Sherry Turkle thinks that technology will be the downfall of us all. On the surface, she seems to have some very valid points, even if she does have trouble backing them up with empirical data. The main evidence for her argument has come from a multitude of anecdotal evidence, however. None of it is particularly telling, since it was filtered through her and is undoubtedly biased by her (the example of the children in the museum not being impressed with turtles that Darwin studied, something that they probably didn’t understand the importance of and had no frame of reference for contemplating was a particularly frustrating example). Still, she raises some good points, and introduces some uncomfortable topics, particularly for somebody of our generation. Has texting really turned us into mindless zombies, unable to look each other in the eye or communicate in any way that doesn’t involve our thumbs? Do we fear human interaction? Or has texting and digital communication simply allowed us to be more in contact with one another?
Every one of us can think of at least one person who seems to communicate solely through the internet or their phone. They prefer online interactions to in-person ones, and spend more time sitting and staring at a screen than can be entirely healthy. However, it seems unfair to say that communicating digitally is changing the world for the worse. After all, texting, e-mailing, or instant messaging are not so different than writing a letter, sending a telegram, or sending a fax. They just happen faster, and communication can take place more quickly and be more widespread. Loners and introverts have always existed. They now just have a way of expressing themselves without putting themselves into positions that they think are awkward or uncomfortable.
On the flip side, however, is the fact that people seem less willing to talk to strangers or acquaintances. Any awkward conversation or contact can be avoided by burying yourself in your phone and texting a friend. But what good is that if your friend is in another town, state, or country? Maintaining relationships over distances is easier than ever, but beginning relationships seems to stagnate. If you can talk to somebody you have known for years and have a lot in common with, there is little motivation to talk to somebody you have known for twenty minutes and have nothing in common with. However, getting somebody’s phone number or friending them on Facebook opens new channels for dialog, and can facilitate communication.
Turkle has some valid points, but they seem defeatist. She isn’t acknowledging the benefits of increased communication, just complaining that people of the younger generation have misplaced ideals and are unable to communicate “properly”. Basically, she has the stereotypical complaint of “kids these days”, which is the same complaint her parents probably had about her when she was on the phone for hours as a teenager. She turned out fine. So will we.