April 22, 2012

Suddenly, the problem is supposed to be that people are reading and writing too much.

MIT psych prof Sherry Turkle frets about "The Flight From Conversation":
At home, families sit together, texting and reading e-mail. At work executives text during board meetings. We text (and shop and go on Facebook) during classes and when we’re on dates. My students tell me about an important new skill: it involves maintaining eye contact with someone while you text someone else; it’s hard, but it can be done....
Toward the end, she takes a completely different tack. It's not that we don't do live conversation, it's that we don't know how to be alone:
[I]n our rush to connect, we flee from solitude, our ability to be separate and gather ourselves. Lacking the capacity for solitude, we turn to other people but don’t experience them as they are. It is as though we use them, need them as spare parts to support our increasingly fragile selves.

We think constant connection will make us feel less lonely. The opposite is true. If we are unable to be alone, we are far more likely to be lonely.
If you don't need people to be really here to be with them, then you don't ever have to be alone. Almost everyone now has — without particularly trying — become the kind of person who would say things like I'm never alone when I have a book, and that used to be an oddball, a possibly admirable oddball, or an genuinely admirable intellectual. But now that it's everybody, it's a problem. Everyone's reading and writing all the time.

63 comments:

Original Mike said...

It's the concept of being lonely I don't understand. There are a lot like me. We're called introverts.

Original Mike said...

“All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone”
― Blaise Pascal

jimbino said...

I'd like to see a world map that indicates those places still free of WiFi and cellphone communications.

I'd also like to see grounded faraday cages installed in lots of places, like libraries, churches, concert halls, planes, buses and subways.

AJ Lynch said...

I see this in the business world. People use texts and email to avoid conversing - it's somewhat of a cowardly tactic IMO.

Original Mike said...

It would be hard to ground a Faraday Cage on a bus.

But I'm with you.

ndspinelli said...

Watch for the revenge of the introverts. Being an uber introvert I love the literature[The Introvert Advantage and Quiet are good books on the topic] speaking to this subject. We[I'm an uber introvert] are the minority[~25%] in a culture that reveres extroverts. Being alone is @ the core of introversion. We embrace solitude. We love to read and write but detest phones. I can tell as I've read many of the commenters here that you too are introverts. God bless you!

Henry said...

We used to read books. We didn't talk much.

Lem said...

I find that its easier to say the wrong thing than it is to write it..

The animals eat the pineapple in the end.

Oh no!

Lem said...

.. and I'm a terrible writer.. so imagine me talking.. its a nightmare.

Henry said...

The first prehuman to pick up a rock and start pounding another rock into a wedge was probably trying to avoid conversation.

The toys are new, but the idea is old.

Paddy O said...

Here’s John Cassian on Acedia, from his “Institutes” a book in which he talks about the characteristics of a monk in one section and the eight deadly sins in another:

Once this has seized possession of a wretched mind it makes a person horrified at where he is, disgusted with his cell and also disdainful and contemptuous of the brothers who live with him or at a slight distance, as being careless and unspiritual. Likewise it renders him slothful and immobile in the face of all the work to be done within the walls of his dwelling: It does not allow him to stay still in his cell or to devote any effort to reading.

He groans quite frequently that spending such a long time there is of no profit to him and that he will possess no spiritual fruit for as long as he is attached to that group of people.

He complains and sighs, lamenting that he is bereft and void of all spiritual gain in that place inasmuch as, even though he is capable of directing others and of being useful to many, he is edifying no one and being of no help to anyone through his instruction and teaching.

He makes a great deal of far-off and distant monasteries, describing such places as more suited to progress and more conducive to salvation, and also depicting the fellowship of the brothers there as pleasant and of an utterly spiritual cast. Everything that lies at hand, on the contrary, is harsh, and not only is there nothing edifying among the brothers who dwell there but in fact there are not even any of the necessities of life to be obtained there without huge effort.

Thereupon he says that he cannot be saved if he remains in that place. He must leave his cell and get away from it as quickly as he can, for he will perish if he stays in it any longer.

