- Sherry Turkle is an MIT psychologist who has been studying human relationships to technology for several decades.
- As smartphones and devices become harder to resist, Turkle said she’s made a conscious effort to use them only when necessary.
- She acknowledged not all tech is bad, and still loves using her computer to write.
If the highest praise for someone’s expertise is that they have written the book on a subject, then MIT psychologist Sherry Turkle is an expert multiple times over.
Turkle is the author of “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other” and “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age,” among many other books on human relationships to technology.
After all that research, it should be telling Turkle spends very little time on her phone. Her computer: a different story.
“I have a great deal of email. I do everything on email,” she told Business Insider. “I’m not a texter.”
As a researcher, speaker, author, professor, and mother, Turkle said there is a near-constant stream of people trying to get in contact with her. Over the years she’s tried to offer more prompt replies by text message, she said, but ultimately she realised the medium was too much to keep up with.
“I can do one thing at a time,” she said. “That’s how I keep my life not crazy.”
Smartphones are everywhere, just not in people’s pockets
Turkle’s relationship to her phone is a departure from how the typical user spends a day. A recent study found people touch their phones more than 2,600 times a day. Extreme users — meaning those at the top 10% — touch their phones more than twice as often.
Other research has found cell-phone overuse can damage teenagers’ mental health and sap people of their productivity. Even the mere presence of a smartphone can degrade conversation, according to a 2014 study.
Turkle doesn’t think technology is all bad. She said she adores her the laptop that she uses to write all of her books and papers. But the glut of digital communication, from Facebook romances to arguments that take place solely over text, has made Turkle worried that people have come to expect too much from their devices.
“Tech can make us forget what we know about life,” she said, namely, the joys of off-the-cuff chitchat or the subtleties in emotion when arguing face-to-face. Her research has taught her that technology is great for a lot of things, but recreating the human experience isn’t — and shouldn’t be — one of them.
As for how Turkle handles people that take out their phones, however briefly, when they spend time with her: “No no no no, I don’t like it,” she said. “I don’t like it.”
But she conceded people generally know her well enough not to do it in the first place.
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