Alone Together

Monday, January 17, 2011

MIT professor Sherry Turkle discusses her new book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, in which she examines how technology is diminishing our face-to-face contact and why that matters. 


Sherry Turkle

Comments [14]

Brian from Brooklyn NY

We baby boomers think there is "something wrong with people", but there isn't. These new types of (digital) relationships and social settings may seem "strange" to us, but not to the people involved with it. To them it's just normal. The world is changing. Some embrace the change and live, others deal with it by kvetching. When some people get older they compensate for their miserable lives by kvetching all day.

If your into kvetching you'll probably enjoy Turkel's books.

Mar. 01 2011 12:23 PM
Levi Wallach from Reston, VA

It's funny. I actually drafted a longish blog post about just this subject last night. It still needs work so it's not posted yet, but it's about exactly this topic.

However it is from the perspective not of a young person, but of a 40-something with a 5-year-old child. I also happen to have been "connected" longer than most, having gotten online in the 80's as a teen through local bulletin boards, and then on the Internet in the very early days of the web ('92), and with a smartphone in 2002.

While @CL thinks this is obvious and thus worthless, I beg to differ. I think it is the elephant in the room that no one is talking about, and because of that these discussions are important to get the ball rolling.

Mainly I'm concerned about how these distractions take us away from "real life" in favor of chatting with people we either don't know at all in real life, or have very tenuous connections to. This we are doing while we avoid paying attention to our own family. How sad and ironic is that? I think it has ominous consequences for the future of our kids, who, being starved of this attention, will be more and more isolated in the future. Hopefully they won't take our example and escape into their own virtual worlds, although I fear this will be a prime destination.

I think it's obvious that checking email/Facebook/Twitter/etc. is addictive and this is a societal problem that we need to discuss just as much as drugs and alcahol. I'm not "cured" (don't know if you can be), but I've become increasingly disturbed watching others that mirror some of my own practices, that I've been able to put my toys away and when I'm with my daughter in particular, that I'm really WITH her, and not only partially with her, glancing at a screen half the time or even trying to figure out when I can sneak a peek next so I can "catch up."

Jan. 17 2011 11:35 PM
Michael from Brooklyn

This is an old, continuing trend of atomizing society into individuals struggling on their own, rather than pursuing collective action.

Capitalism is the driving force, here. Why are parents permanently attached to their Blackberries...because they love them so much? Or because they are working longer hours for more demanding clients and bosses, picking up the workload of colleagues who were just "rightsized"? And if they don't pick up the smartphone during the dinner hour, someone else will!

Once business pressures normalize 24/7 connectivity, the floodgate opens for all content.

Unions won the 40 hour workweek precisely so we could reserve some time for home life. As we've marginalized unions we've also eroded benefits they won for all of us.

Jan. 17 2011 03:20 PM
Suzanna from Brooklyn, NY

Thank you for this segment. I teach composition to freshman at various colleges, and have had to police them off their iPhones, Blackberry's for years. I was actually fired from a college (that shall remain nameless) which had wireless access and computers in each classroom only for the writing classes--because I couldn't stop the students from checking their facebooks or from texting.....

Jan. 17 2011 11:03 AM
Elsie from Brooklyn

The problem is not how we are communicating, but rather, the quality of our communication and this lack of quality is directly related to many of us having been raised on social networking sites where the superficial (and often dishonest) reign. Listen to the conversations people are actually having on their phones - and I'm not just talking about kids. It's scary. We have become a nation of shallow automatons, much more adept at self promotion than an engaging dialogue about something other than ourselves.

Jan. 17 2011 11:02 AM
Amy from Manhattan

I think it's OK to check who's calling/texting if your cellphone rings, because some calls (like from the babysitter!) could be urgent. If not, the polite thing is to let it go to voicemail.

Jan. 17 2011 11:01 AM
Matt from Hell's Kitchen

These things are skills - especially talking on the phone! e.g knowing how to pivot to new subjects (and how to come up with the next subject in the first place), truly focusing on the person on the other end... these things literally require practice. And it's awfully sad that we're losing it.


Jan. 17 2011 11:00 AM
Estelle from Austin

My parents and I read at the dinner table the whole time I was growing up. I highly recommend it, actually! It did not keep us from chatting---sometimes we talked about what we were reading.
It can be like pulling teeth to get a teenager to the dinner table with the family; it's just too intense and too much pressure for some kids. Having an "out" of a magazine or whatever can relieve the pressure, and actually facilitate interaction.
Electronic devices, a totally different story.

Jan. 17 2011 10:59 AM
CL from New York

Turkle had to do "research" to arrive at these conclusions? Talk about belaboring the obvious! What a joke. Reminds me of why sociology used to be referred to as a "minor discipline."

Jan. 17 2011 10:57 AM

My father answered his phone at my birthday dinner, with just him and my mother. I would never do that.

Jan. 17 2011 10:57 AM
Bob from Palham, NY

Connect this with your first segment - Professor Turkle should explain to the leaders of Congress why texting and tweeting should be banned from the floor during the State of the Union and while other business is being conducted.

Jan. 17 2011 10:57 AM
Ken from Little Neck

Maybe I'm a little old for your ideal sample (I'm 28), but I've never had a problem making a distinction between online interaction and real interaction. I grew up with the internet, but even as a teen, I was aware of not sharing too much online that I wouldn't tell someone face to face. My parents are also very connected, but I never felt like they were ignoring me or my siblings in favor of of online communication.

As always, it comes down to good parenting - if you pay attention to your kids are involved in what they're doing, they will tend not to need more attention. My daughter isn't old enough yet for this to be a problem, but it's something I will be very aware of as she grows up - she'll never need a substitute for parents, because my wife and I will be involved in her life.

Jan. 17 2011 10:56 AM

Sherry is right and wrong about how young people view this technology (I'm 23, for reference). She's dead right about parents, especially of younger kids, being too distracted by their phones (add in video games as well, I play World of Warcraft and am often disturbed by people ignoring their younger kids!).

On the other hand, I don't know anyone my own age who feels any "nostalgia" for the days of the land-line. I've been in social gatherings of 5 or more of us for where for a second we're all on our phones texting and then 5 seconds later back to "life" as if nothing had happened. Sherry is wrong in this regard.

Jan. 17 2011 10:55 AM
Capper from NY

I don't know, how does this compare to the older days, when kids would spend most of their time out of the house and would only come home for dinner? Parents didn't spend much time with kids back then either. Mom's spent most of their time in the kitchen and Dad's would spend most of their time at work. Kids would be kicked out of the house to go play.

Jan. 17 2011 10:53 AM

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