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Alone Together

| February 8, 2011

by Jim Bruce

Sherry Turkle, the Abby Rockefeller Mauze Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, has a new book, “Alone Together.”  In the book, Turkle raises an interesting point about how we get and maintain each other’s attention in our always-on-connectivity culture.  

In one review – MITnews’ “The lonely crowd” by Peter Dizikes – we are challenged, the next time we are in a public space where families naturally gather, like a playground, or a kid’s soccer game, or a museum, to note how many parents are focused more on their mobile phones than on their kids.  In a similar vein, many high schoolers complained to Turkle of parents who enter the “blackBerry zone” and completely ignore them at meals.  And, we’ve noted people sitting around tables during a break at IT Leaders workshops focused on their mobile devices rather than interacting with each other. 

In Time Magazine’s Book Review of “Alone Together”, Lev Grossman notes about Turkle that “nobody has ever articulated so passionately and intelligently what we’re doing to ourselves by substituting technologically mediated social interaction … for the face-to-face kind.”

Turkle’s point is that the compulsive attention people give to their mobil devices is shaping social norms rather than social norms shaping how we use the technology.  She asks, why do we have to sacrifice sociality for currently popular application.  In a recent interview she argued that people do have the ability to make sure that technology is not controlling their lives.

Are you at a point where technology controls you more than you think appropriate?  Perhaps, it’s time to ask what change you can make (to reduce technology’s control) that requires no one’s permission, and intentionally make that change.  Maybe, you, like me, need to think a bit more about how to put technology in its place and keep it there.


.  .  .  .  .     jim