“I need to do some work on my phone.”
I hear these words come out of my mouth at least once a day as I try to explain to my son why I can’t give him my full attention. But recently I’m wondering if it’s the work I really care about or if it’s the phone itself.
In the last month, I finished Alone Together, by MIT professor and researcher, Sherry Turkle. Turkle spends most of the book telling tales of her research in classrooms. Kindergarten to university classes, Turkle studied how children and young adults use electronics and how they consider them in their lives.
What Turkle shares is that we are attracted to computers, smart devices, and online presence because we can “write ourselves into the people we want to be” as well as imagine others as we want them. The problem with this Turkle says is “when you cultivate this sensibility, a telephone call can seem fearsome because it reveals too much.” Hence the removal of voices from our lives via phone calls and the almost 100% reliance on email and text messages.
We love the ring of texts and the ping of emails because it stimulates the ‘seeking’ drive in our psyche. Turkle explains that “connectivity becomes a craving; when we receive a text or an email, our nervous system responds by giving us a shot of dopamine. We are stimulated by connectivity itself. We learn to require it, even as it depletes us.”
It depletes us because while we give all our time to be connected to so many people, we never garner anyone’s full attention for ourselves and likewise we have no ability to give our full attention to anyone.
“The narrative of Alone Together describes an arc: we expect more from technology and less from each other. This puts us at the still center of a perfect storm. Overwhelmed, we have been drawn to connections that seem low risk and always at hand: Facebook friends, avatars, IRC chat partners. If convenience and control continue to be our priorities, we shall be tempted by sociable robots, where, like gamblers at their slot machines, we are promised excitement programmed in, just enough to keep us in the game.”
The question left in my head on closing the last page of the book is: what happens to these expectations of each other as humans? Do we submit to the technological growth and continue to let our expectations of other people decrease? Or do we rise up and say enough.
Personally what I have found is that Facebook Friends, Instagram and Twitter Followers are not enough for me. I want more. I want your full attention when I’m talking to you. I don’t want you to post a photo of everything we are doing together to social media and care about how many ‘Likes’ you got instead of how much I like you. Maybe I’m just selfish and jealous of attention, but I have a hunch we all are. I could use my hour a day I likely spend on scrolling social media to connect in person with people in real life. What could you use your hour for?