Conversation is Turkle’s organizing principle because so much of what constitutes humanity is threatened when we replace it with electronic communication. Conversation presupposes solitude, for example, because it’s in solitude that we learn to think for ourselves and develop a stable sense of self, which is essential for taking other people as they are. (If we’re unable to be separated from our smartphones, Turkle says, we consume other people “in bits and pieces; it is as though we use them as spare parts to support our fragile selves.”) Through the conversational attention of parents, children acquire a sense of enduring connectedness and a habit of talking about their feelings, rather than simply acting on them. (Turkle believes that regular family conversations help “inoculate” children against bullying.) When you speak to people in person, you’re forced to recognize their full human reality, which is where empathy begins. (A recent study shows a steep decline in empathy, as measured by standard psychological tests, among college students of the smartphone generation.) And conversation carries the risk of boredom, the condition that smartphones have taught us most to fear, which is also the condition in which patience and imagination are developed. –NYT Sept. 28, 2015
The Seattle Times summarizes Turkle’s research on the importance (and loss) of conversation in our lives:
Smartphones are ruining relationships. If you don’t agree, read Sherry Turkle’s “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital” Age and you’ll begin to see the corrosive impact on human communication lurking in your handheld device.
Turkle offers example after example of how digital communication has altered not just the way we convey information, but the emotional context as well. – Seattle Times, Oct. 11, 2015
Sherry Turkle’s advice on how to cultivate conversation in our overly digital world can be found in her interview with the Atlantic Magazine:
Turkle’s prescriptions: Carve out “sacred spaces” for conversation in day-to-day life—no devices at the dinner table, study and lounge spaces that are wi-fi free. Abandon the myth of multitasking for good—it is neither efficient nor conducive to empathy, she says—and instead embrace “unitasking,” one thing at a time. Resist the urge to see the smartphone as the universal tool that should replace everything. -The Atlantic, Oct. 2015
Do you want to find way for more conversation in your life?
Consider joining a Polis class to increase your opportunities for in-person conversation.