Dear Fancy Lacy Community,
Last week, I stopped by the library and picked up an interesting book titled Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle. The author talks about the role of technology in, what she calls, a “flight from conversation” – the diminishing face-to-face interactions in which the parties involved are both, physically and mentally present. The book hit the bull’s eye. As if speaking on my behalf, it grasps perfectly the way I feel about the world of tablets and smartphones we’re living in, especially my feelings of worry and sadness for the younger generations. So, today’s post will address a few issues and concerns raised in the book. Perhaps – and hopefully – you won’t identify with all of them. The fewer, the better! The chances are, though, that you will think about other people you know – and quite a few people, may I add.
Human beings are fundamentally social creatures, with conversation being the most basic medium that satisfies our hunger for social interactions. And today, we have an unprecedented diversity of means to fulfill this innate longing. We can be miles and time zones away from each other, yet with Skype and FaceTime we get to feel as connected as if we were in the same room. Ironically, though, this very connectedness and the sense of closeness come at the cost of disconnecting us in a subtle, sneaky fashion. How? Let’s see.
- We cannot help the desire to be elsewhere.
Isn’t it astonishing that we reach for our phones even when we are in the company of people with whom we genuinely enjoy spending time? It’s like being in the “here and now” is no longer enough, we seem to have an urgent need to be up-to-date with what other people are doing, which these days is immediately shared on social media. So, yes, we may feel more connected – to the fellow Facebook dwellers – but our attention is subtracted from our immediate environment. According to the book, “average American adults check their phones every six and a half minutes”. After reading that, I started analyzing my relationship with my iPhone and realized that, perhaps, we’re a little too close. Not even two years ago I was a proud owner of a Samsung G600 and an advocate of a “simpler phone for a simpler life” philosophy. And I used to get really upset when my husband’s gaze was locked on the screen of his phone while I was trying to make conversation. Who am I to preach any more? From now on, I intend to watch and keep my why-don’t-I-pick-up-my-phone-out-of-boredom impulse under better control.
- Multi-tasking is the new given.
We’re torn between “here” and “elsewhere” and can no longer concentrate on doing one thing at a time. One of the following scenarios is frequently at play: we talk and text, talk and browse the net, text and browse the net, or do all three at the same time. In our chase after the highest speed and volume of interactions, we go back and forth between the apps, and in and out of our conversations. We find it hard to settle for what has seemingly become an inefficient use of time, i.e. a non-fragmented, mutually reciprocated face-to-face conversations with friends and family. My husband and I both find it frustrating when one of us unexpectedly exits during a meaningful conversation to check email or a text. Are we not worth each other’s full attention? We are. I guess the desire to see who’s reaching out to you may be worth just a little more.
- Our devices “spare” us from boredom and solitude.
When I happen to be alone, it’s my chance to enjoy the silence. I get sufficient TV exposure when my husband is around, and otherwise prefer to go about my business in silence. The book refers to solitude as time for “mind-wandering”. I’ve never thought about it that way until I actually started noticing how the most bizarre memories would surface in my mind in the moments of my silent self-reflection. I was cooking one day and suddenly recalled my friend Julia’s grandmother telling me a funny story about Julia’s childhood. How random is that? I heard this story over five years ago and have hardly thought about it again, but somehow my mind brought it up for my amusement. And perhaps it’s such a small thing, but travelling back in time and reliving that moment – as I was munching on homemade Russian cabbage pirozhki on a hot summer afternoon – brought warmth to my heart.
The moral of the story: sometimes instead of looking outside – on your tablet, phone or TV – it’s worth turning inward and spending a quiet time alone with your thoughts and memories. Seriously – you never know what may cross your mind, so surprise yourself! A bit of mind-wandering and self-reflection won’t hurt; if anything, you may end up feeling more in touch with yourself and others around you. Oh, and one more thing: we don’t always have to be doing something – especially if the “something” in question involves using our phones. Less can be more.
Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age is readily available for purchase on Amazon; you can also check at your local library.
Thank you for reading,