Together Alone

Last year I read Sherry Turkle's Reclaiming Conversation, and I've been preaching its findings ever since. This article in my former hometown newspaper spurred me to take some time to blog a bit about it. It is also timely because I spend a fair amount of time with our students during orientation talking about some of its contents, and our students arrive in two weeks!

Turkle covers a lot in this book, but basically it comes down to the negative effects technology has on our ability to converse with each other--and the effects that has in the workplace, in our relationships, and in the classroom.

One of the moments that struck me was when she introduced this paradox of modern life:

When we are apart: hypervigilance. When we are together: inattention.

This articulation of what I see all around me really hit me. What she so pithily describes is how, when we are apart from friends, family, and work, we are hypervigilant about remaining virtually connected: we are constantly checking email, Facebook, texts, Twitter, Instagram so that we are connected to those people who are not actually physically next to us. Thus, when we are actually with other people in person, we are completely inattentive. I cannot tell you how many times I see couples in restaurants checking their phones instead of talking to one another.

I know that after reading this book, I have tried to keep my phone in my pocket when I'm with friends or in meetings, because Turkle cites a study that found that the quality of conversations suffer when a phone is even physically present--not just when people check it.

I could go on, but I'd encourage you to think about how you act with those around you and what impact that has on your relationships: if you get annoyed when people check their phone around you, imagine how they feel when you do it.

PS: the title of my post is stolen from a song from one of my favorite bands.