Sherry Turkle – the flight from conversation… a response

In today’s New York Times post Sherry Turkle talks about the value of conversation AND solitude and the limitations of digital connection. It’s a difficult piece to read, not for its overfocus on context/stories/facts or for its technical language, it lacks both, but for the way it which it will polarize the reader. You probably know already whether you will like it. She critiques the new technologies of connection for both cheapening conversation and eliminating solitude. In this piece I’m going to try and unravel one of these arguments from the whole and address the way that Turkle hearkens back to an imaginary past where people had long, meaningful conversations with each other about what was important to them… she creates a simulacrum.

The unravelling – solitude good, but not relevant
The points that are made in the article about solitude are very compelling. I think she’s entirely right about the slow dying of solitude, and the need for free thinking space. I think that I as a person and as a parent need to model the value of alone time, of thinking time, of device free time. This is not new, the radio and the TV have started this process… and my Galaxy SII has continued it. All true. It is not, however, either the title or the direction of the article. It is an entirely separate stream of very reasonable arguments that seem, at first, to support her main thesis… That conversation is being turned away from, when in fact it has nothing to do with it.

So. Out with the solitude arguments. The author’s long walks on the beach and her advice to take free quiet alone time is well noted and not relevant to the argument.

To conversation

The piece is difficult in that it claims a great deal of research (presented in Alone Together) but cherry picks out a few anecdotal examples meant to illustrate her points. This confuses things, as it seems to draw on the history of research… where one would expect someone trying to see the whole story, and yet we only hear of the examples of people connecting superficially.

  1. A boy who wants dating advice from a computer, because it has more data to work with
  2. a nursing home resident who is comforted by a mechanical seal
  3. another 16 year old hoping to learn how to have real conversations some day
  4. a business person sitting down with all their technology and putting on headphones

These are all visceral examples… we see the future of relationships ruined, a poor old lady in a nursing home deceived, and, most importantly, the end of conversation. The idea, one supposes, is that we are replacing the excellence and ‘good for you’ challenge of the messy face2face conversation between humans with other fill ins. I will leave aside those of you who take comfort in music, dogs, cats, chocolate and the thousands of other things we use to comfort ourselves and let you all defend your non-human ways of connecting. I want to look at how she describes what conversation ‘used to be’… or at least, what it can be.

What turkle says about conversation
With each of these quotes, we are left to understand that these are the kinds of conversation that our two young people, our nursing home resident, our business person and ourselves will be having.

FACE-TO-FACE conversation unfolds slowly. It teaches patience.

Face-2-face conversation mostly doesn’t and never has unfolded slowly. It teaches power. In many conversations people express their own personal power over each other, whether it be in their right to speak, to speak first, to control the direction of conversation and it’s content. Equally true i would say. There are a very few people with whom i EVER have slow patient conversations with. I have met some of them online and never in person. My partner is one of them. They are rare and beautiful… but not common. I leave it to you to tell me if they were EVER common.

Self-reflection in conversation requires trust. It’s hard to do anything with 3,000 Facebook friends except connect.

Self-reflection requires confidence (and maybe trust). It requires the courage to look deeply into yourself and see the good and well as the bad. To think about it and share it is difficult. Connected, probably, to her points about solitude but not about conversation. Blogging has been doing self-reflection very well… for years. I share my self-reflections as many other people do with my blog through twitter or Facebook.

If there were anything challenging about social media its the massive amount of self-reflection that i see… sometimes i have to turn it off being overloaded with it. Finding self-reflection in face2face conversation can be very difficult… I’ve collected some very, very good friends over my life, and that’s one of the things that I look for. It is hard… and again, not that common.

During the years I have spent researching people and their relationships with technology, I have often heard the sentiment “No one is listening to me.” ” Have we so lost confidence that we will be there for one another?”

This is used as an explanation for why people turn to social media… that they need to find someone to connect with. Certainly in our case, baby-loss was one of those things. If it hasn’t happened to you, it is very difficult to listen to someone else talk about it. People find like-experienced people through social media… they connect, and share. It’s good. Finding someone who can talk to you, who can listen to you is very important. And easier if you have a wider network. I have seen sad tweets from friends, and called them to setup some time to talk… or at least called them just to talk. Social media is part of my life… on and offline line.

