“We expect more from technology and less from each other. We create technology to provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.”
If the title alone doesn’t intrigue you, hopefully the aforementioned quote by Sherry Turkle, professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, does capture your attention.
I actually just watched this TED Talk in my Media, Power and Social Change sociology class yesterday, and was fascinated by some of Turkle’s quotes, including the one I included before the cut. Essentially, Turkle discusses our increasing dependence on technology, and how it is negatively impacting our relationships with others. She describes how nowadays, we enjoy “being together while not being together.” In other words, although we may physically be with other people, we have become so absorbed by technology, such as our cell phones, that we aren’t really together.
In conjunction with that idea, Turkle introduces what she calls ‘the Goldilocks Effect,’ which is this notion that we don’t want people to be too close or too far from us, but just right. In essence, we want to stay connected with others, but we also want to be alone. Consequently, cell phones, she says, are able to offer us these “gratifying fantasies”:
- We can direction our attention wherever we want.
- We will always be heard.
- We will never be alone.
To reiterate Turkle’s earlier point, cell phones create this illusion of companionship by allowing us to communicate with others if we ever become lonely. Nowadays, with the invention of Siri, we can even communicate with the cell phone itself! Through our cell phones, we feel as if we are maintaining a connection with others even though we may never engage in face-to-face communication. Thus, Turkle believes that we begin to strive for a connection with others rather than conversation because with all of the texting and emailing, we aren’t capable of holding a conversation. With texting and emailing, we can edit and delete what we say, creating this illusion of who we want to be. With face-to-face conversation, we can’t control what we say, which can be uncomfortable for some. Therefore, we rely on technology to help us maintain relationships with others without having to endure the discomforts that may come with them. Eventually, Turkle believes that we will want to dispose of people altogether because we’ll feel like no one is listening, and we will turn to technology for companionship.
Personally, I don’t agree with Turkle on a number of points. I believe that as humans, we inherently crave human interaction. Without companionship, we wouldn’t be able to function as a member of society. I believe that technology plays a key role in helping us maintain relationships with others, even strengthening connections in some cases, despite what Turkle says. However, I do agree with her when she says that technology may have an effect on our ability to communicate effectively in a face-to-face situation. At the same time, though, I do believe that we are more genuine in face-to-face situations because we don’t have the luxury of editing what we say. We aren’t putting up this facade that we’re funnier, or cuter, or wittier than we are when engaging in a real-time conversation; whereas in a text conversation, we have the luxury of asking others what to say or mulling over whether we want to put a winking emoticon or just a smiling one. Overall though, the TED talk by Turkle is fascinating and thought-provoking. Even though the talk was relatively recent (just last month!), I wonder what she would have to say about FaceTime since it essentially simulates a real-time, face-to-face conversation through the use of cell phone technology.