MIT professor, noted author
explains the online paradox
“The neurochemical hit of constant connection is what we are
– is what we have now.” – Prof. Sherry Turkle
Prof. Sherry Turkle of MIT says the more we are connected, the more we are alone. Click image to enlarge.
WE ARE ALL more interconnected than ever, thanks to the world wide web and all the different ways we can connect to it.
But surely you have seen two people sitting at the same table in a restaurant or pub totally engrossed in the glowing screens of their mobile devices, ignoring each other.
It’s an increasingly common phenomenon.
Paradoxically, the more connected we are, the less we are truly connected to each other – the way we always were and the way we were meant to be.
MIT Professor Sherry Turkle, an expert on the subject, bemoans this unintended consequence – with a hint of fear. She says we are not prepared to defend ourselves against the lure of immediate, repetitive, instant gratification it offers.
Always on may mean always off!
PROFESSOR TURKLE ELOQUENTLY expressed her fears about the present and the future in an appearance on Moyers & Co. – one of the best television shows – last weekend.
The liner notes to Sherry Turkle on Being Alone Together introduce us to the topic.
“If you think a lot of people are looking down these days, it’s because they are. We often see people focused so intensely on the latest text or tweet coming from their smartphone, that they seem virtually oblivious to the world around them,” we read.
Look in the mirror! Are you guilty of this?
The web site of Moyers & Company, the show on which Sherry Turkle explained her thesis. Click image to enlarge.
“MIT professor Sherry Turkle has studied our relationship with technology for over three decades, about what this constant engagement means for our culture and our society.”
Turkle, author of “Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other,” says our devices are not only changing the way we communicate and interact with each other, but also who we are as human beings.
In her own words, on the show Turkle explains:
“[W]e’re moving to a space where we feel free to respond to the three promises that technology now makes us: that we can always be heard, that we can be wherever we want to be, and that we never have to be alone.”
Isn’t it tempting? Everything we all want, in a 3-inch-by-4-inch glowing screen!
What’s wrong with this picture? Ask the expert.
“That third promise actually is terribly important because I believe that the capacity for solitude is terribly important to develop,” Tukle says. “If you don’t teach your children to be alone, they’ll only know how to be lonely. And by not developing this capacity for solitude, we’re not doing our children a favor.”
It’s bad for the kids, but so is ice cream.
But it’s just as bad for adults, it turns out.
“We’re really not looking at the implications of immersing ourselves in mobile technology to the degree that we have. And what it’s doing to … our family lives, to our social life, to our political life.”
The web site of Turkle’s book, “Alone together.” Click image to enlarge.
AT THE WEB site Alone Together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other we learn more about her fears.
“We shape our buildings, Winston Churchill argued, then they shape us,” says the blub. “The same is true of our digital technologies. Technology has become the architect of our intimacies.
“Online, we face a moment of temptation. Drawn by the illusion of companionship without the demands of intimacy, we conduct “risk free” affairs on Second Life and confuse the scattershot postings on a Facebook wall with authentic communication.”
She’s right. How many of your Facebook “friends” have you ever looked in the eye?
“Technology promises to let us do anything from anywhere with anyone. But it also drains us as we try to do everything everywhere. We begin to feel overwhelmed and depleted by the lives technology makes possible.
“In a surprising twist, relentless connection leads to a new solitude. We turn to new technology to fill the void, but as technology ramps up, our emotional lives ramp down.”
In the New York Times review of “Alone Together” in 2011 titled We, Robots Jonah Lehrer refers to her previous work and then notes:
The New York Times review of “Alone Together” titled “We, Robots” Click image to enlarge.
“In Turkle’s latest book, “Alone Together,” this optimism is long gone. If the Internet of 1995 was a postmodern playhouse, allowing individuals to engage in unbridled expression, Turkle describes it today as a corporate trap, a ball and chain that keeps us tethered to the tiny screens of our cellphones, tapping out trite messages to stay in touch.
“But Turkle isn’t just concerned with the problem of online identity. She seems most upset by the banalities of electronic interaction, as our range of expression is constrained by our gadgets and platforms.”
Back to the source. Speaking to Bill Moyers, Turkle explains:
“I welcome the internet, I welcome the mobile technology. I’m saying there are certain ways we’re using it that are not taking account of how misusing it, overusing it, can really threaten things that we care about.
“It’s a question of technological affordance and human vulnerability. This is a technology to which we are particularly vulnerable in certain ways.”
Can anyone reading this on the internet dispute our vulnerability? Some call it addiction. And it’s quite similar.
The need for constant, immediate feedback is like a craving. Hit that “refresh” icon just one more time.
The solution? Awareness!
Listening to deeply knowledgeable folk like Professor Turkle, who know far more than we do, can do no harm. It also can do a lot of good.
Get up. Go out. Breathe the fresh air.
Look at the person you are with.
Don’t be the one to miss out on life because you are too preoccupied with your online illusions.
FEEDBACK: Contact site admin directly