When was this point in the past when we HAD confidence in each other? I can’t imagine. Was there some magical past when we could look next door, when we needed someone to comfort us, and someone was available to listen to us? Not in my past.

Most of all, we need to remember — in between texts and e-mails and Facebook posts — to listen to one another, even to the boring bits, because it is often in unedited moments, moments in which we hesitate and stutter and go silent, that we reveal ourselves to one another.

Absolutely. But this isn’t because of texts or emails or facebook… it’s because of life. ANd has ALWAYS been because of life.

The simulacra
Sherry Turkle has been at this for a long time. She has a cutting eye for seeing the in-between space of how technology influence our own lives. In this new york times piece she does an excellent job arguing for solitude. I yearn for it… and agree with her. When she turns to conversation, she loses me entirely. She has either had a uniquely perfect life filled with excellent and constantly available friends, or she has not been honest with herself. She is hearkening back to a past that never existed. Creating an image of perfection, of utopia, before the present time. Baudrillard called this a simulacra. One of the famous examples is ‘main-street’ USA at Disney. A perfect past, from the 50’s, where everyone was friendly, where yards were clean, people had job and all was happy. And a past, obviously, where everyone had profound, slow, supportive conversations with each other. But only at Disney.

Sherry. Look at this website. http://www.glowinthewoods.com/ Tell me how this connection is like what you describe. The technology can make this happen, and it can allow us to be fantastically superficial. Just like everything. Turning off the computer does not equal ‘better’ conversation.

43 thoughts on “Sherry Turkle – the flight from conversation… a response

  1. Thank you. I’ve saved this for my summer teaching.

    Another thing she misses, and it is not your job to catch everything, is that she is really only thinking about her personal experiences/desires and not those who are different. As an autistic adult, I learned to communicate through technology, though this was long before social media existed. I rely on social media (though not Facebook) to maintain and nurture my social network. I have many friends who I cannot meet in real life, not just because of distance, but because there are few people I can actually be around without melting down. And I usually fill up my load of meeting people at work and have no stamina left for friends. I have a great and wonderful social life because of technology, and I would be much more isolated without it.

    I have many friends who, though neurotypical, also have problems engaging. They are bed bound or wheelchair users, who cannot or cannot afford to travel. Some can’t speak, some are isolated on small islands or on different sides of the planet. I’ve been lucky enough to fly to meet some of them, and even fly them to where I live for a day or two, but our lives and our endless long winded conversations happen online. They use speech to text so I can read them (listening to speech is too slow for me, so I have multiple simultaneous conversations).

    Sherry thinks not so much of a simulacra, because her ideal location has happened to someone, and probably is happening right now, but as Lefebvre writes in his book on space, there was a brief location when we knew what this was like, and we’ve lost it, so we speak about it as if a simulacra. Or I was thinking of this as I read your analysis. Also, I was thinking of postman’s building a bridge to the 18th century, another harkening back to days when things were real. Or george steiner’s nostalgia for the absolute.

    I’m rambling, but i’m on holidays, so that’s ok.

    The one thing Turkle never seems to do is critically reflect on the wonderful conclusions she comes up with in her work. If she, as most of us try to do, sat down and came up with more lists of reasons as to why our arguments, logical structures and examples are full of shit, she might winnow away at her work and find something of substance to share.

    Just like you did. In a very nice reflective and conversational tone. :)

  2. as “neurotypical” but very nearly housebound and living in isolated rural area (can’t afford to travel either), thank you Jason, for expressing so well what I regularly try to explain and often fail… and Dave for opening the subject and, reflectively, poking holes in what not a few will no doubt take as gospel.

