We all know we’re paying a price for the popularity of smart phones.
We’ve lost privacy.
We’ve lost the ability to be unconnected.
We’ve lost time, hours of it, due to Candy Crush.
But maybe the price is even higher than we realized. At least, that feeling stuck with me after reading Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. It’s a well-researched passionate diatribe against the effects phones have on our conversational skills, especially those of teens and millennials.
Author Sherry Turkle isn’t just anybody: she’s a professor at MIT in Social Studies of Science and Technology and she’s been studying the relationships between people and tech for over thirty years. The argument she’s making is based on years of research, albeit mostly sociological research and less statistics and cold hard facts.
In the book, she paints a picture of teens and twenty-something who will do anything to avoid a personal conversation, because they lack the skills to pull this off. College students who much rather email professors than speak to them. Job applicants who send in strong letters, but fail miserably at personal interviews. Couples who have decided to ‘fight’ via chat rather than in talks.
But there’s more. What struck me most is that it’s more than conversational abilities teens are losing, They’re also not developing skills and traits we acquire through conversations, like empathy. It’s in face-to-face conversations that we experience how our actions and words affect others, way more than in texts for instance—despite the use of emoticons. Research shows teens’ empathy levels are declining and that they go up after spending just a few days in a device-free summer camp. That’s plain shocking.
The cause is not just teens spending way too much time on their phones. It’s also the world around them that has lost interest in personal connection, like their parents who rather spend time on their phones than talking to their kids. It’s their friends who can’t be pulled away from their phones, not even when they’re doing something together. And Turkle describes many more causes and incidents—all slowly opening our eyes to see just how damaging our phone habits are.
I’m still processing the content of this book, to be fair, since I’ve just finished it. But I would love to have a conversation about this. Do we recognize this lack of conversational skills in ourselves, in teens, in others? Have we ourselves started to avoid personal conversations, instead resorting to text or chat? How is our level of empathy?
I really recommend reading Reclaiming Conversation. It’s not the easiest read, as Turkle has a bit of a philosophical tendency and is a bit on the long-winded side. But man, this book will challenge your perspective and give you something to think about.
When you’re ready, let’s talk. In the comments 🙂