Then arise listlessness and such a yearning for food that he feels as worn out as if he had been exhausted by a long journey and very heavy labor or as if he had put off eating for the sake of a two- or three- day fast.

Next he glances around anxiously here and there and sighs that none of the brothers is coming to visit him. Constantly in and out of his cell, he looks at the sun as if it were too slow in setting. So filled is he with a kind of irrational confusion of mind, like a foul mist, and so disengaged and blank has he become with respect to any spiritual activity that he thinks that no other remedy for such an attack can be found than the visit of a brother or the solace of sleep alone.


continued...

Paddy O said...

continued...

With that the same malady suggests that he should dutifully pay his respects to the brothers and visit the sick, whether at a slight distance or further away. It also prescribes certain pious and religious tasks.

And so the unhappy soul, preyed upon by devices like these of the enemy is agitated until, worn out by the spirit of acedia as by the most powerful battering ram, it either learns to succumb to sleep or shakes off the restraints of the cell and gets in the habit of finding is consolation in the face of this onslaught by visiting a brother, although it will be all the more painfully vulnerable not long after having used this remedy as a stopgap.

For the adversary will the more frequently and harshly try a person who he knows, once the battle is joined, will immediately offer him his back and who he sees hopes for safety not in victory or in struggle but in flight, until he is gradually drawn out of his cell and begins to forget the reason for his profession.

Thus it is that the solder of Christ, having become a fugitive and a deserter from his army “entangles himself in worldly affairs” and displeases “him to whom he engaged himself."

And so the true athlete of Christ, who wishes to engage lawfully in the struggle for perfection, must strive to cast out this disease as well from the depths of his soul, and he must also contend on both sides against this most wicked spirit of acedia in such a way as neither to be cut down by the sword of sleep and collapse nor to be driven out from the bulwark of the monastery and depart in flight, even for a seemingly pious reason.

For the person whom it has begun to conquer, to whatever degree, it either allows to stay in his cell without any spiritual progress, in as it were a state of inactivity and surrender, or drives him out from there and makes him, in addition, unstable and feckless.


It’s not too far of a stretch to see the often frenetic updating of blogs, twitter, facebook, and the rest as being a contemporary expression of this malady.

Lem said...

If you think talking is easy.. read some of Rush's transcripts.. and suddenly you may realise that right 98.8 percent its pretty much relative..

What would have happened had Zimm txtd 911 instead of call?

ignatzk said...

But now that it's everybody, it's a problem. Everyone's reading and writing all the time.

Yet most remain distracted while having little of interest to say -- like an aunt, with lots of long pauses and lousy grammar, talking about her operations.

edutcher said...

The Blonde calls being connected Soap On A Rope and she doesn't want to be.

The only reason she has a cell phone is for emergencies, so, while the extroverts will never be alone, the introverts will find a way.

Craig Howard said...

I vant to be alone.

Lem said...

Texting.. and didn't used to "feel" this way.. that I would defend texting over conversing.. but its in the nature of texting, that ground rules, like I text and you respond and then I respond cannot be altered.

Have you ever talked with someone who has no idea when to let you talk back.. and they repeat themselves ad nauseum.

rhhardin said...

[I]n our rush to connect, we flee from solitude, our ability to be separate and gather ourselves.

She must mean women.

rhhardin said...

I've never texted.

The ringer on the phone has been turned off for 30 years. Phones are for calling out.

Email is busy though.

Lem said...

The worst is a nerdy friend (kinda like me) that tries to predict what I'm going to say.. and then when I say what I'm going to say and he is wrong .. he says "yea yea yea"..

Its a good thing that he prefers to txt.. and we only talk on the car on our way somewhere.. or at gatherings were its easy to make a v line to somebody somewhere else.

Michael K said...

My dog has been reading "Dreams from my Father." He looks worried.

Lem said...

test..

Looks like I'm not proving I'm not a robot very well.. my comments are going into a black hole.

Carl Vero said...