  3. Hi Dave-I think your piece should have been titled “Why I Flee Real Conversation-sub-title-“Protecting my tiny space in the blogosphere”.Guess what Dave?I read the piece & was not “polarized” as you suggested.An “imaginary past of meaningful conversations”. Oh! Really? “Out with solitude arguments”.Dave you seem really really insecure & alone.Take off your headphones,turn off all your devices & drop out.If you do you will see everyone having relationships with their devices, viral friends in restaurants,at the movies,crossing the street & like you in their cubbyholes.DAVE -I Recommend a live talk face to face chat with a live person at least once a day-maybe then not only will you see the light of day but the real you!
    Best Regards& wishing you lots of success with your blog/Stanley

  4. Thanks Grainne, ann, Venessa and Mary Ann.

    @jason as i tweeted the other day, thanks hugely for your comments. Very interesting perspective.

    @STANLEY a quick google search confirms my suspicion that you are an imaginary person. Thanks for your inflammatory commentary :)

  5. thanks. working with people with disabilities has shown me how much we fundamentally exclude those who are different from ourselves, and then wonder why they are not here.

  6. Nice post. I may flip through the book, though, like you, I was ambivalent about the article. I did appreciate at least that it avoided the shrillness of some others on this issue.

    One of the things I find surprising is that she does not consider the possibility that it is the *question* “Why is no one listening to me?” that is relatively new. I know for my parents and grandparents generation there was much less an expectation that anyone would listen to you, at least initially. Getting listened to as kids, teens, spouses, and employees was pretty hard-won stuff, at least if my impressions of that time are correct. My father actually came back from a war and felt like he shouldn’t burden anyone with talking about it.

    A lot of that changed with the rise of consumer culture — for better and worse.

    She also misses one of the more interesting things about physical conversation which is all the “mirror-neurons” that fire. We miss that online, and I think a good case could be made that that is a loss we need to look at very carefully, especially as more teen culture and education moves online.

    I guess I’m still looking for someone to write the book that lays out this case well. Not sure Alone Together is it.

  7. Good response Dave – Turkle is more thoughtful than most, but it still harkens back to some Camelot past. I moaned about this in response to an article about the death of friendship (http://nogoodreason.typepad.co.uk/no_good_reason/2009/12/real-friendship.html). In Turkle’s TED talk she says kids now will be damaged because when they come running out of school, the first thing they see is their parent with their head buried in their phone. But compared to what in the past? the parent not being there maybe and the child having to go home alone. Maybe they can do the school run now because they’ve been liberated from the office. It is a very privileged view of how everyone used to live.
    There’s also an inherently dim and techo-deterministic view of people in this. All this stuff is new, we all get a bit carried away with new stuff, but we adapt and it settles into a normal role in our lives. Think about how much you used to use twitter when it was all new, compared to now. We should trust people a bit more to find sensible accommodation in their lives.

  8. Dave-You disappoint me & your riposte proves my point.I google Stanley who does not blog, ergo he does not exist.Therefore,conclusion -“he is an imaginary person”.No, Dave I am real & just because I don’t spend my days & nights like you blogging away does not make me any less real than you.Thank you for not censoring my comment which you describe as inflammatory but I would describe as a simple difference of opinion.I can see by the majority of favorable comments that your sarcastic replies to those who disagree with you works well .It’s obvious that the article by Sherry Turkle has turned your blogosphere world upside down.I suggest a walk along the beach with a non imaginary friend to straighten you out.
    All the best/Staley

  9. @martin Yeah.. i read that post… and may have stolen a bit from it now that you mention it. There are definite class implications as well…

    @STANLEY you have posted on other websites before, with the same argumentative tone… without giving back. In a sense, you don’t exist. You are participating in an online conversation with no way for me to find a context for your views. I don’t know if or where you work, what kinds of things interest you, and the only other conversations you have had that I have found are those in which you have been impolite to others. This leaves me with a caricature of you. I am left imagining you as someone who walks around shouting your name in all caps, and telling people how to live their lives.

    I’m assuming you are more than that. But i can’t find out.

    In your comment you say that you weren’t ‘polarized’ and then you spoke from one of the two ‘poles’ of the discussion… the position that I needed to have ‘offline’ conversations (and more of them) in order to be a healthier person. So… I thought you were joking. Because you claimed that you weren’t a thing and then spent a whole paragraph being that thing.

