I just finished listening to MIT professor Sherry Turkle, who kicked off Calvin’s acclaimed January Series with a lecture on technology (other speakers over the next three weeks include Eric Metaxas, David Gergen, Michael Gerson, and N.T. Wright). You can listen to most lectures live online for free (some may also be available online after the fact).
Turkle made several interesting points which I share below (to better process my own notes and in case they spark something in you). These points are probably spelled out further in her book, Alone Together.
1. Technology enables us to become distracted from the things we say we care about. We are so busy communicating that we fail to connect with others. We are so busy communicating that we fail to think.
2. Technology dials down human contact. People tend to prefer email or texts rather than phone calls because the former enables us to hide from each other. We fear that we may share too much in the immediacy of a phone call. So besides the convenience of wanting to not be interrupted and to respond on our own schedule, we like online communication because we can share only the parts we want.
3. Because technology pressures us to respond immediately, we begin to ask each other simpler questions that can be answered easily. And so technology tends to dumb down our conversations.
4. Technology encourages the sensibility where the validation of a feeling supports the establishment of a feeling. It’s almost as if we don’t really feel our feeling until our friends validate it. Turkle called his phenomonen, “I share, therefore I am.” We behave like adolescents who use others to validate and so establish our feelings.
5. We must teach our children to be alone, or they will only ever know how to be lonely.
6. The schools of the future will not focus so much on collaboration but on teaching students how to be alone. We are too afraid of solitude, but this is the very thing we need for creativity. Teachers must show students how to slow things down, to tolerate the anxiety of being left with their own company long enough to have new thoughts. It’s not good for students to always reach out and touch each other—they need to learn how to work alone.
7. People who must constantly check their phone for new messages say that their mobile device feels like a place of hope. They desperately want the message they find there to make their lives interesting.
[My aside: this reminds me of what the medieval Christians called sloth. Sloth (acedia) is the sin of distraction, which is rooted in despair. Is it a coincidence that our Age of Distraction is also an Age of Despair?]
8. The normal solution for an addiction is to quit cold turkey. But technology addicts realize that will never happen, as they need their technology to get by in the world. So they feel a sense of hopelessness about ever kicking their addiction.
9. We’re not in trouble because we invented a new technology, we’re in trouble because we unreflectively threw ourselves into the new technology.
10. The Internet never forgets. Delete and Erase are only metaphorical on the Web. Whatever you type or whatever sites you visit will be on your permanent record. And so we become the instruments of our own surveillance.
11. Mark Zuckerberg declared that privacy is no longer a relevant social norm. But what is intimacy and democracy without privacy? Can you be intimate with someone without privacy? Can you have a genuine democracy if individuals lack a zone of privacy—a place where they are allowed to have their own thoughts?