Sherry Turkle directs the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self and has written numerous books on human interaction with technology, including Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.” In an interview on the radio show On Being, Turkle shares ways—and whys—parents should model healthy relationships with technology for their children. The following is a summary of her findings, including quotes from the online transcript of the interview.
Ms. Sherry Turkle: “I don't have a crazy nostalgia for, you know, an unplugged life… I'm just saying that we have to ask ourselves really what is served by having an always-on, always-on you, open-to-anyone-who-wants-to-reach-us way of life? Because in my research, I've found that it actually cuts off conversations as much as it opens out conversations. So, for example, you can be too busy communicating to think...”
She deals with issues of personal time, interpersonal and inner connectedness, “aliveness,” intimacy, and privacy issues. Can we really tune in to nature’s tranquility, for example, when we walk along the beach with our earphones in, texting? Does it matter that children no longer care if a thing is truly “alive?”
She says we are living with an immature medium, and in a sense, WE have become ITS killer app. How? Because we are always on.
Turkle explains a line from her book, “‘Just because we grew up with the Internet, we think that the Internet is all grown up.’ That is that we think that we have a mature Internet in front of us, and we don't. We don't have a mature Internet in front of us. We're in the baby stages, and that's good because that means we can make it right.”
Turkle explains that while parents worry their children are too connected, their children report feeling the loss of their parents’ connection as well.
She was surprised at her research findings: “It ended up that it was a story of parents — as much a story of parents leaving their children feeling lonely and alone and modeling the very behavior that then they came to find irritating in their children….. In psychology, it says, ‘If you don't teach your children to be alone, they'll only always know how to be lonely.’ "
For healthy relationships, she encourages us to find times for being fully with each other:
“To make our life livable, we have to have spaces where we are fully present to each other or to ourselves, where we're not competing with the roar of the Internet and, quite frankly, where the people around us are not competing with the latest news off the Facebook status update.”
Her rules for setting limits, based on decades of research with new media and technology, are simple: Make moments to truly be with each other.
“It's dinner, it's sharing meals with your family, it's that moment at school pickup when your kid looks up and is trying to meet your eye. You know, you're looking down at your smartphone and your child is trying to meet your eye. I have enough data from children who're going through this experience to know that it's a terrible moment for them. It's on the playground…. I mean, be in the park. Be in the park with them…. Make it a moment. These are important moments.”
n Sherry Turkle was interviewed by Krista Tippett on the American Public Media program On Being (formerly Speaking of Faith). The full interview and rich resources (including podcasts, transcripts, and blogs about the show, entitled “Alive Enough?”) are available at http://being.publicradio.org/programs/2011/ccp-turkle/.