MIT Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology, Sherry Turkle, is the author of a new book called Alone Together that examines the way humans interact with technology. Professor Turkle has been making the rounds of the talk show circuit the past couple of weeks. She explains some of the findings of her research and the impact of our driving need to always be checking our Blackberry, phone and/or pagers and its detriment to our families and respective business organizations.
She argues that while we are constantly communicating on the one hand, because of our growing reliance on allowing technology to control HOW we interact with people, we may actually be disconnecting ourselves from important relationships. Think about the emails you get on a daily basis, plus instant messages, tweets and Facebook updates. How many emails/IMs does it take to answer a question in your company? And, no, that’s not a lead into a bad joke.
I can think of several work instances where emails were flying back and forth between a group of people, each weighing in with a different point of view while the email “conversation” is still going on, which sets off still MORE emails. Enough already — pick up the phone or schedule a meeting and have a REAL conversation. Use email to confirm what you all agree upon. Surely far less time would be expended and at the end of the day you might actually accomplish something.
Professor Turkle also addresses the interruptions technology creates in our private lives. Raise your hand if you’ve checked your business email or taken a business call while at home with your family. Keep your hand up if you’ve checked email or taken phone calls while at social engagements – such as eating dinner at a restaurant or at the theatre.
When you think about it, it’s kind of pathetic that we need to be lectured by pre-recorded announcements that we should shut off our various electronic devices before the show starts, but clearly some people need this instruction. And even mass transit is getting into the act with “quiet car” policies on Amtrak and several local commuter lines.
What message does this all send to young people? And speaking of said group, it’s no wonder that teens spend their lives texting and tweeting each other even though they may be sitting right next to one another. A note of full disclosure here – I don’t have kids. But my close friend has two teenage girls.
Recently she was driving her eldest daughter and a girlfriend to a shopping mall. The girls were unusually quiet. Turns out they were “talking” to each other via text message so “Mom” wouldn’t know what they were discussing! She has also said that sometimes the ONLY way she can get her daughter’s attention is by texting her … even when they are in the house together. And now said teenager, who is the tender age of 15, wants her own Blackberry because “all her friends have one”. Which it turns out is not entirely true, but when you were 15 didn’t everyone have everything you never did?
So does Professor Turkle suggest we trash our “tech toys”? Quite the contrary. Technology is a wonderful thing and has brought much to society on many levels – education, business, government and personal use, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of jobs it creates on a daily basis. Our lives would be considerably bereft if we did not have such invaluable tools at our disposal. But she DOES make a compelling case for us to put technology in its place.
Do you really need to check your email every time the little red light on your Blackberry flashes? Would the world stop spinning if you didn’t update your Facebook page every five minutes? Do people really care if you tweet that you are standing on line at Macy’s waiting to pay for the new raincoat you just bought at 40% off the ticketed price? (Cashmere sweaters and Hermes scarves on the other hand … )
And now that I have finished my rant, I will go back to my normal business. Oh wait, there’s an instant message on my Skype, and my Blackberry just “dinged”, I wonder who that could be? I really must check.