Do we spend too much time on our cell phones, and do these interactions get in the way of real human companionship?
Sherry Turkle, a psychologist who has studied the effect of digital technology on human interactions, believes that cell phones and computers offer an unhealthy constant connection without any of the real responsibilities or inherent messiness of real human interactions.
“Our devices are so psychologically powerful that they don’t only change what we do,” Turkle says, “they change who we are.”
In a speech to the TED conference, Turkle explains that text messages, Facebook status updates and other micro-interactions allow us to exercise unhealthy control over our day-to-day relationships. Individuals avoid person-to-person interactions in favor of text-based digital interactions because they can control these digital experiences more fully. Turkle calls this the Goldilocks effect–people want their interactions to be not too close, not too far away, but just right.
Technology allows us to delete, alter and change our discussions with other people to build the exact image of ourselves that we want. We sacrifice conversation, because conversation can lead to unexpected circumstances and discomfort. Turkle notes that this has a negative effect on our ability to convey empathy and other emotions.
“We’re developing robots that are specifically designed to be companions to the elderly, to our children, to us,” said Turkle. “Have we so lost confidence that we can be there for each other?”
Turkle believes that the best way to emphasize real human connections over digital relationships is not to completely abstain from text messages or other technologies–after all, she opens her speech by reading a text message she had received from her daughter moments before she went on stage–but rather to create tech-free zones at work, home and school. Parents especially should insist on family meals without any sort of digital interference.
Ultimately, communications technologies offer great rewards along with some notable risks. By spending too much time connected to our online personae, we can certainly disconnect from one another. It’s important to remember that the purpose of technology is to help our real-world lives and not vice-versa.