Alone together

After watching Sherry Turkle’s speech via Ted few months ago, I can not stop thinking about what she said, about how technology is changing our lives, and then more horribly, change what we really are! 

During the speech, Turkle expressed her deep-seated fears that we were letting technology “take us places we don’t want to go.” She concludes the following: “The little devices in our pockets are so 
psychologically powerful that they don’t eve change what we do, they change who we are.”

Turkle says that this constant digital interaction actually lessens our ability to self-reflect. It all comes back to the fairytale Goldilocks and the Three Bears, as do many narratives in American culture. Turkle describes this alone togetherness, calling it the Goldilocks Effect: “People want to be with each other, but also elsewhere,” says Turkle. “People want to control exactly the amount of attention they give others, not too much, not too little.”


What are we doing to encourage this type of behavior? Through text messages, social networks and emails, however, we learn to edit ourselves. We do not have to reveal as much as we do in-person or via 
phone. We don’t have to feel as vulnerable, knowing that there is always a screen to hide behind. Actual real relationships with others are far more complex than that, however.

“Human relationships are rich, and they’re messy and they’re demanding,” says Turkle. “And we clean them up with technology. We sacrifice conversation for mere connection.”

The illusions of “friendship without the demands of companionship,” as Turkle describes, offer us three types of fantasies: We’ll have attention everywhere, we’ll always be heard and we’ll never have to be 
alone. In other words, we feel less compelled to reach out and make an active connection.

Just like Facebook has redefined the idea of a “friend” – a passive connection with someone you may or may not know in real life, who you will become Facebook friends with and broadcast information to, it has also redefined “sharing.” At once an active act – I share my bread with you, neighbor – it is now passive. Sharing means posting information and wondering if others will “discover” it. Sharing is like the offline equivalent of dropping a flier on a corner newsstand and hoping someone will see it, at some point. And nowadays, the idea is “I share, therefore I am.” Or, “I share therefore I am…an online identity.”


Therefore, we have to learn how to be alone, In Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Goldilocks strolls into the bears’ home, eats the porridge, sleeps in the bears’ beds, and then runs away.

Turkle’s talk may have fairytale references, but this isn’t how it ends. There is something we can do to relearn how to be alone, not together. It starts with parents teaching their kids the importance of solitude. Then, she suggests, make spaces in the house that are for being alone. And most importantly, she says, listen to everything – even the boring filler-type stuff.

“When we stumble or hesitate or lose our words,” says Turkle, “we reveal ourselves to each other.”


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