Technology Connection

In a talk by Sherry Turkle she outlines the case that technology is connecting us so much that we are losing the ability to be alone and by doing so we are becoming more lonely. Her rhetoric is plagued with nostalgia and while she has some interesting points, she is also missing the point.

The inability to be alone and the need to always feel connected is a part of our evolution. Thanks to technology we are rapidly eliminating the need to be alone. In the past when we were hunting the ability to be alone was very useful but now the ability to be alone has less value because most projects humanity take on now are large, complicated, and require large amounts of cooperation as the mundane and simple are being replaced by automatons. Also the ability to be connected and not alone contributes to longer lives.

In her talk she talks about face to face conversation as energizing experience, however, face to face conversation is only energizing if one is an extrovert. Introverts, psychologically, are actually drained by conversations. Technology gives these people the ability to be connected and communicate without the energy drain or anxiety that is associated with direct conversations.

In addition she makes the bold assertion that robots will never be capable of empathy to which I ask the question if an artificial entity has all the experiences of a life and with those experiences would act exactly the way any other human would act, is that artificial entity’s empathy less valuable? and if yes, why? This idea that we will never be capable of making life (artificial or otherwise) that is not capable of empathy comes back to the belief that humans are perfect and therefore nothing we create could ever be as good as ourselves.

We are involuntarily moving towards Elolight and as we do more people like Sherry Turkle will emerge. People grasping on to our previous states believing we have already obtained some level of perfection. That the emotions or experiences we have are pristine and that there should not be a fundamental psychology shift in humanity. Elolight not only demands a psychology shift, it will happen despite our greatest efforts to stop it.

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9 thoughts on “Technology Connection

  1. bert0001

    “Over and over I hear, “I would rather text than talk.” And what I’m seeing is that people get so used to being short-changed out of real conversation, so used to getting by with less, that they’ve become almost willing to dispense with people altogether.”

    I think this is the central issue …

    Being connected is nice, but more than often i put all communication channels off.
    I even wrote a blog about it: http://whoisbert.blogspot.com/2012/03/need-to-be-alone.html

    we are losing focus, concentration, real connections, learning something about ourselves by being still, etc because all this technology demanding our time.

    There is nothing wrong with the technology. That’s your point in a nut shell, and i agree with that. We can find information in no time (if we have that skill – most people have no idea how to find solutions through wikipedia or google), contact whoever in the world (except those that are more than 3 steps away and will be merciless in keeping us in their spam filter), and blog about whatever and even be read by some. (am i to sarcastic – i’m blogging myself, so i can use humor) – but facebook, honestly, is nothing but junk that i’m not interested in, twitter is really narcistic in my eyes.

    Reply
    1. Jonathan Wagner Post author

      There is a paradox with her whole concept, digitial communication allows us to more easily be alone. So on one hand she is saying, we need face to face conversation, and then on the other she is lamenting that we don’t know how to be alone.

      I am with you, I often prefer to be alone and with technology it is much easier. You can choose to cut off digital communication, you cannot choose to stop face to face connections. Kids today won’t know the world without internet and I was young when the internet was emerging but what I think is a massive fallacy is that the internet is causing us to be loners, when I was a kid I would come home and turn on the TV; in fact there was huge PSAs about making sure kids got outside. TV was far worse then the internet because internet demands interaction where as TV does not.

      I cannot related to the idea of being “short-changed” out of “real” conversations because I am not necessarily stimulated or energized (or denergized) by face to face conversations, this idea only applies to extroverts. I think she is also being a little hyperbolic, because let’s face it if there was really an epidemic of people trading in “real” relationships for texting we should see a stark drop in population because sexual interactions demand face to face interaction.

      Reply
      1. I am Sam

        Haha good point about the sex. She has a social role complex in her presentation. Being a mother you can clearly see her one sided argument to the matter, basing it on what she has seen with own family and her daughter’s peers.

  2. bert0001

    Making real REAL good friends through the internet is very difficult …
    I don’t want to share my deepest, deepest thoughts like that, as such, i need face to face.
    I have many internet friends, good, better and best, but they cannot physically hug me when i need it.
    I think this is what she means by loneliness.

    Some internet friends, became real friends, because they really connected, and lived less than 100kms distance, and because we actually met face to face.

    Another one is a very good friend and visited 2 times, but lives 5000 kms from here. I couldn’t share my latest depression with him. There is no way to explain whatever i wanted to talk about over email, chat, or even over the phone. I needed real face to face contact, and found that with a close connection who lives 20 min drive from here.