    Further in your comment you responded to my comments about an ‘imaginary past of meaningful conversation with “oh really” (which tells me nothing about your position, other than you, apparently, don’t agree with mine. Then you went on to take the ‘out with the solitude arguments’ part of my post out of context. I suggested that the solitude argument was not related to the conversation argument. You suggested that it meant i was ‘insecure and alone’… which, you will admit, you don’t have any evidence of. So…

    Are you a caricature? You sure seem to be. :)

  10. Mike…interesting point about Turkle and the sociocultural changes in expectations of being listened to. i think she has an unfortunate tendency to frame problems in contemporary society as being the effect of contemporary practices, without always doing a good job of looking at what things were like even within living memory. it makes it hard to take some of her other points seriously, in spite of her excellent former work in Life on the Screen, etc. it’s like she got stuck on the idea that there’s a virtual world and it’s separate from the real, and she can’t unpack that digital dualism.

    and it seems like what Stanley’s – and to an extent, Sherry Turkle’s – positions miss is an understanding of the nuances of digital identity and that the same rules govern sociality offline and on.

    Stanley, what you just did is the equivalent of popping up in a public space – say a bar – inserting yourself into a conversation with a bunch of people whom you don’t know, and then calling the person speaking “insecure and alone.”

    being dismissed as irrelevant to the conversation is one of the better-case outcomes of that kind of behaviour, in face-to-face interactions.

    being “disappointed” at that response here is disingenuous, just as it would be in a bar.

    if you have a public space like a blog or Twitter account (preferably both, so they can be triangulated) and you leave traces of yourself and your thoughts and ideas there for others to engage with, then people will interact with your “digital self” much in the same social way they’d interact with someone a degree or two removed from their social circles: as an entity. they may disagree with you but will tend to try to build some type of relationship.

    whereas, if you only show up to poke holes in what other people say without any identity to which they can invest over time – no public traces, no identity for them to treat as part of the group – they’ll dismiss you. at best.

  11. @Bon — I think that’s exactly right. I’m OK with that sort of correlational argument being made, but there’s a real myopia in terms of how far back she looks. She could go back further in time. She could look at current differences between different countries in 2012. She could at least acknowledge lurking variables.

    It’s actually these omissions that make me want to pick the book up — I have to imagine that not covering this stuff is partly a result of the nature of newspaper articles. I hope it is…

  12. @Dave – I know I shouldn’t feed the trolls, but sometimes they are irresistible, so my apologies in advance. I enjoyed your post and it made me think (again) about what role technology has played in my own relationships over the past 22 years. Sherry’s arguments about the death of relationships remind me of people who said the printing press would be the death of writing or newspaper would be the death of social interaction since they isolated people from each other. Of course, as we now know, the opposite was true in both cases and I bet the opposite will prove to be true here. I wonder what Sherry has experienced in her life to give her this personal perspective on technology and relationships, don’t you?

    @Stanley: You hold a different opinion from Dave – which is absolutely fine. But the way you expressed that opinion in your comment was obviously inflammatory. If you’d like people to thoughtfully consider your point of view, I suggest focusing on arguments that are, as Michael Feldman would say, “well-reasoned and insightful.” Yours were not. Here’s an example of a more appropriately reasoned opinion piece to help you out (it was written by my 12 year old). https://docs.google.com/document/d/1OecMtFSoD8uLIUblwaliIkV5CCFyk4UCEbffQMbPItw/edit

  13. Conversation, solitude and digital connection – I, like most, love all three. There is, however, truth in Turkle’s observation that “it’s hard to do anything with 3000 Facebook friends except connect”. The question is, really, whether Facebook (or the like) has to be more than that…?

