Friday, April 20, 2012

'Connected, but alone?'

Sherry Turkle's recent TED Talk, entitled, 'Connected, but alone?' is well worth watching (and would add a point-scoring gee whiz factor to a class presentation).  Turkle has written several books on human-computer interaction, mostly of geeks (i.e., Life on the Screen).  She is generally neutral or upbeat about technology's role in society.  However, her latest book, Alone Together, is a somewhat frightening look at the state of human-computer relationships, wherein some of us expect more intimacy from our connective devices (screens) than we do from each other.  'Those little devices not only change what we do, but also who we are.' In her view, we are 'heading for trouble.'

In her TED talk, the M.I.T. professor suggests several drivers of the over-use of technologies (hyper-connectivity) that 'is taking us places that we don't want to go.'  First, she notes that many of us want to control the amount of attention we give to those around us, so that we can also give part of our attention to things and others elsewhere.  A room full of people texting or emailing is a situation of being 'alone together.' Second, she suggests that our near-constant media use reduces our ability to reflect upon--and therefore learn--from experience.  Third, in mediated space, we get to revise and 'clean up' our projected image to others, thereby avoiding the messiness of real-time conversation required for relationship building. Moreover, since conversations with others help develop our self-understanding, a loss of conversation brings the threat of alienation from others and ourselves.

Turkle identifies 3 myths of connectivity.

1. We can put our attention wherever we want to.
2. We will always be heard.
3. We never have to be alone.

She summarizes that, 'we slip into thinking that always being connected means we never have to be alone.' Ironically, even as the world becomes more and more inter-connected, each of us must still learn how to be alone in order to be capable of true, deep and meaningful human-to-human relationships.

FYA - I agree with Professor Turkle's assessment that gaining the 'attention' of others (often on-line), while avoiding the attention of others (often those in the same room) will be a challenge, not only for families, but also for organizations in the future.  Information is cheap, but attention is precious and fleeting.

Note: I recognize the irony in my new blog title.

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