Expecting More From Technology, Less From People

In the aftermath of having one of my blog posts “freshly pressed” on WordPress’s homepage, resulting in over 3,000 hits (so far) and a significant chunk of my day devoted to moderating and replying to comments, I thought it might be appropriate to post on a new book by an MIT professor who specializes in the social effects of technology. Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together examines how our digital social lives make increasing demands on us while presenting peculiar dangers to reputations and authenticity.

Although Turkle raises important questions about adults’ navigation of the wired world, the most original part of her analysis is the effect of social media like Facebook on teens and college students; she has compiled years’ worth of interviews with members of this demographic. These people talk about spending hours each day managing online relationships with “friends” and about how they are always under pressure to “perform,” responding instantly to text messages and the like. Perversely, the way in which they handle their digital worlds leads them to shun face-to-face contact and even telephone conversations with others: “on the telephone, too much might show.”

Young people understand, often through personal experience, that an online indiscretion can be archived forever and used against them later. Therefore they create a “phony” online presentation of themselves that is carefully stage-managed; this reviewer wonders what Holden Caulfield would think of the whole thing.

I’m not a technophobe; I love what the internet has enabled me to do both personally and professionally. But I can see the danger of allowing a text message or email to take the place of in-the-flesh contact with others too often. We need to see each other’s faces, hear each other’s voices, and read each other’s body language, don’t you think? Otherwise, it seems that we’re in danger of losing part of what it means to be human.

And no, the irony of airing this concern in a digital medium is not lost on me.

About Dr. J

I am Professor of Humanities at Faulkner University, where I chair the Department of Humanities and direct online M.A. and Ph.D. programs based on the Great Books of Western Civilization. I am also Associate Editor of the Journal of Faith and the Academy and a member of the faculty at Liberty Classroom.
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5 Responses to Expecting More From Technology, Less From People

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Expecting More From Technology, Less From People | The Western Tradition -- Topsy.com

  2. choccolatty says:

    Excellent thinking!
    I personally do believe thats a great issue to be taken in consideration while using technology, specially for teenagers, it affects negatively their social life.
    I would love to read this book.

  3. TopCat2x2 says:

    This issue is like a two-sided coin. On the one hand, look how small the world has become because of technology like texting, emails, and instant messaging. Suddenly people the world over have become neighbors in the Internet community. But like most things in life, as with people, there are good and bad, pros and cons.

    Personal experience has shown me there is an advantage to communicating with a bit of distance between human beings. It allows time to reflect before reacting instead of responding emotionally and possibly regretting words said or revealing spontaneous negative body language. With today’s lifestyles family, friends, and associates are separated by time and distance. When such technology did not exist these relationships were whittled down to the odd letter or phone call, or simply forgotten.

    If we were human under those circumstances, I can’t help feeling that today’s technology has brought us even closer, made us freer to explore and reach out, but provides a little buffer of choice as to how we will react.

    On the other hand, of course we need personal interaction as a species. And when we need it we find it. But like generations before us, we adapt to our surroundings and take advantage of the technology of the time.

    We are human. Nothing can change that.

  4. Good observations. I love being able to communicate via the internet to people all around the world and have some good “internet friends” because of this. I even married my husband, whom I met first on the internet at an online job we both worked at.

    However, I see the younger people walking around, texting away, oblivious of what’s going on around them, and I think, “What a shame!” They are missing so much of life that could perhaps stand them in good stead as they grow emotionally and mentally.

    I didn’t think of the pressure that texting put on the young people and that they would create “storefronts” to sell others on themselves. Now we are compounding ignorance and/or lack of awareness with phoniness. When do these youngsters become so entrapped in their pressure and their lies that they fall into despair?

    Here I am, saying someone should do something about it. But really they should. These young people are our future.

    Sandra Bell Kirchman
    Wizards and Ogres and Elves…oh my!/a>

  5. not sure about this. remember when everyone was worried about the breakdown of things like bowling leagues? Turns out that civic engagement might actually work better on the internet. And aren’t our carefully managed internet selves just an extension of the carefully managed selves we try to present in person anyway? I’m not suggesting we’re always trying to be dishonest about who we are. But we do tend to walk around with a historiographical narrative of self that has as much right to be called our true self as does some impossible objective compilation of the facts of our lives. So, we’re always being defined by someone’s narrative. Why not our own?

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