Alone Together

| January 31, 2013

The title sounded encouraging.

Maybe it would be a seminar on going to the driving range, oneness of golf ball and man, in a neat symmetric row of men, clubs and white golf balls, slightly used and marked “Practice” just in case anyone thought those shots really count toward some score, the ball tells you otherwise that is only “Practice”. Or perhaps playing a round of golf as a onesome when schedules don’t work out.

Perhaps some of lifes mysteries would be explained.

Perhaps the discussion would revolve around our daily commutes, in our boxes of steel that run on roads, rails or air.

It turns out the invitation was for a discussion at our elementary school, given by the author of Alone TogetherSherry Turkle, an MIT professor who studies and writes about how technology has become the architect of our intimacies.  Dr. Turkle makes the argument that this relentless connection leads to a new solitude.  As technology ramps up, our emotional lives ramp down.

A clip of her TED talk “Connected, but alone?” is below.

It was a pleasure to hear her speak about many years worth of work and countless interviews (in person of course) and observations about how mobile and other technologies, online personas and interactions have caused us, as a society to lose the art of cursive writing, note taking and conversation with our friends, family and children.

StarbucksAs I write this, I am at a Starbucks in downtown Charlotte.  Within a few feet  I am surrounded by 5 individuals with Macbooks, headphones, iPads, cell phones, music players and one person that if I did not know better was reading an actual book, specifically on “How to Win at Craps”.  Need to add this to my 2013 list of books to read.

A few tables away there is a job interview underway with 1 interviewee, 2 interviewers and 3 iPads.

Down from them are 3 guys talking about their new business with 3 laptops, 4 cell phones and dozen more ideas about logos, website designs and pricing models.

I get it.  We are plugged into our devices, virtual worlds, many of our “conversations” are 140-character “tweets”, or shorter texts or slightly longer e-mail questions and responses.

Watch the car next to you at the next red light or the person at the checkout counter in the grocery store.  We check for updates, messages, e-mails, texts, status changes, hourly weather reports, sports scores and schedules, movie times, or we are providing content to our “friends”, “followers” or “contacts”.

The question is are we losing the art of conversation and real human contact or using common place technologies, online services & methods of communication to enhance communication and contact?

I would argue the latter.

A social pathologist is still someone who will look at your shoes rather than his own when making “eye contact” with you.

Do these short messages and updates negate the need for real conversation or provide a substrate for conversation, shared opportunity and eventually, perhaps a face-to-face communication with another carbon life form?

Have these new mediums made the art of communication and connectivity simply different but enhanced without being disruptive?

Isn’t the idea to exchange information, ideas, thoughts and updates that keep us connected in ways not possible with telegram or in-person meetings recorded with cursive notes or shorthand?

I would argue that the virtual connections lead to real connections and maintain relationships beyond transactional events that occur monthly, quarterly or yearly or many years apart.

I understand we are connected to our world in ways that may minimize the chance meeting when someone is consumed in their personal computer, music and apps.

Perhaps much like when people read newspapers and buried themselves  under a 3-foot wide teepee of content.

I asked the gentlemen next to me at the coffee shop how the book “How to Win at Craps” was.

He said he didn’t want to talk about it. Perhaps he was late checking his LinkedIn profile.

As we expect more from technology, do we expect less from each other?

Category: Pathology News

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