I take a stroll along the dark and quiet lane. There's a dank cold in the air and a chill from the wet pavement. The row of tall houses with their sharp-pointed roofs form a curving wall of shadows. The busy street round the corner is quieting, but laughter and music from postprandial activities filter through windows open despite the weather. Later it will fall like the lane into its deep night sleep. Streets are like children, the small ones go to bed first.
I return home; enjoy the company of friends and Althouse's post, recognizing that when solitude and intimacy entwine like lovers, motions speak between the words with the eloquence of silence.

Lem said...

One drawback to txtng I notice is that it is easier to make shit up.. I'm afraid to lie in person or in the phone because I will easily give myself away.

It seems as thought people are willing to take on the added risk.. perhaps acknowledging it as an exchange.. txtng a fib could come in handy "in an emergency".

Lies and the lying fingers that tell them.

Rick67 said...

Interesting that you noticed this particular TED talk. So did I a few weeks ago, and used it as the basis of an English Conversation lesson (for international students/scholars). Her discussion of "knowing how to be alone" is something of a distortion of her primary concern, which is that we don't know how to *be* with other people. Because we are always somewhere else, via internet/text. You can have 4 family members in the same room, but we are not really "together".

But then you raise a good point, which is why/how is this different from the 1800's, if we're all reading books by candlelight?

Original Mike said...

"Phones are for calling out."

Yes. I answer my phone when I feel like it. Which is about 25% of the time. I've been told there's something wrong with me.

I don't care.

Teri said...

"Everyone's reading and writing all the time."

My sainted grandmother, who taught elementary school on the Kansas prairie nearly a hundred years ago, is rolling in her grave at the thought that this is a problem.

Although she does wish your penmanship was better.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Florence King wrote [I paraphrase from memory] that she never could understand why solitary confinement was considered a "punishment." I'm down with that. (Though Miss King would certainly rather die than type "I'm down with that.")

EDH said...

We text... [I]n our rush... we flee... our ability... we turn... as though we use them...to support our increasingly fragile selves.

We think... If we are unable... we are far more likely to be lonely.


Like most psychology professors, Turkle keeps using the universal "we", but we all know what she really means is...

somefeller said...

There's a time and a place for everything, including solitude and quiet time. Also, there are few things more annoying than someone staring at their smartphone when you are trying to engage them in a conversation. But there also are times when catching up on email correspondence or other forms of communication is good time management. Staring at the wall isn't the best use of a lot of people's time.

ricpic said...

What Professor Turkle is really saying is that she doesn't like to think. I take her at her word that she is always part of a we. Since only an I can step out of the herd, step away from the herd, distance herself from the herd and - without terror - be critical of the herd, of what's "in the air," only an I can think. Turkle can't be an I. Or won't be an I. Same difference. But she's a good regurgitater of what's in the air, of what "we think." Ergo the professorship. Pisses me off. But it shouldn't. It's the way of the world.

wildswan said...

Kids are with the other kids even when they are alone with you because they constantly text. And they can text while conversing. It works in a way. But it does remind me of those movies about Hollywood producers and New York executives answering three phones while conducting a job interview or a discussion about a relationship. I'd like to see a movie with sidebars showing what all the texts were saying and blanking out the bits that don't get heard because typing was going on. And how that plays out in life over time. I know one kid who wrote letters just for the fun of waiting three days for an answer.

Mary Beth said...

I would rather see someone texting than listen to their conversation. I do not understand people who want to (loudly) discuss intimate details of their lives over a phone in public.

leslyn said...

How is blogging different?

Craig said...

Cell phones replaced landlines in the Philippines about fifteen years ago. Before that only rich people had landlines and the waiting list to get one was sometimes five years or more. Now nearly everyone uses pre-paid sims. A voice call costs 15 pesos per minute. A text message is less than one peso. Until about two years ago nearly all phones had phone dial key pads that were tricky to use for texting. You would hit the 1 key once for A, twice for B and three times for C when typing a text message. Now all the phones are qwerty key boards, just like a typewriter, so texting no longer requires concentration or manual dexterity. Anybody can do it. And it's still much cheaper than the extravagance of a voice call. Most phone calls have a purpose that can be expressed in a text message with ten words or less. I rarely use more than five words in a text message. If I want to talk on the phone I use Skype with video.

madAsHell said...

