Yesterday I saw a woman looking down at her phone as she walked down the sidewalk only stopping when she hit the caution tape that prevented her from stumbling into a construction area. It was only when the tape physically pushed against her that she looked up and was surprised to see torn up cement slabs blocking her path. This somewhat comical occurrence made me immediately think of Sherry Turkle’s title Alone Together for here was a person completely within her own world texting away without realizing what was happening in present reality.
Technology is often described in hyperbole terms as the ultimate salvation or the end of civilization as we know it, but like most things it is not so black and white. Turkle bemoans the loss of close personal relationships with other living beings, but never outright says technology will doom us all. For her it is a critical question of authenticity with the view that technology mediated relationships are replacing authentic human ones. One reason given for this shift is because person-to-person “authentic” relationships are simply too hard to maintain (Turkle, 17).
While the definition of authenticity can be argued and hence the quotation marks, it is a rather disturbing thought that people want to use technology so that they can stop putting effort into a relationship. Technology as a replacement, not as an aid, of a relationship is a problem because it serves as an excuse- an excuse to not take care of an elderly parent, an excuse to not pay attention to your child, an excuse to not pay attention to the people in your life who need it the most. Turkle touches on this when telling the story of the elderly Miriam who was lonely because her son had stopped seeing her and consequently was being comforted by a robotic seal (8). No robot, no matter how cute and responsive it may be, can fully replace a pre-existing relationship. Similarly, the hurt that is caused by real relationships will not go away if that relationship is replaced via technology.
Rather than seeing this as an example of why people should swear off personal relationships with other humans, I see it as an illustration of society requiring a much needed discussion on personal and cultural beliefs when it comes to taking care of others. Technology can help us build better relationships and given enough research and testing, could potentially increase our levels of compassion for each other. Too much technology is bad, especially for child development, but if used conscientiously and deliberately then the authenticity of relationships may in fact be strengthened, not eroded.
 Overconsumption of TV, video games, and Internet has been found to delay children’s development, hurting both motor skills and one’s attention span (Rowan, “Unplug-Don’t Drug: A Critical Look at the Influence of Technology on Child Behavior With an Alternative Way of Responding Rather Than Evaluation and Drugging,” 2010).