In her TEDtalk Connected, but alone? Sherry Turkle, professor of Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, explains that “those little devices in our pockets [cell phones], are so psychologically powerful that they don’t only change what we do, they change who we are.” To Turkle, we live in a technology saturated world in which people think of themselves not with Descarte’s famous philosophy of I think therefore I am but instead “I share therefore I am.”
Turkle explained that when the internet was new back in 1996, she was most excited about “the idea that we would use what we learned in the virtual world about ourselves, about our identity, to live better lives in the real world.” However, in 2012, she argues that “we’re letting it [technology] take us places that we don’t want to go.” This claim is rooted in the reality of how frequently we use our phones, ranging from texting during corporate board meetings to eating dinner with family, hanging out with friends, and even at funerals. This, she says, is a way we “remove ourselves from our grief or from our reverie and we go into our phones.” Turkle believes that people are altering the way that we relate to others and ourselves; we “only want to pay attention to the bits that interest” us, and we keep people and ourselves at a distance that we can edit and control through technology. Phones are “changing our minds and hearts because they offer us three gratifying fantasies,” that we can put our attention where we want it, we will always be heard, and we will never have to be alone. Now, “being alone feels like a problem that needs to be solved. And so people try to solve it by connecting.” This connecting, however, has led us to feel as if we aren’t ourselves without it, resulting in an inability to find comfort in solitude.
Turkle’s TEDtalk ended with an uplifting hope for using “digital technology, the technology of our dreams, to make this life the life we can love.” However, her earlier points were painfully true—even while listening to the talk, I found myself absentmindedly looking at my phone, and frequently throughout the day I scroll through social media in an empty attempt to feel connected to others. At night, when I should be resting or enjoying solitude, I look at my phone until I fall asleep. Though I enjoy engaging in face to face conversation, when having an argument, I sometimes prefer to text instead of engaging in person. This talk was in 2012; it’s been seven years, and I wonder how much more engrossed we are with our technology now than we were then.