Book Review: Alone Together, Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other

A book review on Sherry Turkle’s 15 year exploration of our lives in the digital terrain.

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Sometimes I wonder if I could go a whole day without my cell phone. I always say I’m going to try but I find it hard leaving the house without it. What if I get lost? What if my car breaks down? What if something happens and my family needs to get ahold of me?  Or like today, when I forgot my wallet, was running on empty and was 20+ miles from my house.  Thankfully I registered my credit card on Apple Pay just a few days prior.

This attachment to a device fascinates me as it does Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together, Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other. Turkle is also a Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT.

In the book, Turkle explains that these devices don’t only change what we do, they change who we are.  The first half of the book discusses the potential uses of robots and how they have transformed into our most trusted friends, and the second half focuses on our lives online. I found it interesting that Turkle never once blamed technology, she blames us for the way we use it and interact with it. She has a profound hope that technology can make our lives better. But it is us, the consumers, who need to take a step back from it and truly understand the power it has over our lives.

THE PROBLEM:

  • We want to be in control. We would rather text message someone than call because texting allows us to edit, delete & organize our thoughts. A phone conversation and face-to-face conversation makes us feel out of control, however, texting, email and posting on social media all allow us to present the self as we want to be. 
  • We are afraid of intimacy. Turkle says that the “blurring of intimacy begins the second we create a social media profile.” Letting people into our lives is inherently risky. It has the potential to offer heartbreak, embarrassment and rejection. Technology allows us to escape these things and ultimately control them.

RELATED: How Technology Makes Us Afraid of Intimacy

  • We are always working– Years ago it would have appeared rude to be on your phone or computer during a meeting. Now it’s the norm. I know as a public relations professional, I attend an event and I am live-tweeting, taking pictures and texting my mom at the same time. I am programmed to multi-task but as Turkle says in the book that with this new way of multi-tasking, we never really stop. We go on a vacation and vacate a place but not a set of responsibilities. Interconnectivity has transformed “multi-tasking into multi-lifing” (p. 160) .

THE SOLUTION:

  • Find ways to increase solitude. Create places at home or specific times where cell phones are not allowed. Set aside time to be alone.
  • Listen, even during the boring parts.
  • Reclaim conversation Instead of emailing a co-worker two cubicles away, get up and talk to them. Ask them how their weekend was, their kids, vacation etc.

I liked how Turkle separated the book into parts. She always stated a problem with our behavior and introduced ways to fix it. She expressed her concerns but not in a way that was forceful or turned me off from reading it.

One point that I did not agree with was how people would prefer to text than call. She said her research found that “things get out of control during telephone conversations,”. I on the other hand prefer a telephone call because sometimes I just want to hear a loved one’s voice. My parents live in Arizona so calling them everyday feels natural. I understand what she meant because when you are having a tough conversation sometimes our thoughts become misconstrued, but that’s the beauty in it. We are human, we make mistakes and I wish more people would accept that.

 

How has technology transformed your life? Has it changed how your connect with people? I strongly suggest reading Turkle’s book. You can buy it here and/or watch her 2012 TED Talk below to get more information.

 “Technology is making a bid to redefine human connection — how we care for each other, how we care for ourselves — but it’s also giving us the opportunity to affirm our values and our direction. I’m optimistic.We have everything we need to start. We have each other. And we have the greatest chance of success if we recognize our vulnerability. That we listen when technology says it will take something complicated and promises something simpler.” – Sherry Turkle TED Talk 2012

RELATED: We Never Talk Anymore: The Problem With Text Messaging

RELATED: Your Life is Fully Mobile 

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