Connection is a Symptom Not a Cure

Awhile back I wrote a few posts about the spiritual aspects of mobile connectivity. The series was entitled "The Angel of the iPhone" and can be found on the sidebar. In light of that series let me point you to Sherry Turkle's recently posted TED talk. I found the talk, by turns, both scary and sad.

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16 thoughts on “Connection is a Symptom Not a Cure”

  1. Thanks for this. I think she is spot on about the effects this connection mentality has on us. Though, perhaps, she understates her case. I wonder if even the basic structures of our technology necessarily leads to "connection" at the expense of true relationship with others. That is, can I ever actually ever properly use something I carry around in my pocket on which I have instant access to social meda? Is trying to use this technology properly just swimming against the stream? I don't know, but I've been thinking through some of the implications of social media, at least for me, here:

  2. We have much more power/control than alluded to in this speech.  Since I retired in 2004, and because my wife is still working, I spend every weekday alone, with only our dog.  I took to the Internet in 1995 like a duck to water.  And yet, I have never been tempted to join either Facebook or Twitter.  I do have a presence here, for which I am grateful, since I have found some interesting new ideas and good friends who share my interest in theology. 

    The (computer) Singularity is coming, probably in my lifetime.  In the meanwhile, I am comfortable being by myself most of the time.  And I do not think I am unique in this.  The Internet is for me simply another tool, like my car.  It is the way in which I get information.  People will turn their phones off in your presence if you simply ask them to.

  3. Interesting...  Toward the end, I was reminded of the Harlow monkey studies.  Our mobile devices cannot provide the care-giving and companionship that human beans need.  :-)

    I agree that the current obsession with technological connectivity is of most concern with regard to young people.  The adolescent brain is still developing, for crying out loud.  What will the long-term effects of technological connectivity at the expense of direct interpersonal relations be on this up and coming generation?

    My almost 12-year-old son is fascinated with electronic gadgets and technology.  He is the only kid in his youth group who does not own an expensive internet-enabled mobile device.  He borrows his dad's iPod touch (no phone) to play Angry Birds and interact with his friends technologically while with them at youth group.  My almost 16-year-old only got a cell phone last summer in order to stay connected with us while out of state on the youth group's mission trip.  She also got an iPod touch for her birthday, and Facebook chats daily with her few close friends.  They would both love to have an iPhone or Droid with unlimited texting, but neither my husband nor I possess such an expensive phone + monthly service, so have told the kids that it won't be happening on our dime.  I'm curious what other parents of teens feel about this?  My daughter listens to Pandora on her iPod all the time.  Quite frequently I have to insist that she take the earbuds out of her ears to give her full attention to our conversation.  She likes to take one earbud out and listen to me with the other ear.  Grrrr!

    Conversation --> Connection...  This blog is the one that I read religiously, and comment on regularly.  I sometimes question the motive for blogging.  Bloggers use a variety of strategies to attract followers.  Why would a blogger want to attract more followers / readers, if not to invite others to converse about a posted subject?  If one converses with others for a long enough time, with any regularity, some degree of familiarity and friendship is likely to result.  Years ago, my mother corresponded (the old-fashioned way, letters written by hand and mailed via USPS) with a pen pal in another state/geographic region.  They became so close, through this correspondence over time, that eventually we took a vacation to visit my mom's pen pal and her family.  We stayed with them for a week!  So, I don't think we should dismiss the possibility of real, authentic connection between individuals and groups at a distance, through digital, "third" spaces.  What do you all think?

  4. I'm glad you brought this up, since it reminds us that talking in generalities always leaves out the exceptions. However, I think it's still important for the exceptions to try and see things from the generality's point of view. So yeah, it's just another tool with no unhealthy connections... for you. But there's a vast and constantly growing majority of people in our privileged society that fit exactly into the niche Sherry Turkle's fleshed out: they have no resistance, and their devices aren't tools. There's a strong, ever-present psychological connection there that has way more power over them than is healthy. Try asking a classroom of college students to turn off their phones in your presence; it won't happen.

    I think her point is to get us to your thinking, in which the internet is just another tool. But that's going to take a lot of work, because for this coming generation it is so much more.

  5. Hi Sam, you make some excellent points that get at some underlying factors of cause-effect which I've been pondering.  One is age.  At yours (and my own) stage of life, adapting to technology vs. having it mold us is an easier thing to manage.  Is it the dog wagging the tail, or vice versa?  Young people do not have the experience to discern using the technology, versus becoming a slave to the technology.  Second is personality type.  The way that one interacts is so dependent upon personality (introverted / extroverted, etc.), and whether one is moving in a healthy vs. stressed state of mind.

