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Are We Connected, But Alone?

Here are highlights from Sherry Turke’s TED Talk, “Connected, But Alone”.

For the past several years, one of my favorite pastimes has been to read the latest news on technology. Also, for several years, I have immersed myself into my iPhone and social networks, but as I grow older, and after I recently read a thought provoking magazine article, I again have to reexamine my digital relationship.

“Living Life Online: The Dangers of Spending Too Much Time in Cyberspace”, a Vibrant Life article, mentioned Sherry Turkle. She was described as “a researcher, psychologist, and author of the book ‘Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other.'” The title of her book intrigued me, so I googled her, and I found out that she delivered an amazing Ted Talk in 2012. I learned that the danger of being constantly dominated by technology is that it impairs our ability to be focused on real conversations and real relationships outside of the internet.

Below are my highlights from Sherry Turkle’s Ted Talk, mostly in her own words. If you really want the full effect of her speech, please watch it for yourself. Let us reexamine our relationships to our digital devices. Let us allow ourselves to be disconnected from them sometimes so that we can put effort in building real, meaningful, offline relationships instead of sound byte friendships.

Sherry Turkle loves technology, but she is concerned about the affect of too much technology on our relationships offline.

“Just a moment ago, my daughter Rebecca texted me for good luck. Her text said, ‘Mom, you will rock.’ I love this. Getting that text was like getting a hug. And so there you have it. I embody the central paradox. I’m a woman who loves getting texts who’s going to tell you that too many of them can be a problem.”

Little devices in our pockets are so psychologically powerful that they don’t only change what we do, they change who we are.”

Examples:

1. “People text or do email during corporate board meetings.”

2. “They text and shop and go on Facebook during classes, during presentations, actually during all meetings.”

3. “People talk to me about the important new skill of making eye contact while you’re texting. (Laughter) People explain to me that it’s hard, but that it can be done.”

4. “Parents text and do email at breakfast and at dinner while their children complain about not having their parents’ full attention. But then these same children deny each other their full attention.”

5. “And we even text at funerals. I study this. We remove ourselves from our grief or from our revery and we go into our phones.”

“We’re getting used to a new way of being alone together. People want to be with each other, but also elsewhere — connected to all the different places they want to be.”

“So you want to go to that board meeting, but you only want to pay attention to the bits that interest you. And some people think that’s a good thing. But you can end up hiding from each other, even as we’re all constantly connected to each other.”

“An 18-year-old boy who uses texting for almost everything says to me wistfully, ‘Someday, someday, but certainly not now, I’d like to learn how to have a conversation.'”

“And what I’m seeing is that people get so used to being short-changed out of real conversation, so used to getting by with less, that they’ve become almost willing to dispense with people altogether. So for example, many people share with me this wish, that some day a more advanced version of Siri, the digital assistant on Apple’s iPhone, will be more like a best friend, someone who will listen when others won’t.”

The Illusion of Friendship

“We’re lonely, but we’re afraid of intimacy. And so from social networks to sociable robots, we’re designing technologies that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.”

Her solution:

“I’m not suggesting that we turn away from our devices, just that we develop a more self-aware relationship with them, with each other and with ourselves. I see some first steps. Start thinking of solitude as a good thing. Make room for it. Find ways to demonstrate this as a value to your children.

“Create sacred spaces at home — the kitchen, the dining room — and reclaim them for conversation. Do the same thing at work. At work, we’re so busy communicating that we often don’t have time to think, we don’t have time to talk, about the things that really matter. Change that.”

“Most important, we all really need to listen to each other, including to the boring bits. Because it’s when we stumble or hesitate or lose our words that we reveal ourselves to each other.”

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