    I am a bit of an exception, as i know many people my age without real friends. As you get older, you might forget to make new friends, and old connections sometimes wear out. Internet connections don’t offer shoulders to cry on.

    Mind you, i’m a deep introvert …

    Reply
    1. Jonathan Wagner Post author

      I met my current girlfriend of 4+ years over the internet, but it did require face to face. However that said we did become close even before meeting via webcam which is very close to face to face conversations. In some ways I believe initial meetings on the internet are more secure and useful then say a meeting at a bar where there is no initial context.

      We haven’t developed technology that can really reflect or mirror physical interaction which is a requirement for human psychology, I don’t think texting stops people from getting together though. There is a deep biological need for it both sexually and I also think partially because of herd mentality. I think there is an assumption that if cell phones didn’t exist and you had a group of friends together they would be engaged in these vigorous conversations – that simply isn’t the case. Group conversations, especially among teens, are short lived followed by either trouble or something common (movies etc..). I have been in plenty of gatherings where no one was on phones and the conversations went dry quickly and it was reduced to, “So… anyone want to play cards?”

      I think in many ways this ‘texting epidemic’ is a new golden age thinking. The belief that conversations before texting were these amazing brilliant occurrences that happened all the time in the same way people believe that living during the renaissance would be superior to now.

      Reply
  3. bert0001

    Indeed, what you say above is true, and i have seen many meetings that could have been avoided by a short email conversation. And i also met my wife after some conversations over the internet. These are just a few benefits of the internet/texting IM-world, and there are many more. Conversing whit you seems also a benefit of the internet. But could we have done this over twitter?

    What Sherry Turkle said had not much to do with this. It is about people having forgotten that there is a world of silence too. That there is something like focus that can last longer than 3 minutes on a given subject, that depth can not be reached by 160 character and often shorter sentences. And yes, in a pub things are not better either. And perhaps playing cards is even more boring, so you need an interesting subject, interested people and a medium to have a decent conversation. And a text message is often also just nothing more than: “I’m still here, are you still there”. In essence there is nothing wrong with that. A bird singing does exactly the same. hence the name twitter.

    But to explain elolight, twitter or texting is barely going to suffice. Email can be used, but not if we cannot focus longer than the first 3 sentences, and i think Sherry is talking about this, Texting at breakfast, during classes, during funerals. what is that doing with us. We are filling up bordedom with twitter. We are not even paying attention to anything anymore. Checking email, messages, facebook, 50 times a day is compulsive behaviour. Your desire to check them takes over (a part of) your life.

    It’s about more than just boredom. I have drawn thousands of doodles during courses and meetings, and now i also play with my phone during many of those.

    We have a conversation just now, but where are the others? Why are they not interested? It takes an effort to argument and to follow some logic and to try to stay with the subject.

    “And we are vulnerable. We’re lonely, but we’re afraid of intimacy.” Sherry said.
    Is this not what we are losing? Being with some important other and sharing silences is as important as small talk. But i feel that you are correct too, samm talk has existed all the time. Small talk is now just easier, and controllable. So why whining about this?

    “The problem with this new regime of “I share therefore I am” is that, if we don’t have connection, we don’t feel like ourselves. We almost don’t feel ourselves. So what do we do? We connect more and more. But in the process, we set ourselves up to be isolated”

    Is this true? And has this changed since we connect digitally? There i might say that Turkle is short of arguments.

    You say “to be alone was very useful but now the ability to be alone has less value because most projects humanity take on now are large, complicated, and require large amounts of cooperation as the mundane and simple are being replaced by automatons. Also the ability to be connected and not alone contributes to longer lives.”

    I don’t agree with this. I get most of my deep inspiration during absolute silence. I get ideas during fast-browsing which is an equivalent of brain-storming, but not those inspiring thoughts that turn a project into something with wings.

    However, whether this has changed since the digital age … are there less inspiring people these days? I don’t think so.

    Anyway, thank you for this thought provoking dialogue!

    Reply
    1. Jonathan Wagner Post author

      Regardless of chosen stance, I think it is good conversations. As I have stated in other posts while I think technology is absolutely necessary for human evolution, I also believe that technology could potentially be used in wrong ways and we must make sure technology is used appropriately moving forward. I also think there are some higher level questions regarding human psychology and the affects of technology on it that we can’t truly answer right now because things like texting and twitter are such new concepts. Also in the video she uses the word “cost” several times, however losing something is not always bad. As we have evolved and will evolve it will be at the cost of certain aspect of humanity that we regard as normal right now and that is unavoidable.

      The question becomes not what the costs are of moving forward but just like anything else, what are the right costs to make versus the wrong ones.

      Reply

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