    I can say that I have had more direct experiences with people in "pseudo-community" who have absolutely no intention or desire of deep connection, through meaningful conversation or otherwise.  Whether that is caused by the explosion of technology, or whether technology is only an effect of our isolated, disconnected social condition, who knows?  Probably a little of both.  The friends (face-to-face and digital/third space) with whom I can carry on a meaningful, deep conversation are few and far between.  I think I'm a weirdo to be so difficult that way, but there you have it.

    I am like you, Sam.  I enjoy being alone -- walking outdoors listening to music, reading, thinking/reflecting.  Eventually then, I like to discuss whatever new idea or experience I'm having with another person.  :-)  But, when I am with people and attempting to converse with them, I don't think it is unreasonable to sense loneliness when one perceives not being heard, or being dismissed/invalidated/ignored.  Am I making any sense in that statement?

  6. Thanks.  I did consider the plight of a teacher today, having been one myself years ago.  I am thinking more in terms of "in person, one-on-one".  I guess I do not feel so much an exception because I am no longer young, and other than a loss of what I call "manners in public", the world still looks pretty much the same to me as it did 30 years ago.  Also, I'm uncomfortable dismissing your constantly growing majority as having no resistance.  I tend not to see people as helpless as that, any more than I would question my own motivation in forming a relationship with my dog.

    Perhaps I am just lucky, but most of the young people I know today seem willing and eager to engage without all the gadgetry.  Sometimes it does involve a request.  I have much more trouble with strangers in the grocery store.  Cellphones have just become the replacement for cigarettes in the public square.

  7.  Hi Susan,

    I started my first blog as a hobby, and a public service.  I had experience in a field, and knew of immense frustration in the public re: that program.  It went no where, but that's understandable and OK, and I leave it up -- still as a public service.  My other blog is really more of a diary and a way to work through my own ultimate questions with a little help from my friends.  ;-)

    The Internet has been very rewarding for me as a person who long ago gave up on organized religion but wishes still to discuss questions of theology and morality with other inquisitive folks.  In this one specific area, it is perhaps even better to me personally than a "real life" connection, since I would not enter a church except under duress, and once there would probably not interact at all.

  8. Yes, you make perfect sense.  People's thoughts are valued here.  ET is a rare community due to the scarcity of trolls and/or flaming.  It's almost unique in my experience in many different forums.

  9. Gregory, thanks for the link. I'd actually read you post last week and thought it was great.

  10. She makes some excellent points about solitude, depth of interaction, and sustained presence. All good things. Speaking as she is at a TED talk it makes sense she would address this subject in this way. That said it indulges in something close to nostalgic "when I was your age" stuff that puts me off.

    I knew plenty of social butterflies in High School and College who, prior to social media, led lives full of shallow relationships where no one ever listened or connected on a deep level or experienced meaningful solitude. I know many people now (I would count myself in this group) who experience deep interaction, sustained presence and powerful relationship building augmented, not diminished by social media.

    She seemed distressed that humans might look to technology to help meet emotional needs - such as the robot offering empathy. But why should we be pessimistic about these possibilities? What makes an experience or an emotion real? If we can develop programs and robots capable of genuine empathy, not just simulated, would that change her opinion? For myself, these are exactly the sorts of things I want to see technology building towards.  A lever can help us move a heavy object more efficiently, but no one laments the loss of cooperative effort it once took for multiple people to do the job one guy with a lever can do now. I'd much rather have robots that help people heal from grief than smart bombs and drones - other things our technology is good at.

    The other mistake I think is being made here is mistaking the device for the function. I don't have a relationship with my Droidx2. I USE my Droidx2 to sustain and build relationships with hundreds of people. When I receive a text at dinner that isn't my phone interrupting my relationship with my family that is my best friend getting to participate in my family meal with unprecedented intimacy. Rather than detracting from relational intimacy I see relationships interpenetrating each other in ways that are astounding and (potentially) beautiful.

    I don't want to just jump to the opposite extreme. Clearly there are better and worse ways of incorporating social media into your life, but this is EXACTLY like relatioships of the face to face kind. Not every interaction I have with someone face to face is equally profound. I can flit through my embodied relationships just as superficially as I can through my online ones.

  11. always keep a jar of peanut m&ms (&dixie cups), a radio controlled helicopter and a spotting scope (on a tripod) at your desk...or whatever.

    arrange an environment to sooth the symptoms so the crackberry doesn't have too.

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