Connected, but alone?

Although this video is old, filmed in February of 2012, I recently saw it pop up on my Facebook page and was instantly intrigued. Connected, but alone it seemed ironic that a TED talk about how social media and technology make us feel more alone was being spread via Facebook and that it had 3,304,712 views.

This TED talk is given by Sherry Turkle, a professor at MIT and below is an outline of some of her main points

Technology not only changes what we do, it changes who we are

People are no longer tuned in to whoever is in the room with them. Instead, we are emailing during board meetings and we even go as far as to text during funerals as opposed to dealing with our grief. We’re becoming more comfortable talking to each other through a device than we are face to face. Sherry Turkle says that we want to be with each other, but we also want to be able to control that interaction. A conversation takes place in real time and you can’t edit what you’re saying, but through text we are able to create a facade and make sure that whatever we say is “perfect”. However, it’s this ability to edit that prevents us from learning about the people we are texting.

The feeling that no one is listening is very important in our relationship with technology

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Paro, a therapeutic companion robotic seal 

A new trend in 2012 was robots that are supposed to replicate human companionship; an example is robots that help to keep the elderly company. Sherry discusses a moment in which a woman was crying and telling one of these robots about how devastating it was for her to lose a child. The robot looked at the woman and nodded its head and appeared to be listening and other people in the room thought it was beautiful that this robot could offer such comfort. Sherry saw it a different way and was saddened to see that this woman was relying on a robot for consolation. She summed this up by saying we expect more from technology and less from each other.

I share therefore I am

Sherry says that if we don’t have connection then we don’t feel like ourselves and that we view being alone as a problem that needs to be solved. When we’re standing in line at the grocery store or when we’re waiting for someone to meet us at a party we instantly open up our phone. It is in this process, however, that we set ourselves up to be isolated. Being completely alone is where we find ourselves and when we don’t have the capacity for solitude we turn to our phones and all of our online connections to feel less anxious.

We need to develop a more self aware relationship with our devices

One of Sherry’s main points was that we need to make room for solitude because if we’re not able to be alone we’re just going to end up more lonely. I think that this comes up a lot with the idea of FOMO, even when individuals try to take time to be alone the constant bombardment of social media images makes us feel as though we should have been somewhere else. Sherry recommends that people create sacred spaces and reclaim them for conversation. For example, when you’re sitting down to eat a family dinner don’t allow anyone to use their phones while they’re at the table.

Also listen to each other because when we stumble over our words and when we don’t have time to draft the perfect response that is when we really start to know each other.

Technology is simpler than life

 But just because it may seem easier to feel connected based on the amount of likes you’re getting, we can’t lose our ability to have face-to-face conversations. We need to recognize when it’s time to put the phone down and to listen to ourselves and to the people who are in the room with us.

5 comments

  1. Really interesting topic that I think applies to all of us. I think we all find ourselves looking at our phones to avoid potentially awkward encounters around the Heights. A comment that I’ve heard from managers is that they think our tendency to talk through a device has had a negative impact on our generation’s ability to communicate effectively in person. It will definitely be interesting to see if this is true and how it can impact other generations.

  2. It’s the topic that keeps cycling back, and I don’t think it’s going away any time soon. I’m always seeing those videos depicting party scenes and dinner dates with groups of people staring right into their phones in front of each other. I think Justin’s comment on its impact on our generation’s ability to communicate speaks worlds about the issue. Every day, I try to be more mindful about using my phone in front of others. Developing more of a self aware relationship with our devices seems to be the most poignant of the points you raised.

  3. Great topic. I for one think that robots for companions is not a very good direction for society to go in. People are constantly glued to their phones which has completely changed the way that we communicate with each other. Social media has allowed for us to be connected 24/7, but in a way that really diminishes the meaningfulness of these connections. I think that human interaction and communication should certainly be focused on in a business environment. You also make a great point that even when you are alone you are still completely connected and never really have any complete alone time which I think is important. Stay tuned for my blog post next Tuesday “Is Social Media Ruining the World.”

  4. Haha. You’ve jumped the gun (don’t worry, it happens). We’ll be covering this one on the last day of class. I’ll save my comments until then. If you didn’t know, she will be speaking here on campus in May.

  5. Great post! So true to life! We are so technologically connected yet so isolated from one another. It is far more easier to hide behind technology for most people than to deal with one another face to face, which is sad but unfortunately as technology advances it becomes a more and more permanent fixture in our reality. We want to make things easier, but lose touch with one another in the process, and let the machines do the talking. Everything has it’s place, phones, social media, etc. and we need to discern when it’s appropriate to put these things down. For instance, it’s probably not appropriate to be texting or updating your status during a funeral, it can wait. We need to be more aware and in control as the digital world advances and not forget why human to human interaction is just as important.

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