The last day I saw my father before he passed away, he said, “Let’s have a conversation!” We used to talk late at night at the kitchen table while drinking tea. Those conversations meant everything to me. Lately I have been wondering about connections, conversation, if connecting to everyone is connecting to no one, and how it all ties together in a technological age. I decided to research it and found this great Ted Talk by M.I.T professor and psychologist Dr. Sherry Turkle
First, Dr. Turkle has a beautiful necklace, which looks like a vintage Miriam Haskell. Recently a friend of mine from a high-powered law firm told me that of three hopefuls her boss hired the one who was best dressed as it suggested a certain attention to detail. Dr.Turkle, a body of detailed research behind her, has important things to say. She studies robots, devices and the effects of technology on human relations.
"What I'm seeing is that people get so used to being short-changed out of real conversation, so used to getting by with less, that they've become almost willing to dispense with people altogether. We connect more and more. But in the process, we set ourselves up to be isolated. Our fantasies of substitution have cost us.”
The key word here is substitution. If technology facilitates avoidance of real interaction, in the end one may feel more alone, depressed, anxious or malcontent. Some people use technology to deepen and enhance meaningful relationships; others use it to substitute for them. The latter can backfire. Psychologically speaking, an avoidant person is better off confronting and overcoming the negative stimulus. One is more likely to feel empowered, confidant, free and poised to find a lasting solution if one faces fears.
In the recent Spike Jones movie Her with Amy Adams and Joaquin Phoenix, a vulnerable man falls in deeply in love with a virtual woman. Great film and I won’t give it away but the relationship does not work out. Awkward, flawed, in-the-flesh interaction is presented as the preferable option in the end.
We all know how great technology is and how it is here to stay. We all appreciate the efficiency, the entertainment and the capacity to spread the word fast so a revolution can occur or a kidnapping can be aborted. Medical breakthroughs via technology continue to save lives.
So what’s the problem? Why do we need to have a conversation about the risks? Because there are risks, as always with new developments. Awareness of pros and cons for any situation opens up a dialogue that hones, refines and helps.
Dr. Turkle talks about lack of self-reflection. Time to gather, take stock, garner insight, pause, breathe and just be is an antidote to stress. Sunday rest or Friday Shabbos used to be incorporated into everyday living, for good reason. It moved us towards that which mattered.
Tech overload creates mental exhaustion and malaise. Unplugging protects the mind. Meaningful conversations with others boosts mood. The latter naturally occurs when we check out of tech and check in with one another.
In a recent blog I said that faster is not always better as it gives one that much more to do. Things can start to feel unmanageable. It is impossible to catch up. As poet W.S. Merwin said, “The idea is that the faster you do it, the more you accomplish. But that’s not true. The faster you do it, the more you are expected to provide and so the speed becomes a kind of slavery.”
Empathy, compassion and true feeling diminish when we are over-programmed, over-driven and have no time for spontaneous, incidental, improvised experiences or play. Conversations are a form of play. Dr. Peter Gray, child psychologist has addressed play in his Psychology Today blog:
In our book The Creativity Cure: How to Build Happiness with Your Own Two Hands, my husband Alton and I offer a Five Part Prescription plus Two = Seven Antidotes, which combat the cultural malaise technology engenders.
The Five are:
1. Insight (Awareness via writing)
2. Movement (Physical Activity)
3. Mind Rest (Unplug and Do Nothing or Hang out with Someone You Like)
4. Your Own Two Hands (Get Back Into Your Body by Making Stuff)
5. Mind Shift (Do the First Four to Have a More Positive Outlook)
The Plus Two are:
2. True Connections (Meaningful Relationships are the Crux of Health and Success)
The above Seven Antidotes address human needs in a time of technological immersion. Since technology has taken away personal time you may not be in a position to embrace all the steps fully. But just think about them, try one out for five minutes and join the conversation. Awareness begets change and discourse can help us harness technology and create a better balance.