In a recent TED talk, psychologist and MIT professor Sherry Turkle warned that “we have sacrificed conversation for connection.” At home, families sit together, texting and reading e-mail. At work, executives text during board meetings. “We’ve become accustomed to a new way of being ‘alone together.” Turkle says. “Technology-enabled, we are able to be with one another, and also elsewhere, connected to wherever we want to be.”
One of the points Turkle is trying to make is that our little “sips” of online connection don’t add up to a big gulp of real conversation. And she wants us to have real conversations, to take the time to really get to know people around us. Ideally face-to-face.
Of course, Turkle’s view did not go unchallenged. Businessweek said she was “proposing a false dichotomy, as though all the online communication we engage in somehow takes the place of “real-world” conversation. It’s like an updated version of the old image of young people sitting alone in their basements playing video games instead of going out to meet their friends in the “real” world.” And a recent blogpost on nytimes.com stated that “the brevity, improvisation and in-the-moment quality of e-mails and texts are those grand old defining qualities of spoken language. Keyboard technology, allowing us to produce and receive written communication with unprecedented speed, allows something hitherto unknown to humanity: written conversation. In this sense, they are not “writing” in the sense we are accustomed to. They are fingered speech.”
But getting back to Sherry Turkle. While there is no doubt that she has some very real points, there is another dimension to our use of technology as well – and that is that our mobile devices originated as mediums for us to talk to each other.
It is common for dominant trends and behavior patterns to give rise to a pendulum effect: a strong surge to do the opposite. Perhaps the behavior Turkle is pointing to (our incessant texting, e-mailing and social networking) will create a need to do the opposite: to have long spoken conversations.
And although face-to-face conversations might be the best, the reality of the matter is that in modern society, we live too far apart to meet many of our friends and families in person. Which is why the phone will continue to be an important tool for conversation.
Perhaps we will see a renaissance for voice services in the next few years, as we step out from our bubbles of connectivity with a hunger for conversation?
What do you think?