The Technology Conversation

The first video game I ever played was Pong at my friend Stephanie’s house.

It blew my mind.

The first digital toy I ever played with was a friend’s Speak & Spell.

The first computer my parents owned was an Apple IIe.

You get the idea.

It’s hard to keep up with a medium that’s evolved as quickly as digital has, and perhaps even more difficult to determine its collective effects on us as people.

Believe it or not, I worry about how all this digital stuff is affecting us. Strange to hear from someone who works in the medium, I know.

For the past few months, I’ve been reading Alone Together: Why We Expect More of Technology and Less of Each Other by Sherry Turkle. She’s a Professor of Social Sciences and Technology at MIT, the founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, and a licensed clinical psychologist.

The book is the culmination of Turkle’s nearly 15-year exploration of our lives in an increasingly digital world. Driven by hundreds of interviews, the book describes how technology has changed and continues to change our relationships, and how we define happiness, community, intimacy, and privacy.

I’m not going to lie. It’s a difficult read.

Not because the content is boring, but rather, because it is, in moments, incredibly disturbing in its observations.

Like the moment when a college student texts his next door neighbor and when asked why he didn’t walk over to speak in person, answers, “because it’s the same thing.”

Oh. Really?

Turkle writes about on what it means to “connect in sips,” the way we do when texting or instant messaging:

“Connecting in sips may work for gathering discreet bits of information, they may work for saying, “I’m thinking about you,” or even for saying, “I love you,” but they don’t really work for learning about each other, for really coming to know and understand each other. And we use conversations with each other to learn how to have conversations with ourselves. So a flight from conversation can really matter because it can compromise our capacity for self-reflection. For kids growing up, that skill is the bedrock of development.”

If you don’t think technology is changing us, I’d ask you to observe the behavior of your friends (and your own) the next time you spend time together.

Are you both carrying smart phones?

How many times do you look at them during your time together?

Do you check your email?

Or, check in on social media?

Are you in the moment enjoying your time together, or are you recording and shaping it for public consumption?

We’ve all done it.

But what does it do to us?

Turkle says:

“Human relationships are rich and they’re messy and they’re demanding. And we clean them up with technology. And when we do, one of the things that can happen is that we sacrifice conversation for mere connection. We short-change ourselves. And over time, we seem to forget this, or we seem to stop caring.”

And, how is technology shaping generations of children who don’t know a world without it?

Louis CK talks about it beautifully here in the context of cell phones:

So, what do we do?

The answers aren’t easy or simple.

But the ongoing conversation is important.

Because though I work in digital, I also work alongside 12 amazing, living, breathing people with rich, complex lives that no technology, no matter how fun or efficient, can ever replace.