Technology and Human Distance

A recent book review in the New York Times of Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together summarizes how the widespread use of technology has influenced human relationships. In a nutshell, Turkle finds that as we come to expect machines and the internet to make our lives easier, we then rely less on other human beings. Essentially, technology makes people more and more remote from each other.

The most significant line in the article deserves to be reprinted here:

“[Turkle writes about the] notion that technology offers the illusion of companionship without the demands of intimacy, while actually making people feel lonelier and more overwhelmed.”

Over-reliance on technology shapes our relationships with others, sometimes resulting in a skewed social life. For example, it’s understandable that a person might prefer text messaging or internet chatting over the telephone or face to face interaction because these mediums allow us to briefly connect. But, we don’t want to lose other forms of more in depth communication. If we don’t exercise our ability to connect more deeply to those around us, then we lose that ability. What’s worse is how this effect is introduced to the younger generations at an early age, potentially stunting their ability to intimately communicate to others.

Here are some ways to counteract the negative effects of our technology:

  1. Go back to making phone calls or at list mix it up with texts. Practice reacting immediately to what the person with whom you’re talking says.
  2. Welcome small talk throughout your day. Sometimes small talk with others, like fellow commuters, even servers or baristas in cafes and restaurants. If you can get used to frequent, low-pressure conversation, you’ll find yourself more able to speak freely when face-to-face conversation is more important.
  3. Slow it down. For example, when cooking, stay away from the instant meals. Set aside time to make a meal from start to finish at a leisurely pace. This will help you enjoy your time and your food more and not grow to expect “instant” meals. This is healthier and primes you to be able to slow down with others when it matters.
  4. Don’t think you have to have all the latest technologies all of the time. It’s easy to feel entitled to, for example, WiFi on an airplane, but if it’s not on your plane, make sure you bring a book and a laptop or tablet to keep you busy. Or better yet, take a nap.

Real human attachment is far more important than how many internet friends you have or how many text messages you sent last month. Make the effort to reach out and hold onto treasured others in your life. Old fashioned connection is still the likely road to happiness.

What are your thoughts on technology and human distance?

JS

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