Alone Together: Sherry Turkle

On “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me” Paula Poundstone describes her view of the neighborhood playground.

Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me Radio Show October 6, 2012


Right now, panel, time for you to answer some questions about this week’s news. Maz, according to a study by the Wall Street Journal, a rise in the number of minor injuries to children might be caused by what?

MAZ JOBRANI: It’s not computer related.

SAGAL: It is, actually.

JOBRANI: Oh, the parents are not paying attention.

SAGAL: Because they are?

JOBRANI: They’re driving while being on the phone. Texting while…

SAGAL: They’re texting while parenting.



SAGAL: This is a problem now.

PAULA POUNDSTONE: Does no one see it? Do you not see it right in front of your eyes? I don’t understand this stupid thing with the phones and the iPad and all that stuff. I don’t get it.


POUNDSTONE: It’s right in front of us and we don’t see it. You know what I mean? I mean, we live right near a park, and I watch people all day long, go by the park, doing this here, or talking on their phone. You know, while the kid is like hanging out of the carriage.


AMY DICKINSON: My mother, anyway, never paid any attention to me and she didn’t even have an excuse.


SAGAL: Yeah.

DICKINSON: It was like…

JOBRANI: Well if you get the kids an iPhone, you could text each other at least.

SAGAL: That’s true.


SAGAL: It’s like, “Mommy, I fell down a well.” Be right with you.


SAGAL: I mean parents who are too busy with their phones you’re not missing much. It’s like, “Yeah, I saw my baby’s third step. You know, it looked pretty much like the first.”


POUNDSTONE: And then the other thing is they have to take pictures of it and put it up. I don’t like that either. I’m sick of seeing the happy people’s children on the Facebook. I’m just sick of it.



SAGAL: It shouldn’t be surprising though, a lot of the parents who were texting while parenting were texting while conceiving as well, so…



Even though everyone is laughing, there is something important going on.  According to Sherry Turkle, Poundstone’s observations aren’t unusual.  Turkle, Professor of Social Studies of Science and Technology in MIT’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society and founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self,  has been studying how technology changes minds and hearts for many years.

Dr. Turkle was one of the keynote speakers at the 2012 Connected Health Symposium October 25 and 26 in Boston.

Turkle started her presentation with a quote by Winston Churchill, “We make buildings and then our buildings make and shape us.”  She thinks it may be the same with mobile phones, mobile technologies and computers.

Based on 15 years of research and hundreds of interviews with children, teens and adults, Turkle has concluded that we need to take a closer look at ourselves, especially when teens tell her “we’d rather text than talk.” Her new book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other documents her quest to understand the relationship we have with new technologies, especially with mobile devices.

In her talk, Turkle pondered changes in relationships among parents, children, sweethearts and friends.  Perhaps, Turkle asks, we have too close a connection with our machines, perhaps behind our incessant “connecting” lies loneliness.

Basically, her thesis is that we are so busy with our connections that we are neglecting each other.  When people text at meals, at funerals, at religious functions, what is really happening? she wonders.

She is most concerned about those who should be developing conversation skills.  Her findings suggest that  people are fearful of the give and take of conversation and may be substituting “mere connection” for conversation.  As one 18 year old told her that, “I can get everything I need from g-chat.” Another teen states, “When you text, you have more time.  On the telephone, too much might show.”  Her fear is that with text messaging, the collaboration, creativity and concentration of face-to-face communication is lost.

Adolescents are sharing between 3,500 and 10,000 texts per month.  From her many interviews, she surmises that many teens use texting to confirm their feelings.  Turkle is concerned about what is being lost during all the face time with a phone.  As one teenager stated, “Someday soon I want to learn to have a conversation” while another described her efforts to learn to “try to have eye contact while texting.”

If we don’t’ teach our children how to be alone, they only know how to be lonely, Turkle believes.

Turkle’s voice, at a conference about mobile technology and connection, was illuminating and powerful.  Her words were about “health” the central message of the symposium.  The Center for Connected-Health‘s welcome to Turkle’s research was tremendous. Those who work in connected-health and telemedicine truly desire improvement in the well-being of all.  With that in mind, her work sheds light on the human condition, the need not only for connection but also for intimacy.  It sheds light on the need for balance.

What are your thoughts?  


Dr. Turkle’s presentation made me wonder if there is a way for health communicators and believers in all the good that connected-health can bring to help us achieve balance.   Perhaps we could tweet messages like this…

“Stop texting and start talking!”

“Set aside “no technology times” with your loved ones, you’ll love the connection!”

“Turn off the phone, (or the computer), and give your child a hug!”

In the comments section provide some feedback.  If you voted yes, can you think of other messages?  If you voted no, what are your views on Dr. Turkle’s observations?


1 thought on “Alone Together: Sherry Turkle”

  1. I definitely find it to be disturbing. I work on the computer myself, but I definitely I have days of no technology whatsoever. I am unbalanced if I don’t do that. The screens are stimulation overload and become a crutch, a dependency. If I am on a deadline and I spend too much time on them I get headaches. I don’t feel the same way if I’m working a lot with pen/paper or with people in person. I think a lot of our ability to ascertain our surroundings, reflexes, intuition, compassion, communication and stress levels are affected negatively by too much screen time. I also think in some it creates a delusional mind-state especially for the set who experience so much through pictures taken on facebook and links in texts and things of that nature rather than actually listen to or getting to know the people they interact with on a personal level or sharing their own opinions, goals, preferences.

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