Sherry Turkle is a professor and psychologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her specialty is the study of the relationship between people and machines. Turkle’s latest book carries somewhat of an indictment beginning with its very title, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other.
When I first read that title, I immediately sensed its truth. Technology and social media are absolutely stunning and marvelous tools in our modern age. I would not want to thwart their growth in any way. However, as with any tool, it is what you make it. People do inspiring and wonderful things with cars and trucks. People do horrible and sad things with cars and trucks. The outcome always depends on the user. That means you. That means me.
In the book’s title, I see a call for balance in our lives. That, I believe, is always a good thing. Balance is especially important in how we manage our personal and professional relationships. Technology and social media can be excellent timesavers and convenience enhancers, but we must never let them rob us of the vitally personal interactions we all need (see my post, “What Is Facebook Doing To Us?” Blog.reliableinsights.com, May 15, 2012). Megan Garber, reflecting on Turkle’s book, summarizes some key conclusions (“Sketch: The Eavesdropper” The Atlantic, January/February 2014, pp. 21–22):
“We’re talking all the time, in person as well as in texts, in e-mails, over the phone, on Facebook and Twitter. The world is more talkative now, in many ways, than it’s ever been. The problem, Turkle argues, is that all of this talk can come at the expense of conversation. We’re talking at each other rather than with each other. Conversations, as they tend to play out in person, are messy—full of pauses and interruptions and topic changes and assorted awkwardness. But the messiness is what allows for true exchange. It gives participants the time—and, just as important, the permission—to think and react and glean insights.” (p. 22)
As a people, I believe we have an obligation to embrace every bit of blessing and benefit technology and social media bring to us. The blessing and benefit have been beyond measure. Simultaneously, let us also recognize the inherent limitations of technology and social media. That is precisely why we must strive for the balance.
Keystrokes, Facebook Likes, and blog posts all have some meaning. Please understand though, they are never the same as sitting face to face in genuine dialogue. Opening a post is not necessarily the same as opening your mind and your heart.