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. In a recent interview, she responded to a question about how social media and technology are affecting human interactions (Mark Fischetti “The Networked Primate” Scientific American, September 2014, pp. 83–85):
“One primary change I see is that people have a tremendous lack of tolerance for being alone. . . . Every bit of research says people’s capacity to be alone is disappearing. What can happen is that you lose that moment to have a daydream or to cast an eye inward. Instead you look to the outside.” (p. 84)
Turkle’s observation speaks to the fundamental dynamic of being motivated externally versus internally. If I have a lack of tolerance for being alone, then that means that I am overly dependent on external factors. My motivation comes from the external rather than the internal. External factors will have a place in our motivations. Nevertheless, if our fundamental motivation is driven by the external instead of the internal, then I believe we lose character, value, and depth.
Turkle goes on to point out that this is a problem for all ages because it relates to our personal development:
“Solitude is the precondition for having a conversation with yourself. This capacity to be with yourself and discover yourself is the bedrock of development.”
If I never have any conversations with myself, then how can I develop myself? I cannot. Introspection, thoughtful reflection, searching deep within are all activities that lead to discovery and growth. We cannot do that if all our conversations are with someone else.
Today and every day, don’t forget to meet alone.