Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Illusion of Companionship

Here is an excerpt from a very illuminating FRONTLINE interview with Sherry Turkle:

When one talks to people who are enthusiasts for technology, they often will say, look, it's not one or the other. Having robots or text messages or cell phones to deal with all the things that we don't have time or the inclination to deal with ourselves gives us more time to have meaningful connections that we really want to have.

This is a very compelling argument until you hang out for five years with teenagers who theoretically are the ones who are supposed to be having their text messages and their long conversations, too.

What I'm seeing is a generation that says consistently, "I would rather text than make a telephone call." Why? It's less risky. I can just get the information out there. I don't have to get all involved; it's more efficient. I would rather text than see somebody face to face.

There's this sense that you can have the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. The real demands of friendship, of intimacy, are complicated. They're hard. They involve a lot of negotiation. They're all the things that are difficult about adolescence. And adolescence is the time when people are using technology to skip and to cut corners and to not have to do some of these very hard things.

So of course people try to use everything. But a generation really is growing up that, because it's given the option to not do some of the hardest things in adolescence, are growing up without some basic skills in many cases, and that's very concerning to me.

One of the things I've found with continual connectivity is there's an anxiety of disconnection; that these teens have a kind of panic. They say things like: "I lost my iPhone; it felt like somebody died, as though I'd lost my mind. If I don't have my iPhone with me, I continue to feel it vibrating. I think about it in my locker." The technology is already part of themselves.

And with the constant possibility of connectivity, one of the things that I see is ... a very subtle movement from "I have a feeling I want to make a call" to "I want to have a feeling I need to make a call" -- in other words, people almost feeling as if they can't feel their feeling unless they're connected.

I'm hearing this all over now, so it stops being pathological if it becomes a generational style. And I think we have to ask ourselves, well, what are some of the other implications of that? Because certainly our models of what adolescents go through in order to develop independent identities did not leave room for that kind of perpetual reaching out to other people in order to feel a sense of self. That was something you hopefully went through and then developed the kind of thing where: "I have a feeling. I want to tell somebody about it."

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