Wait!!

They have psychologists at MIT?

...and they publish?

I figured they were there for the savants that flipped out.

Richard Dolan said...

"Suddenly the problem is supposed to be ... "

That's an invitation to wallow in a past that never was, to recover the fullness of former interactions that occurred only with shadows.

Most conversation like most texting is pretty banal, and the banality is neither relieved nor improved depending upon the form in which the interaction occurs. The kind of texting this article is discussing is different from anonymous blogging, where the ability to remain anonymous often shapes the content of internet-based interactions. Where the parties know each other and know who is sending a particular text, the form in which the interaction occurs is less significant.

Lem said...

How is blogging different?

Most people dont blog.. but they do txt.

Original Mike said...

"Staring at the wall isn't the best use of a lot of people's time."

You're suppose to think while you're staring at that wall.

Ralph L said...

My dog has been reading "Dreams from my Father." He looks worried.
Tell him not to worry, Bill Ayers made that scene up.
see this in the business world. People use texts and email to avoid conversing - it's somewhat of a cowardly tactic IMO
Sometimes it's good to have something in writing. My boss occasionally forgets to tell me something important--but thinks he has.

chickenlittle said...

rhhardin said...
I've never texted.

Texts are for kids.

Sharpen up, OM.

Saint Croix said...

I totally get what she's saying. When I'm on a train or a subway, everybody is wearing earbuds, and they are looking down at their phones. There is a weird sense of slipping into the machine. It is dehumanizing and alienating.

And it is very true that people on subways and trains were not having conversations all that much before (if at all).

But go back 100 or 200 years, and people had conversations all the time. You knew your neighbors, you talked to them. You made connections with people in your community. People knew you, and you knew them.

Alienation is a modern concept. Technology opens up doors. We can have conversations with people across the country, across the world. Which is really cool when you are separated from family or friends. You can keep in touch with them (and ignore the strangers around you).

I had a lot of friends when I was young. I think it's because my world was limited. My friends were at school. We were thrown together, we became friends. You hear people talk this way about old army buddies.

But friends drop away. And as an adult you have more options. You can avoid people. You can do what you want, when you want. This makes you more selfish and more isolated.

I have 200 "friends" on facebook. We don't keep in touch. I participate on Althouse. Who knows me here? You kinda do, right? You know what I think. But the process is very solitary. It's anonymous and ideological. We debate ideas but real human connection is lost.

Will you be going to my funeral? No, I don't think you will.

So I agree that technology is liberating, and really cool. But I can see isolation and dehumanization in it, too.

Chip S. said...

chickenlittle said...
Sharpen up, OM.

So you figure that he's teletyped?

I'll bet you're right.

MadisonMan said...

You knew your neighbors, you talked to them.

I text my neighbors.

(j/k)

Nora said...

Whatever is there it bad for you, us, them, humanity, planet, poor, nature, etc - a "progressive" view of the world in a nutshell

ed said...

"The first prehuman to pick up a rock and start pounding another rock into a wedge was probably trying to avoid conversation." - Henry

And it was a guy.

Then that Sunday his wife turned on the vacuum cleaner during the football game.

Saint Croix said...

Whatever is there is bad for you, us, them, humanity, planet, poor, nature, etc - a "progressive" view of the world in a nutshell

No I think this is a conservative complaint. It's like complaining about alienation in the big city.

It's progressives and libertarians who fight on the internet.

Small town people with kids are busy doing other things.

Ralph L said...

Will you be going to my funeral? No, I don't think you will.
You'll never know--how much we care about you.

That reminds me of how The Saint (Roger Moore version) ended a prickly phone conversation: "Invite me to your funeral."

el polacko said...

i await the day when the zombies will finally look up from their telephone pads and regret the broadcasting of every flatulent moment of their wasted lives.

Rusty said...

Original Mike said...
It's the concept of being lonely I don't understand. There are a lot like me. We're called introverts.

