December 27, 2013

cell phone keypad

Sherry Turkle says that, like young lovers, we are smitten with our cellphones. Credit: JonJon2k8 / Flickr Creative Commons

Guest:

Think you outgrew puppy love in grade school? Maybe not, says Sherry Turkle, professor at MIT and author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other.  Turkle says our relationship with technology - like smartphones, the internet, and social media - is threatening to eclipse the real relationships in our lives. In other words, we're head over heels - but with our cellphones. "I think we're like young lovers so smitten with our technologies we think too much talking will spoil the romance," Turkle says. "We know it's kind of bad for us, but we don't want to talk about the problem."

woman on cellphone

Turkle says at the heart of our romance with technology is the desire to know who wants us. Credit: MTSO Fan / Flickr Creative Commons

A Fine Romance

Turkle says when she was researching this phenomenon, people often explained their attachment to their phones in similar terms. “People tell me that they feel they can't not know who wants them," she says, noting that many even felt a fear of missing out if they weren't available to respond any time they received a call or message. As a result, many spent time with their eyes glued to their phones even as life whizzed by in front of them. This was especially apparent in places like playgrounds, where parents would text away on their phones as their children waved and hollered, desperate to get their attention - and, perhaps not surprisingly, the number of playground injuries in the past few years has increased, Turkle says.

cafe patrons on computers

Our love affair with technology is inhibiting our communication with others, says Turkle. These cafe patrons would probably agree. Credit: Maure Claire / Flickr Creative Commons

Only the Lonely 

The consequences of growing up with technology as the competition aren't confined to the playground. In fact, Turkle says they interfere with some of the most essential parts of a child's development, like learning how to communicate. “Technology shuts down conversation when children need it most,” Turkle says, noting that when Dad texts during dinner or Mom passes back her iPhone in the car to distract a fussy toddler, children miss out not only on learning to communicate with other people, but also with themselves. Without this valuable skill, children never learn how to think reflectively on their own without a cell phone to distract them. “If you don’t teach your children how to be alone, they’ll only ever be lonely,” Turkle warns.

So are we destined to be victims of our puppy love with technology forever? Turkle is cautiously optimistic, noting that in recent years people have begun to examine their reliance on texting and social media more critically. “Nobody wants to get rid of it,” she says. “But people want to live with it more maturely.”

Still curious?

mobile technology, MIT, Sci and Tech, Body and Mind, Culture, relationships, cellphones, distraction, Sherry Turkle, social theory

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