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  • Sean

Don't Call, Just Text Me Back

"So we move away from the slower pace, where you have to wait, listen, and let your mind go over things. We move away from the pace of human conversation. And so conversations without agenda, where you discover things as you go along, become harder for us. We haven't stopped talking, but we opt out, often unconsciously, of the kind of conversation that requires full attention. Every time you check your phone in company, what you gain is a hit of stimulation, a neurochemical shot, and what you lose is what a friend, teacher, parent, lover, or co-worker just said, meant, felt." - Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation

These words welcome us upon opening Turkle's book Reclaiming Conversation and of course they ring true. If you own a smart phone I think you can quickly recall a time, recently even, where you were distracted by the companion at your side. The buzz, the blink, the screen lighting up. It's been nagging me for a while now. My own reliance and addiction. Having spent years practicing mindfulness even today I catch myself in moments of being completely lost and sucked into the phone's realm to check e-mail, updates, send a text, or whatever else can distract me from the here and now.

Where do we as humans stand on the side of these technologies? They have, within the last ten years, completely hijacked our brains. Perhaps humanity will look back at this time as the dawn of the cyborgs as we carry these devices around that slowly shift our reliance on ourselves to the devices and technology. Turkle's style in this book is to pose these questions to individuals. Rather than sitting back and relying on all of the latest science, she goes out and interviews people. Young people, old people, people who are dating, working, or just trying to communicate. Each example brings forth more personal memories; people speaking from their own hearts recognize the shift and harm we seem to be doing. Consider these examples given:

On neighbours,

"In the olden days, people were friends with their neighbors. They weren't friends with people who lived ten miles away. So nowadays, people aren't so close with their neighbors. Their friends don't live close by. And there's more traveling, and you're associated with people everywhere, but in the olden days, you basically knew what you were familiar with. Your town, your people. Now if you don't have your phone, you are alone ... People used to know their neighbors; now all you've got is your phone."

On self-reflection,

"As long as I have my phone, I would never just sit alone and think ... When I have a quiet moment, I never just think. My phone is my safety mechanism from having to talk to new people or letting my mind wander. I know that this is very bad ... but texting to pass the time is my way of life."

On children in school from a teacher's perspective,

"When they hurt each other, they don't realize it and show no remorse. When you try to help them, you have to go over it and over with them, to try to role-play why they might have hurt another person. And even then, they don't seem sorry. They exclude each other from social events, parties, school functions, and seem surprised when others are hurt. One time, everyone was talking about a concert that one student hadn't gone to, right in front of this girl - she didn't have the money for the tickets - but they went on and on. She had tears in her eyes.

They are not developing that way of relating where they listen and learn how to look at each other and hear each other."

I picture my own relationship with technology and remember a time before cell phones. Having to confront people, or not. Having to relate to individuals face-to-face. The thought that children are now able to avoid these ways of empathic growth should be a concern to everyone. We really don't know where this leads long-term.

The book overall, highly recommended, can be sobering. It should lead to reflection on the time we spend with devices and open us to up to ways to become more mindful of life around us. The people around us. Without hijacking this entire post about mindfulness, I find myself fortunate enough to have found it years ago and now be able to recognize the pull of technology and my own relationship from the standpoint of an observer. It doesn't prevent the pull, or from me getting sucked in, but it helps to notice. To recognize the pull and perhaps work a little bit harder to avoid it. To see the impact it has on my life and thereby lead to ways to unravel the web.

Spending more time around the people at work and getting up from my chair and walking the floor a bit more. Interacting a bit more rather than checking e-mail or checking social media. Small steps. It's always about the small habits we can then build into something larger. Technology is ahead of us on this one. It starts with one like and suddenly we are fully locked in trying to chase likes or shape how our perception is online.

The book ends on an even sobering thought and one that left me feeling uncomfortable. Where does this lead? We move down the path towards artificial intelligence and robotics in hopes of making our lives easier and more efficient but what are we giving up? The optimistic view is that all of these robots in our lives will make things easier so we have more time to spend with each other; it doesn't seem to be the case yet with phone but perhaps it takes time for us to get there. The alternative view is that robots are also taking over the jobs where some people find their regular human interaction. The barista at Starbucks, the teller at the grocery store or the owner of the book store. How long before all of these jobs have lost their human element so that we get our coffee and groceries a fraction quicker. I'll leave you with this story from the book that hit me square in the feelings:

"...I thought of all the years I went shopping with my grandmother as I grew up and all the relationships she had with tradespeople at every store: the baker, the fishmonger, the fruit man, the grocery man (for this is what we called them). These days, we all know that the job the man at the checkout counter does could be done by a machine. In fact, down the street at another supermarket, it is done by a machine that automatically scans your groceries. And so I shared this thought: Until a machine replaces the man, surely he summons in us the recognition and respect you show a person. Sharing a few words at the checkout may make this man feel that in his job, this job that could be done by a machine, he is still seen as a human being."


Let me know your thoughts if you have had a chance to read this one or just about the topic in general. Have you seen your own conversations dwindle at the rise of technology? Perhaps some are more prone to it; is it a safe speculation to say that introverts may be more inclined to revert into the world of technology faster?

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