Every week I’ll be sharing what I read with you & please share with me what you are reading to inspire ✨each other and break out of our filter bubbles. What I’m reading 📖 this week: RECLAIMING CONVERSATION // Want to know more? Read on!
FROM DIGITAL FAN TO DIGITAL CRITIC
I'm doing research for my new book book on asking questions to create human connections and stumbled upon this wonderful book by Sherry Turkle.
Because she has done continuous research for several decades she has a great overview of how technology influences our lives. Starting out as a digital tech enthusiast she has become more critical and conscious about the impact of digital tech: "They don't only change what we do, but change who we are."
LOOSING THE ART OF CONVERSATION
Turkle shows in Reclaiming Conversation that one of the most troubling consequences of using digital technology for communication is our loss of conversation skills and our ability to empathise with others. How did this happen?
While we turn to our screens, 'we are forever elsewhere'. From Turkle's research emerges a society in which we flee from conversation. We don't seem to know anymore how to handle conversations which are open-ended and spontaneous, in which we allow ourselves to be fully present and vulnerable.
Studies have shown that the mere presence of a phone on the table changes what people talk about. It makes our conversations more superficial, acknowledging the fact that someone can be in and out of the conversation at any time.
A stunning fact for me was also the mention of a study showing that in the past 20 years there's been a FOURTY percent decline in the markers for empathy among college students. This was linked to the rise of digital communications.
Turkle argues that being connected is not the same as having a conversation: 'When we invest in conversation, we get a pay-off in self-knowledge, empathy and the experience of community. People require eye contact for emotional stability and social fluency.'
PARTIAL ATTENTION IS THE NEW NORMAL
Young people told Turkle they would like to have the attention of their friends and family during gatherings and meals, but that this has become an unrealistic expectation. 'Continuous partial attention' is the new normal.
These youngsters share: 'It's hard to ask someone to give you their undivided attention. It's very special when someone turns away from their text to turn to a person.' Undivided attention has become exotic.
A college student says: 'Striking up conversations with strangers goes against the norm and it takes so much work.' Why put in so much effort if you can have your friends at the tip of your fingers? Then, there's also the pressure to be available to your friends 24/7 in case of emergencies, like heartbreak or a bad grade.
It might seem now that this problem is mostly something for the younger generations. But actually kids and teens are complaining about parents being stuck at their phones too and dinner time has become a silent affair because parents have to check their work mails.
THE DESIRE FOR AN EDITED LIFE
Another interesting consequence of digital communications is that digital tech allows us to edit our lives continuously and broadcast it to the world outside. Which makes us to be in performance mode all the time: ready for our next Tweet, Insta, Snap, TikTok and WhatsApp message, putting on our best face.
The phone also works as a kind of security blanket: you never have to endure a bored moment or feel isolated. The phone will keep you busy and gives you a way to look busy. But this also takes away moments of self-reflection and to be silent within yourself. Turkle refers to the statement of comedian Louis C.K. below as an example of this self-awareness and being alone for a moment.
Sticky quotes from Sherry
There's so much interesting information and exciting thoughts in this book. Here are 8 quotes that stuck with me:
// On the value of face-to-face conversation as opposed to digital communications:
'Conversation is a kind of intimacy. You don't just get more information. You get different information.'
'Conversation isn't here to go faster, but to go deeper.'
'We underestimate how much we learn and read and take in of each other's breathing and body language and presence in a space. Breathing the same air matters.'
// On why it can be hard to convince others, like your boss, to have more face-to-face time:
'It is hard to measure the value of conversation with productivity metrics, especially in the short term.'
// On what to do with our phones when they can be so toxic:
'We don't have to give up our phones, but we have to use them more deliberately.'
'If a tool gets in the way of our looking at each other, we should use it only when necessary.'
// And some tips on how to re-organise our lives around more conversations:
'Let's trade casual Fridays for conversational Thursdays.'
'Unitasking is key to productivity and creativity. Conversation is a human way to practice unitasking.'
WANT MORE TURKLE?
Sherry has shared much of her work via books, talks (like the one below), academic articles. Check the website of Reclaiming Conversation for more info on this specific research topic.
Thank you Sherry for sharing your perspective on our relationship with digital tech. Truly inspiring!