Connectivity through 'digital saturation' may come at the expense of conversation
Social networking and texting have become a large part of many of our daily interactions. It can be hard to find someone who doesn't have a cell phone or a Facebook account. Sherry Turkle believes that too much focus is put on these new technologies and that conversations are suffering a result of it.
Many of us, even children, spend hours texting on our cell phones and connecting with others through social media.
Last year, a study showed Americans spend nearly eight hours per month on Facebook alone.
Some argue that despite being able to better connect with family and friends than ever before, new technology is detrimental to our interactions. Sherry Turkle, an MIT technology and society specialist, believes conversations should be had in person.
"Yes, I think we're kind of built for that. We're best when we're together. We're animals after all, and I think we have the voice, the voice, the magnificent instrument, and things go much better when we have the voice," Turkle said, in reference to having a conversation over the phone. "And we're more comfortable when we have the voice. But we're best when we have the voice, the flesh, the body, the face. We're built for that."
Turkle said she is not anti-technology and believes it has its place in social interactions, but she feels texting may be overused.
"Texting is wonderful for saying I'm thinking about you, for keeping in touch, for connecting, even for saying I love you. I mean, it's like a hug. It's wonderful for connecting and keeping in touch. What it's not so good for — and I think the point I'm trying to make, is it's not so good for really having those good conversations in which you do the work of really revealing yourself and of getting to know someone else in the kind of complicated ways that people do. And I think you just have to make sure that your relational diets includes everything," Turkle said.
Texting may even be considered a form of escapism, at times. Turkle said people tell her now their number one value for conversations is feeling a sense of control rather than "being present."
"So, for example, we learn these habits from our parents. Parents text and do their email at the dinner table. They text when they're with their kids at the park. They text and do their email while they're watching Sunday sports with their kids," Turkle said. "So you learn that being where you are, and being with the people you're with, is not necessarily the highest value, and those habits of distributive attention, even during the precious little time we spend with our families, are the sort of family virtues kids grow up with."
Studies have shown texting can actually improve written language skills and social networks may not be hurting face-to-face relationships. Turkle said they are great for maintaining relationships, especially ones over long distances, but after speaking to kids, she believes substituting technology for conversation is problematic.
"I say, 'Well, what's wrong with having a conversation?' They say, 'It takes place in real-time, and you can't control what you're going to say,'" she said.
Sherry Turkle is the author of "Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other," a book that explores how technology alters social lives.
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