This is a very good op-ed by Sherry Turkle, a professor in the program in Science, Technology and Society at MIT, on the assault of technology in our lives. An excerpt:
Across generations, technology is implicated in this assault on empathy. We’ve gotten used to being connected all the time, but we have found ways around conversation — at least from conversation that is open-ended and spontaneous, in which we play with ideas and allow ourselves to be fully present and vulnerable. But it is in this type of conversation — where we learn to make eye contact, to become aware of another person’s posture and tone, to comfort one another and respectfully challenge one another — that empathy and intimacy flourish. In these conversations, we learn who we are.
But this was the key paragraph for me:
Studies of conversation both in the laboratory and in natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel. People keep the conversation on topics where they won’t mind being interrupted. They don’t feel as invested in each other. Even a silent phone disconnects us.
What are we to do? Sherry Turkle provides a few suggestions (among them, practicing unitasking):
One start toward reclaiming conversation is to reclaim solitude. Some of the most crucial conversations you will ever have will be with yourself. Slow down sufficiently to make this possible. And make a practice of doing one thing at a time. Think of unitasking as the next big thing. In every domain of life, it will increase performance and decrease stress.
But doing one thing at a time is hard, because it means asserting ourselves over what technology makes easy and what feels productive in the short term. Multitasking comes with its own high, but when we chase after this feeling, we pursue an illusion. Conversation is a human way to practice unitasking.
What kinds of things are you doing to bring you closer to those around you? How do you practice maintaining (or building) empathy for others?
Louis C.K. went on Conan last night and talked about why he won’t give his kids cell phones.
A brief transcript:
You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away, is the ability to just sit there. That’s being a person. Because underneath everything in your life there is that thing, that empty—forever empty. That knowledge that it’s all for nothing and that you’re alone. It’s down there.
But does reaching for the phone in times of sadness make the sadness go away? Louis C.K. admits:
I started to get that sad feeling and reached for my phone, but I thought ‘don’t’ — just be sad, let it hit you like a truck. I pulled over and I just cried like a bitch, it was beautiful. Sadness is poetic.
All this to say: I am reminded of this powerful video that went viral recently, “I Forgot my Phone”:
Sometimes we need to take a break from our phones. Have a great weekend, everyone.
What is the connection with being active on social networks and being lonely? A lot more than you think. Watch this video below titled “The Innovation of Loneliness”:
Beautifully done. And I hope you didn’t miss the underlying message. It’s even more pernicious than that: not only are we becoming more lonely with frequent use of Facebook, we’re also feeling terrible about it as a consequence.
In two separate conversations over the weekend, I mentioned the concept/idea of loneliness. It reminded me of the late Marina Keegan’s essay on what the opposite of loneliness would be:
We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life. What I’m grateful and thankful to have found at Yale, and what I’m scared of losing when we wake up tomorrow and leave this place.
It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table. When it’s four a.m. and no one goes to bed. That night with the guitar. That night we can’t remember. That time we did, we went, we saw, we laughed, we felt. The hats.
Amen to this:
What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over. Get a post-bac or try writing for the first time. The notion that it’s too late to do anything is comical. It’s hilarious. We’re graduating college. We’re so young. We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.
Jonathan Safran Foer, in a wonderful essay, laments how technology (phones, texting) has made us prefer to use the diminished substitute to communicate. And so:
The problem with accepting — with preferring — diminished substitutes is that over time, we, too, become diminished substitutes. People who become used to saying little become used to feeling little.
This is beautifully phrased:
We often use technology to save time, but increasingly, it either takes the saved time along with it, or makes the saved time less present, intimate and rich. I worry that the closer the world gets to our fingertips, the further it gets from our hearts. It’s not an either/or — being “anti-technology” is perhaps the only thing more foolish than being unquestioningly “pro-technology” — but a question of balance that our lives hang upon.
A must-read meditation.
Olivia Laing contemplates the meaning of loneliness in a piece for Aeon Magazine:
Something funny happens to people who are lonely. The lonelier they get, the less adept they become at navigating social currents. Loneliness grows around them, like mould or fur, a prophylactic that inhibits contact, no matter how badly contact is desired. Loneliness is accretive, extending and perpetuating itself. Once it becomes impacted, it isn’t easy to dislodge. When I think of its advance, an anchoress’s cell comes to mind, as does the exoskeleton of a gastropod.
I think Olivia is correct in hypothesizing that loneliness comes and goes in vicious cycles (it’s hard to break free when you’re in a slump).
It seems that this is what loneliness is designed to do: to provoke the restoration of social bonds. Like pain itself, it exists to alert the organism to a state of untenability, to prompt a change in circumstance. We are social animals, the theory goes, and so isolation is — or was, at some unspecified point in our evolutionary journey — unsafe for us. This theory neatly explains the physical consequences of loneliness, which ally to a heightened sense of threat, but I can’t help feeling it doesn’t capture the entirety of loneliness as a state.
A wonderful essay.