A nerd dream came true for me earlier this week when I spoke with Sherry Turkle, an MIT endowed professor who studies the sociology of technology.
Her research, communicated in landmark books like“Alone Together” and the new “Reclaiming Conversation,” investigates how our engrossment in technology is affecting our relationships with ourselves and with one another.
One of her points seemed pretty intuitive to me, even obvious: that using your phone all the time reduces empathy, thereby screwing with your interpersonal relationships. Anyone who’s gotten into a fight with their partner over iMessage knows that texting isn’t the highest-bandwidth form of communication.
But our phone preoccupation — displayed in my own life by almost walking into a range of desks and colleagues while catching up on media Twitter by day and giggling through weird Twitter by night — has a more subtle and equally unnerving effect on our intrapersonal relationships as well.
Basically, Turkle finds that human beings need solitude in order to integrate their recent experiences into their larger formation of self.
It’s in those quiet moments — perhaps in a structured form like journaling or contemplative meditation — that I’m actually able to piece together how my present behaviours are manifestations of personal patterns. Like how, hypothetically, the evasive way I spoke with a friend followed a long tradition of passive aggressiveness handed down from my family of origin.
It’s only in times of solitude when I can do the kind of interior surveying (trained by spending a solid 8 months in therapy and 5 years of mindfulness meditation practice) needed to catch the self-sabotaging behaviours that screw with my relationships, be they romantic, platonic, or professional.
And Twitter — as comfortably automatic as it’s become in my life — is not a place for such introspective efforts.
“We literally turn being alone into a problem that we want technology to solve,” Turkle told me earlier this week. “We use technology to solve it by giving us something on a screen to take our attention off ourselves.”
I’m grateful that I’ve gained enough appreciation of my own company to find that being alone isn’t a crisis situation like it might have been when I was 22. Though it might not be a good time, those ventures into the murkiness of solitude are good in a deeper way — and they allow me to gain the self awareness that will allow me to relate to people in a more authentic, open way.
So, dear iPhone, I respect you so, so much. That’s why you’re going to be off — or at least muzzled by aeroplane mode — way more often.
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