Sherry Turkle studies how we relate to our devices, and thinks it’s high time we start talking to each other again.
Jessica Gross | Longreads | October 2015 | 17 minutes (4,263 words)
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 Age, continues 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.
Hi, this is Jessica Gross, calling from Longreads. Is this Sherry Turkle?
Yes, it is. I’ve been looking forward to hearing from you. But let me have you call back on a landline. I think the fidelity would be better and it’d just be easier. [Ring, ring.] Here I am. I love this old technology. I’m at a seaside cabin with this 1950 phone that works perfectly. [Laughter]
I got my own landline recently and it’s been really delightful.
I mean, there’s this thing where calls never get dropped, where you can hear in perfect fidelity! [Laughter] And it goes on even if the Wi-Fi is down!Continue reading “Relearning How to Talk in the Age of Smartphone Addiction”