  14. Dave-Help!I am being treated by you & your followers as some kind of nutty ninja who enters your blogosphere & quickly disappears without leaving a trace in the viral world.Just because you cannot take my measure by vetting me on social sites does not make my comments agreeing with Sherry Turkle less valid.I am attacked for my opinion not being reasoned, insightful & inflammatory when all I really said perhaps in a too sarcastic & humorous way for the sensitive eyes of you & your followers was that way back in the 20th century people did not need machines to talk to each other.And that was a good thing.Dave I’m happy to read you now have a Galaxy S-11 & that’s a good step in the right direction.Lighten up!
    Best Regards,Stanley

  15. Dave … I’m game … let’s give it a try. I will here (in Chicago) attempt to talk to you (in PEI) without a machine. The pigeon should be landing there sometime in late May … until then, my friend …

  16. On JR’s “The question is, really, whether Facebook (or the like) has to be more than that…?” (commenting on Turkle’s “it’s hard to do anything with 3000 Facebook friends except connect”):

    Social media does not have to / should not be the same for all, or even the same all the time for just one. But 3,000 is not everybody or even most ~ fan. business, some organization or publication etc pages excepted. Even so, anyone who wants 3,000 is welcome to them just as long as that and keeping score is expected of all. So high school that. Encouraged, yes (it’s the data, we’re the product) but not required and capable of saying thank you, but no thank you

  17. @Debbie S.: You are comparing your 12 year old son’s feeble attempt to formulate an argument to Stanley’s lucid and humorous prose? I hope that he doesn’t know that you have exposed him to ridicule. Shame on you!

    @Dave: So when does being vetted by Google become the benchmark for deciding if you blow someone off who disagrees with you? You’re probably one of those types who meets someone at a cocktail party and zips into the toilet to Google them before deciding if they are worth your time for a conversation. You talk a good game, but your reaction to a bit of criticism blew your cover.

  18. hey “john”. two imaginary online identities, both with IPs from the same part of Paris, France. fascinating. And they seem to agree with each other.

  19. Hi Dave

    Interesting comments. My interest in them relates to the fact that I have to do a lot of on-line teaching and the difficulty of getting students to participate.

    I have been recently asked to write a course in community development which involves what have been traditionally thought of as face to face skills,

    I have always compared computer interactions unfavourably with f2f conversation but your post has given me pause to think more deeply about this.

    Cheers

    Shane

  20. I haven’t read the article, but did watch two of her recent TED talks on this topic – and I’m with Sherry.
    First, this is not an ‘all or nothing’ – it is about how people use or misuse social media. It isn’t an argument that social media is wrong or bad, but that people can fall into traps of neglecting those around them to spend time connecting with those who are remote. The connecting isn’t a problem – it is the disconnection with people supposedly close.
    She also was not really discussing blogging, which after all is something of a minority sport compared to posting pictures and one line status updates on twitter/facebook and compulsively checking email.

    Basically, is the idea of switching off facebook/twitter alerts and putting the phone away while sitting down or hanging out with family/friends for a while such a bad idea? She is simply describing a situation in which some people are unable to do so… and having both been annoyed by others spending an entire mealtime in a restraunt messaging on their phones, and been asked (sorry, ordered!) by my own kids to put away my phone while doing something with them, I can totally see Sherry’s point.

    It isn’t everyone, it isn’t all the time, but for some it is a problem, and when it’s a problem, it’s a problem.

  21. Dave-You always disappoint but never surprise.I suggest you spend more time honing your educational skills as per the title of your blog rather than your sleuthing skills in uncovering IPs.My goodness two persons who agree with each other but disagree with Dave.Must be a communist plot since both IPs are from Paris, France.

  22. Monsieur David,
    I think John Hurt sums it up best when he said:
    “I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I … am … a … man!”
    He would have added in 2012: “I am my own IP!”

  23. @ Shane that can be tough… would love to see what you come up with.

    @Daniel The point you’re making here does not address her point in the NYT article. No one that i’ve ever met thinks that you shouldn’t at some point ‘put down your phone and talk to your kids’. You should. We all agree on that.

    She argues for this by using anecdotes like the one you describe… which we’ve all been privy to. Then she imagines a past where this didn’t happen and suggests that we return to it. My point here is that the past that she describes didn’t exist, and, by extension, if we’re going to connect more and better, we need to frame it in terms of what is happening today.

