“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.

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7 responses »

  1. Kate says:

    From reading your post Connie, Sherry Turkle discussed many interesting points throughout her lecture. Due to our increased dependence on technology, we have increased our connections with other people, but unfortunately engage in face-to-face interactions. Even walking in between classes at Bucknell, the majority of students are texting or checking emails (myself included) rather than talking with their classmates who are two feet away from them.The best is when a group of friends are sitting at a lunch table and they are ALL on their cell phones chatting with other people. Why even bother having lunch together if you can’t go a meal without checking your phone?

    I would love to hear Turkle’s opinion on online dating sites. Technology, as Connie mentioned, allows us to be wittier or cuter because we can delete or edit our messages. In face-to-face conversations, unfortunately, there is no rewind button in “real” life. For that reason, the person you are meeting for the first time may not exactly act like the same person that you met over the internet.

    • Connie says:

      I completely agree with your first point, Kate. I feel like we’ve become so dependent on our cell phones, especially college. We use it to keep in touch with our friends and family back home, to check emails for meetings and clubs at school, and to even arrange plans for lunch with people here. But I have noticed, like you, that sometimes conversation is stifled because people are too absorbed by their phones. It’s exactly what Turkle describes as “being together while not being together.” I know I don’t like to eat alone, but sometimes at meals, I might as well be eating alone because everyone’s constantly checking their phones or on their laptops.

      I didn’t even consider the online dating aspect of this! That would be so fascinating. eHarmony and recent studies are always saying how many people turn to these website to find love, and how many have been successful. I’m curious how accurate those are, and if they are accurate, how Turkle would respond to that.

  2. I agree, with technology we get so used to being “who we want to be” that face to face contact seems so vulnerable and becomes more of a task when we are in the initial stages of bonding. But once the guard goes down then technology is no longer a hindering factor in deeper connection, it actually aids in times apart.

    Online Dating sites are ridiculous in my opinion…sometimes attraction with others grow. Searching for predetermined qualities often blinds us from what we are compatible with to “what we want to be compatible” 🙂

    • Connie says:

      First of all, thank you for taking the time to read my post! I completely agree that technology can actually help to deepen the connection that you have with someone. Personally, I go to school three hours away from home, and there are a few of my best friends that I’ve actually gotten a lot closer with because of communication technologies such as texting, Facebook, Twitter, and so on. At the same time, I don’t feel as if this has isolated me from my friends at college either. I suppose it all comes down to how you decide to consume and utilize technology; it’s not like you don’t have a choice in how much impact technology can have on your daily routine and relationships with others.

      As for your point on online dating sites, I personally don’t see the point in them. I feel as if online dating sites focus far too much on building this facade of who we want to be, not necessarily who we actually are. People can just scroll through hundreds of profiles, trying to find one who they think they’d be compatible with based on biographies that probably aren’t even representative of who the person actually is! I just don’t see the logic behind it, but at the same time, who am I to judge?

  3. Jordi says:

    What surprises me is that Turkle is a critical scholar for some of my work on virtual worlds. She wrote LIfe Behind the Screen, an ethnogrpahic study of MUDs- text-based virtual worlds. This was 20 years ago! Then, it was the cutting edge of communication technology. One of her points is that what seemed like the most minimal amount of interactivity- text on the screen- was as real as a social experience as real life. SImply though communication, identity is created, and with identity embedded in interacting, “real ness” is forged. So, this worrying about some loss of the human sociability seems like she is selling out her earlier work.

    I woudl like to see hwo this new book connects to her earlier work.

  4. […] The Goldilocks Effect. (bizgovsociii.wordpress.com) Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. By 《英国琐记》 • 发表在 资源共享 • Tagged Education, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, Sherry Turkle 0 […]

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