On Monday, July 30, I heard a fabulous lecture about technology and how it defines our relationships. Sherry Turkle, an MIT professor, spoke about being “Alone Together” at Chautauqua Institution, New York.
I wrote down some key points to share, since as bloggers, writers and readers, technology shapes our creative lives as well as our everyday lives.
Many people, these days, Sherry said, prefer texting to talking. “We’ve sacrificed communication for more connection,” she said. People like texting because it’s controlled. They text other coworkers during business meetings–especially when the topic doesn’t relate to their particular role–for a similar reason. “The thing they value most is control over where they put their attention.”
The byproduct of being able to communicate by texting, Sherry explained, is a fear or an inability to have a regular conversation. She shared a great comment by a college student who wants to someday–someday–learn how to have a conversation (but not now).
She also discussed the “I share therefore I am” phenomenon that has sprung up due to Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. I feel that pressure sometimes in the blogging world. If I don’t get a post up on Monday morning, for instance, or if I don’t reply to comments right away, I feel uneasy.
Sherry spoke eloquently about what we like to do when we have free time, mentioning a woman who asked if it was okay to be brusque with the friendly grocery clerk because she wanted to text her friends, not talk to him. When we’re alone, whether it’s in the car or at home, we immediately reach for our technology devices and try to connect to someone. “Being alone feels like a problem that needs to be fixed,” she said. And she followed that with this great reminder for parents: “If we don’t teach our children to be alone, they will only know how to be lonely.”
One of her suggestions for parents is to set three media-free zones–the kitchen, the dining room and the car.
“I’m interested in getting people back to conversation,” she said.
We must redevelop our capacity for solitude–something that writers must have to write, which is one of the reasons I’m sharing her thoughts today. (Blogging and tweeting and Facebooking and emailing all erode that quality quiet time so quickly, don’t they?) Solitude, and being able to be alone with yourself, enables conversation. “Start thinking about solitude as a good thing,” she said.
As I was working on this post, sitting on my porch in Chautauqua in early August, two women stopped on the street below me. One began telling the other about Sherry Turkle’s message. It was a perfect example of conversation in the real world, exchanging ideas and being present in the moment with someone else, and it made me smile to be sitting above them, mulling over the same material. The woman talking about the lecture pointed out that many audience members were taking notes on an iPad, and that Sherry gave everyone her Twitter hashtag.
I might have been able to finish this post if I had been taking notes on an iPad. Instead, I was using a pen and the back of my knitting pattern, and I left my knitting on the plane when flying back to Oregon. I’ve been hoping, for the past few weeks, that I’d get an email from the airline saying my luggage had been found, so I could finish this post and write one on the presentation by Dahlia Litwick, senior editor at Slate.
Unfortunately, it seems like my half-finished shawl project–and my notes on several morning lectures–are gone.
At least you can find the Chautauquan Daily article about Sherry Turkle’s lecture online. Be sure to check out the Q and A section, when she addresses whether texting has changed our writing.
Do you prefer to text, not talk? How much of your daily communication is technology driven?