    How do we make time for conversation? How do we avoid constant text message interruptions/email checks/status updates during f2f time?

    We don’t do it by going back to the 1950s. We do it by developing new literacies, new habits and new conventions.

    It’s a problem. Agreed. But simply saying ‘old things good, new things bad’ isn’t addressing it… nor do I think it’s accurate.

  24. Dave, I appreciate your analysis of Turkle’s article. Though I am allied with Turkle in her quest, I too found the article a mixed bag. I think Turkle mistakenly characterizes conversation unfolding slowly while digital devices are ramping up the velocity of communications. In fact, one of the reasons digital media is preferred is because of the buffer placed between interlocutors, a point Turkle makes at the beginning of her article. Heck, writing changed the world because it made possible the kind of in-depth reflection Turkle is advocating, so I think she got off track promoting conversation as the key to self-reflection.

    However, I think you missed the strength of her argument. What she is saying, to put it very simply, is that human beings are increasingly desperate for someone to be there for them, and they’re turning to technology to meet their need. And it does meet their need, providing a shriveled version of human interaction – “connection over conversation.” You dismiss this by pointing out that people have always been too busy for one another – same story, different chapter. But there is in fact plenty of sociological evidence that points to the fact that people are lonelier and have fewer close friendships than ever. In his seminal work “Bowling Along” published in 2000, Robert Putnam found that “friendship in the 1990’s were fewer, weaker, and more fluid when compared to the 50’s.” He pointed to “social surfing” as the culprit, and we were only getting warmed up at the turn of the century.

    Just because a person hasn’t experienced a healthy allotment of friends and loved ones giving him or her their full attention without any sense of hurry or distraction doesn’t mean that’s not the way human beings are meant to live. That idea, more than anything else, is what Sherry Turkle and others like me are trying to say when we urge folks to put their damn smart phones away, look each other in the eye, and give the person in front of you your full attention.

  25. Had a look at the article now… it seems to be pretty much a transcript of her TED talks, with a few changes in anecdotes.
    I don’t think she does say ‘old things good, new things bad’ – as I commented above, I think she is asking for moderation and consideration of how we use the new technology – and commenting on the ways that she sees people using some new technologies in her work. I think you have read that simplification into her essay.
    Yes, some of the idealizations and images might be corny, but I think there are very valid points at the heart.
    “We do it by developing new literacies, new habits and new conventions. ” – on that point, I image Sherry would agree with you, all I think she is doing is questioning how well we are doing in developing these new habits… perhaps not always as well as we think or would like?

  26. Dave,

    I left a comment on your response to Turkle’s piece that you chose not to publish. I’ve commented on hundreds of blogs and websites over the years and this has never happened to me, so I’m curious why you chose to exclude from the conversation.

    Sincerely, Greg Graham

  27. Hmm … so what have we here? I see a conversation that is unfolding slowly (asynchronous conversations really have an advantage in that regard) and that is teaching at least some of us patience. I also see strong evidence of self-reflection, trust, and confidence. People are speaking their minds and points of view, and they are willing to engage other points of view that are different from their own. That takes trust and confidence, as you hardly need either trust or confidence to echo yourself with your peeps.

    I don’t know that this particular conversation could have happened 30 years ago as we are all too geographically dispersed, but it can happen today, and I think it will happen even better in 30 more years. This post and the comments are both good conversation and good connection, even with the problematic connections and disagreements.

    Still, we would be foolish to ignore the changes in conversation and the ways those changes are changing us. We are changing, and that’s certain. For better or for worse? I don’t think we are in any position to say for certain; however, we could point to writing (disclosure: I teach college writing) as an earlier technological shift in the ways that humans connected and conversed. I don’t think anyone here will argue that we are worse off as a species for having made that shift. Still, I’m sure that not a few curmudgeons complained that people were spending too much time scribbling on parchment and paper and not enough time talking with those sitting with them in the same room. Perhaps they viewed with horror all those mad scribblers in the British Library not pausing long enough to talk to those other mad scribblers sitting at the same table. It’s an image not too different from a group of people on their smart phones, texting—yes—instead of scribbling, but not too different for all that.

