Sherry Turkle - Connected, But Alone?

Connected, But Alone?

Sherry Turkel gave a TED talk in February 2012. The topic of the talk is “Connected, but alone?” She has been studying how our devices and online personas are redefining human connection and communication and also how technology is shaping our modern relationships.

There are few points can be summarized from her talk: 1. The communication devices not only change what we do, but also change who we are. 2. People are getting trouble with how to relate to each other, how to relate to themselves and the capacity for self-reflection. 3. We expect more from technology and less from each other. We are designing technologies that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. 4. We feel lonely and feel like nobody is willing to listen to us. Being alone seems to be an illness that needs to be cured. 5. The traditional conversation has changed into mediated connection, thus leads to the isolation of people.

Described as "the Margaret Mead of digital culture", Turkle has now turned her attention to the world of social media and sociable robots. Turkle argues that the social media we encounter on a daily basis are confronting us with a moment of temptation. Drawn by the illusion of companionship without the demands of intimacy, we confuse postings and online sharing with authentic communication. We are drawn to sacrifice conversation for mere connection.

This talk was related to her early book called “Alone Together” and Meyrowitz’s theory of placelessness. The loss of a sense of place, and the increasing experience of a general sense of placelessness, is often taken to be one of the characteristic features of modernity. It is also a feature usually seen as tied closely to the enormous changes in communication and information technologies that have occurred over the last century. As Meyrowitz proposed, people are no longer defined by physical boundaries or places (where we are) but rather by networks of information and knowledge (what we know) – facilitated by new media technologies – that have no sense of place. Television and other electronic media can be regarded as important resources for social and political change in pursuit of banishing social inequalities.

The telephone, radio and television make the boundaries of all social spaces more permeable. This is very different from the impact of print media on society. Physical place and location are no longer necessarily important. People with different age, gender and other social differences get equal access to all information. They are surrounded and also separated by the mass media. The relationship between conversation and mediated connection is similar with the relationship between ethnography and virtual ethnography. Virtual ethnography is doing the ethnographic research online instead of face-to-face interaction. There are mainly four key differences between online and face-to-face social interaction: First and perhaps most obvious, is alteration. Alteration simply means that the nature of the interaction is altered—both constrained and liberated—by the specific nature and rules of the technological medium in which it is carried. Next is anonymity, that widely-analyzed difference, particularly relevant in the early years of online interaction, but still meaningful today. The wide accessibility of many online forums to participation by anyone is the third crucial difference that our revised techniques must accommodate. Finally, there is the automatic archiving of conversations and data facilitated by the online medium.

As people are getting more involved in the mass media, for example the internet, it might be necessary to think about who the participants might ‘really be’. One thing people tend to get anxious about with the Internet is that we can have no idea who is contributing, what their ‘real’ identity is, or whether what they are saying has any validity.

The illusion of companionship and virtual relationship are all the outcomes of mediated connection. Turkel argued that we grew up with digital technology and we can not see it as all grown up. We should start thinking of solitude as a good thing. Find ways to demonstrate this as a value to your children. Create sacred spaces at home and reclaim them for conversation and also talk to your collage at work. Try to develop a more self-aware relationship with digital technologies, with each other and with ourselves.

Read more about this topic:  Sherry Turkle