine excited about how the new social and mobile technologies were going to make our lives better by enabling us to learn more about ourselves. Seventeen years later, she’s back; and she’s not happy. In her new book “Alone Together” Turkle is extremely troubled, not by the technology, but how we’re using it.
People are texting, shopping and going on Facebook while in business meetings, in classes, at family meals, while together with friends; even while out on dates. “We are using the technology not only to edit what we want to participate in electronically, but through their use, to remove ourselves from situations that make us uncomfortable; to avoid grief or intimacy.”
We customize our lives because we can. As a result, people are learning to fear conversation because we can’t script what we’re going to say; or filter what we are going to hear and see. We attend meetings or classes, but only for the bits that we are interested in.
As Turkle incisively states: “Human relationships are rich, messy and demanding; so we want to clean them up and edit out the uncomfortable bits. We sacrifice conversation for mere connection. We expect more from technology, and less from each other. We’re lonely, but afraid of intimacy. We seek the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.”
If we stay on this path, the world is going to be a very lonely place. Let’s put the phones down, take off the stupid headsets; and show the people we’re with that we really want to be with them. Who knows, we might be reminded as to why we’re here.