    Humanity changed itself when it invented spoken language. I think it was a positive change, though enough bad has come of it as well. Humanity reinvented itself when it devised written language—another mostly positive change, to my mind. I think there’s a better than even chance that the shift to electronic communication will also be mostly positive, though I know that I cannot be certain. However, I am certain that we will make the shift, and make it much faster than we shifted to spoken or written communications. And that is basically the problem I have with those who complain about this shift. Does anyone think we can pull the plug on this Internet thing? Aside from an asteroid strike, I don’t see it slowing down, so tell me how to ride it, not how to avoid it.

    Thanks for the conversation in this blog space. I couldn’t have done it otherwise. Really.

  28. I think she is right when she suggests that instead of trying to get help from other people, we try to
    do that by sitting in front of computer. This obviously increases the sense of isolation but opens up
    a more reliable source of data which can be more helpful than the help you receive from a face to
    face conversation.

  29. I came late to this via a circuitous route, so please forgive me if this is no longer relevant to join into. However, I’d like to add two comments.

    First, as several people have said, Turkle does seem to make some telling points but as you say Dave, hankering for a halcyon and likely imaginary past is not really helpful. I’m reminded of a study I read moons ago where the author traced back claims about ‘youth being better and better disciplined in my grandfather’s day’ and found that the grandfather said that too … and his, and his, all the way back at least as far as Plato. So pointing out wryly that ‘nostalgia is not what it used to be’ is a fair call. And seeing, as you and others do, that social media have an upside is right. I may be nearer 70 than any other round number but I like Facebook, etc…

    Second, a slightly different point. Rather than arguing the toss over our ideas about real conversation, let’s ask what the literature says. Here I think that without fully taking Turkle’s side I want to be a bit cautionary about people getting over excited about electronic communication models. I strongly recommend the work of Garrod and Pickering on (e.g.) “Why conversation is easy”. (It’s worth a Google). These guys show how, over evolution, we humans have developed a repertoire of skills that make face-to-face communication easier and more interconnected than other modes. If we neglect that, and rely too much on the electronic (rather than having both and a balance, which is what I think you are arguing for, Dave) we risk emptiness. The sociologist George Simmel distinguished intimate relations (‘you are irreplaceable to me’) from sociality (high inter-changeability as with those we chatter to at cocktail parties).

    What Turkle points to, I think, is a danger that massive sociality cannot replace intimacy. Like her, it does somewhat bother me when I walk a beautiful beach here in Australia and cross paths with people who instead of exchanging a glance, a nod and probably a cheery, “Good day” are plugged into the iPod, texting or talking on the phone. They may think they are connected but I think they are kidding themselves …

  30. Dave,

    Thanks for publishing this. From your writing and the responses that have been posted already I see some consensus around discrediting some of Sherry Turkle’s concerns about the lost art of conversation ( – lost to technology). Keith Hamon points out that we here in this blog – space are listening, reflecting, and responding to points made by others with a patience that is literally required of us because we have to wait for our partners in the conversation to reply. What have we lost?

    Another concern would like to hear responses to that Dr. Turkel’s voiced in her TED Talk is that we are putting out artificial “best” forms of ourselves when we don’t engage in face-to-face conversation. I am not sure I understand the harm in putting out your “best” self in a text or a blog if that self is reflective and has had time to look up evidence to support a position, rather than the “real” self who blurts out something they half-remember in the heat of a debate/face-to-face conversation.

  31. Yeah… and I don’t think it’s as simple as ‘best/real’ in the way that Turkle portrays it in her work. (that is, i think we’d probably both agree on that). There is no social interaction in which we don’t shape our approach based on who her speaking with, where we are and what we’re on about. She simplifies the act of interaction in order to make a point… an important one I think, that connection is important. What she fails to understand is that connection happens in different ways for different people and that ‘her’ way might not be everyone’s way.

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