I don't know if I'm introverted, but I'm quite comfortable with my own company. To me a productive day at work is me by myself with no radio blaring in the background.
I wonder if it's an IQ thing?

rhhardin said...

Sharpen up, OM.

So you figure that he's teletyped?

I'll bet you're right.


As a kid I morsed. I remember thinking that nobody had much to say, but that when I grew up, maybe talking to hams would be interesting. It wasn't.

I can still copy 25wpm easily, according to the W1AW site. Once you fall off a bicycle, you never forget how.

Fen said...

I want a cell phone jammer! Range needs to be 100 yard radius. But apparently they are illegal in the States?

Lil help?

SGT Ted said...

I think it is overly chatty people that have issues, mostly an inability to deal with silence or aloneness.

The Etymology of the word "alone" is "with yourself". Some people can't handle that.

SGT Ted said...

What ever DID people DO before there were psych professors they've never met to order their lives for them?

deborah said...

Doubtless rh changed tubes in UNIVAC. Little known fact: he invented the WABAC machine.

Mary Beth said...

I want a cell phone jammer! Range needs to be 100 yard radius. But apparently they are illegal in the States?

They are illegal and there is a fine of over $100,000 for the use of one. Too bad, it would be so fun to be able to decide what strangers can or cannot do.

A cell phone vigilante stopping rude people from being rude! It would be like being a super hero. Of course I would use my power for good because I know what is best for people.

The other stupid people whose wifi or gps gets blocked will just have to deal with it. They just need to understand that my right not to be annoyed by texters or loud talkers or people who play with the touchscreen in dark theaters supersedes their right to communicate. People need to get their priorities straight, my comfort comes first. Period.

Joe said...

Find anything and someone, somewhere, will become an alarmist about it. (And then they'll annoy the shit out of everyone else by not shutting up.)

Fen said...

"...it would be so fun to be able to decide what strangers can or cannot do... I would use my power for good because I know what is best for people... The other stupid people whose wifi or gps gets blocked will just have to deal with it."

yada yada blah. Thanks for assuming why I need it or how I would use it.

When you settle down, try to understand that I'm talking about static venues (not roads) where cellphones are already prohibited.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

I never text. Ever.

I don't get the people who walk around the grocery store with a blue tooth device carrying on a conversation non stop and ignoring the people right in front of their face. What the heck is so important you can't just wait a few minutes and pay attention to your surroundings and have a conversation with the living breathing people in your space?

Frankly, being alone is a pleasure. Now that I'm retired I don't have to see anyone or go anywhere unless I want to. Even though I have many activities that keep me busy (library volunteer, board member of several organizations, food pantry helper) there can be days that go by where I don't leave the property and see no one other than my husband.

I love it. The peace and quiet of being solitary and still knowing that if I want to have connection I can.

Mary Beth said...

yada yada blah. Thanks for assuming why I need it or how I would use it

I was talking about how I would use it. I just used your statement as a starting place.

Thank you for assuming that I don't really have a desire to be a cell phone blocking super hero. You can make it up to me by helping me think of a cool super hero name.

The jammers are allowed in prisons in some countries but the U.S. has a law that prohibits interference with radio signals. I believe that some countries also use them in schools.

I subscribe to a locator service through my provider. It lets me check to see if my kids are where they are supposed to be. I would be unhappy if they were somewhere where the GPS signal was blocked so that I couldn't verify their location.

Original Mike said...

"So you figure that he's teletyped?"

Semaphore, actually.

Fen said...

I was talking about how I would use it. I just used your statement as a starting place.

So now you want us to pretend you weren't being sarcastic?

Mary Beth said...

Oh, no, I was. But I did answer your question as to the legality of it. I'm sorry if you were offended. I was only teasing and did not mean to hurt your feelings.

It's been a busy morning, I was also asking people on Facebook to help make me dictator of a small but prosperous country.

All of this typing and I am still neither a super hero nor a dictator. Very disappointing.

If you don't want people to make assumptions about what you would do with an illegal product, why don't you say what you would use if for? Or don't bring it up at in the first place.