A Facebook like is not a conversation. Please talk to me!
Have you ever had to ask someone to look up from their phone or computer to talk to you? Has someone else asked you the same question? How did that make you feel?
We are turning away from our loved ones, friends, coworkers and our thoughts. Our mobile devices are addictive. We have a Pavlovian response to notifications from email, texts or social media. Technology sometimes takes a priority over humanity.
The answer to Stephen Colbert’s question is a resounding no.
One of my core desired feelings is for connection. I long for deep connection to people in my life: my husband, parents, and friends.
In my experience, technology is a double-edged sword. It has the power to deepen my connection with others. Skype conversations with my parents were a lifeline when I was a new mom living thousands of miles away in Japan. It can also seriously hamper my connections with others. I am horrified when I find myself turning away from those around me to look at my phone or Facebook account.
I read Sherry Turkle’s book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age, for her expert insights into this topic. Sherry Turkle is a social science and technology professor at MIT. She has studied the psychology of people’s relationships with technology for 30 years. She is also a licensed clinical psychologist and sociologist. In writing this book, she conducted hundreds of interviews.
Sherry Turkle is not anti-technology. She worries that the addictive pull of technology is damaging our relationships. She sees this happening at home, in romance, at work, in the classroom, with our friends, and even with ourselves.
Turkle argues that if we do not reclaim conversation the following are at stake:
- Our abilities to focus deeply (at school, at work or even with our loved ones)
- Ability to read others emotions and empathize with others
- Deeper genuine connections with others
- Experience genuine human interactions: looking people in the eye, listening
- Regain our abilities to focus deeply
- Ability to be bored and to let our minds wander/spend time alone with our thoughts
After reading the book, I concluded that I (and those around me) need to change my relationship with the addictive pulls of technology. I need to improve my connections with others. The key strategy is to choose face to face conversation whenever possible.
Advice from Sherry Turkle on how to reclaim conversation
1. Treat your phone like a powerful addictive substance.
According to Turkle, your phone is “… not an accessory. It’s a psychologically potent device that changes not just what you do but who you are.” It is especially important to put your phone out of sight when you want to connect with others. Turkle cites research demonstrating that even a silent but visible phone has the ability to disconnect us from others.
2. Remember that your phone is not a benevolent genie saving you from boredom.
Our mobile devices seem to grant three wishes: as though gifts from a benevolent genie: first, that we will always be heard; second, that we can put out attention wherever we want it to be; and third, that we will never have to be alone. And the granting of these three wishes implies another reward: that we will never have to be bored.”
I adore Turkle’s comparison of our mobile devices to a benevolent genie. I know that I have pulled out my phone many times when I am feeling bored or uncomfortable.
3. Create sacred spaces for conversation.
Turkle suggests we choose times or places where no devices are allowed. Families may choose dinner time, car rides or the kitchen. Couples may leave devices out of the bedroom. I’ll add not using the phone in the bathroom!
4. Don’t avoid difficult conversations and agree to disagree
This advice seems especially important in a nation which is more divided than ever. Turkle advises us to “avoid all-or-nothing thinking. The digital world is based on binary choice. Our thinking about it can’t be.”
We must be willing to talk to people with differing opinions and outlooks and be willing. You are not required to agree in order to begin a conversation.
Conversation forces us to think on our toes. It is not predictable. It requires thinking. This is especially true in a difficult conversation.
5. Don’t break up by text: Choose the right tool for the job
The easiest solution is not always the right solution. A simple rule of thumb. The more emotionally charged the situation the more it requires a personal connection. A text can be a perfect way to say you are on your way home or running late.
6. Take time to be quiet alone and together
Shared quiet, such as a walk with another without much conversation, is becoming a rare occurrence these days. Solitude enriches our lives, and our creativity, when we are alone and with others. The introvert in me rejoiced in hearing this. This type of time rejuvenates me.
7. The seven-minute rule for conversations
Conversations require time to get into a rhythm. Allow a conversation at least seven minutes to see how it will unfold. Lulls are natural and OK. Turkle reminds us that “… in conversations in which people really get to know each other, you usually have to tolerate a bit of boredom. People often struggle and stumble when they grapple with something new. Conversations of discovery tend to have long silences.”
8. Slow down and unitask
Unitask and focus instead of multitasking. Turkle advises, “Think of unitasking as the next big thing. In every domain of life, it will increase performance and decrease stress.”
9. Don’t rely on the “Goldilocks effect” and always present a perfect image
We can present ourselves online the way we want to be. We can take the time to edit. We can retouch. Turkle calls this” … the Goldilocks effect: We can’t get enough of each other if we can have each other at a digital distance — not too close, not too far, just right.”
I am not anti-technology. I am pro human connection. I want to be a conversation conservationist.
The reality is messy. Imperfection is much more interesting than perfection. Be real, not perfect. Allow yourself to stumble around in real conversation more often. Be fully present to those around you. You can still craft perfectly worded emails, text with witty emojis or share fabulous photos on social media. Don’t forget to be human.
Is your relationship with technology helping you or hurting you? This is a question that Turkle advises us to ask ourselves on a regular basis.