27
Apr
10

Cyber solitude / Cyber intimacy

I just went to a lecture with Sherry Turkle, a professor at MIT that does psychological research on the internet. I thought it was a GREAT lecture, but unfortunately, the biggest thing I learned is that our society is finished.

On this blog, I complain a lot about social networking and our relationship to technology (here, here, and here), and she basically does the same thing, but with a lot more experience and data. I mostly found myself agreeing with everything she said.

First, she talked about the importance of solitude. Apparently there is a quote from Freud or some psychoanalyst that goes something like “loneliness is failed solitude,” which I completely agree with. She went on to argue that one essential psychological skill is to be comfortable being alone. We need to learn to be alone with our consciousness, alone with our fears, and alone with our hopes. Instead though, we are always have other people intrude on this reserved space through various technological appendages.

Her research methodology involves interviewing adolescents about their technology use, and she had some interesting results. Apparently, a lot of high school and young college people report using texts to avoid the embarrassment or confrontation with other people face to face. The ratio of texts to phone calls among this demographic is something like 8:1. Basically, we’re becoming unable to relate to other people except at a definable and manipulable distance.

She made one point that I disagreed with though, which was related to the speed of technology. She thinks that the speed of technology undermines our ability to reflect and reason because of its emphasis on instant response. We can find the answers to questions immediately and others count on and expect this speed, which forces us to abandon reasoned thought about complex issues.

This might be right, but I think that in a way, the threat to reasoning comes from the fact that technology SLOWS DOWN sociality. A text message conversation can play out over the course of hours, and an email exchange can take place over days, giving people time to think of responses or ignore and then respond to the idea of another person. Face to face conversations instead I think emphasize creativity, on the spot thinking, and repartee. Other forms of communication dull these skills.

She also didn’t really talk about something else I emphasize, which is the screening possibilities provided by technology. As we gain more control of who talks to us and when, the more spontaneity and the chance for new interactions is lost.

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2 Responses to “Cyber solitude / Cyber intimacy”


  1. 1 aaron
    April 27, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    you forgot, “alone with our ps2”


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