Book Review: Reclaiming Conversation
The Power of Talk in a Digital Age
By Sherry Turkle
Imagine a terrifying, dystopian world whose occupants would rather converse electronically, even with their lovers and children, than face to face. In this bleak wasteland, a common refrain is, “I’d rather text than talk.”
That terrifying world is ours. In her captivating chronicle of a society that might be texting itself to death, Sherry Turkle, founder/director of MIT’s Initiative on Technology and the Self, reveals through jaw-droppingly candid interviews the frequency with which—and the universality and unnerving eagerness with which—basic human interactions such as news sharing, sex seeking, friend making, and fight settling now occur online.
Forming a fervent chorus, dire in its uniformity, interviewees assert their panic-stricken intolerance for solitude, risk, friction, vulnerability, waiting, unitasking, boredom, and uncertainty.
The price of ever-more-adept technology is a massive emotional, civilizational shift: a society-wide loss of empathy, spontaneity, honesty, fantasy, creativity, self-awareness, eloquence, connectedness, patience, and other fundamental skills that millions already “no longer can summon.”
When every encounter’s a calculated, Photoshopped performance; when “friends” are anonymous strangers prized for quantity, not quality; when parties consist of guests seeking other, better parties online; when family meals and dinner dates are silent but for the sounds of fingers on phones; when Siri is thought to have a soul; when real-life partners are discarded because countless potentially more attractive ones await online—that’s when we cease being “human to each other,” Turkle warns plaintively, with the urgency of the oracle at Delphi.
That’s when technology has made us “forget what we know about life.”