Being an early 80s baby growing up in Eastern Canada, I am of the generation that grew up with the first computer labs. Kid Pix and Pac Man on the school MacIntosh computers were weekly highlights in my upper elementary years. I also remember being so proud when I made my way through the frustration of semicolons and accidental spaces and finally got my arrow to turn from upwards to sideways in grade 11 computer science. I remember thinking, I went through all that frustration for that!
Fast forward to the 21st century and technology is such a part of my life as a mom, teacher, entrepreneur, daughter, friend etc. If it weren’t for people that fell in love with coding and switching the direction of arrows, we wouldn’t have much of our everyday technological comforts. So I am certainly not going to argue that technology is not good for us, but I think it’s important that we are aware that sometimes being constantly connected is actually hindering our ability to benefit from true human connection.
Human connection interests me. As an educator and trainer, I believe that much of the best learning is done as a result of the relationships formed. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will remember the ‘Everyone Needs a Champion’ post which highlighted the late Rita Pierson who strongly believed that ‘children don’t learn from people they don’t like.’ She strongly felt and thought that in order to impact a child’s life it was important to connect through relationship with that child.
So how does all this relate to technology? I recently watched Cherry Turkle’s outstanding 2012 TED talk entitled, ‘Connected, but Alone?” My first thought was how the heck did it take me three years to come across this talk? My second thought was, the content of this talk is probably even more relevant in 2015 than it was in 2012 as my What’s App is filled with instant messages and voice messages that are recorded and sent in lieu of a phone conversation.
Throughout this talk Turkle highlights that our devices are changing who we are and what we do. She describes the Goldilocks effect, where communication can be ‘not too close, not too far, but just right.’ Technology allows us to put control over where we put our attention. It allows us to customize our lives. We can decide when we want to share, how we want to share, when or if we want to respond and how or if we will respond. Although this may seem empowering, it significantly decreases the amount of conversation that occurs. Rather than conversation, we have bits of text that happen over periods of time that do not really add up to a full conversation.
Turkle highlights that conversation happens in real time. Although technology may provide sips of conversation that can share important information; telling someone you are thinking about them or even love them, these sips do not necessarily add up to conversation. With real conversation, you do not have the same ability to control what you are going to say. Conversation is not like texting, posting or emailing where we can present ourselves the way we want to be by editing and retouching until the image that we want to present is just right. She highlights that human relationships are rich, they are messy and they are demanding, but when we clean them up we lose much of the benefits of these human relationships.
As a society, we may have gotten used to having automatic listeners through social media, but we are also getting short changed out of real conversation. Turkkle highlighted that technology allows us to put our attention where we want, to always be heard and to never be alone. This leads her to emphasise the trend of moving towards robots and technological devices that can provide empathy and compassion. After all, wouldn’t Siri make a great Best Friends with a few tweaks here and there?
I challenge you to think about this for a moment. I challenge you to become more aware or yourself and the impact that your devices may be having on your life. Are they helping or hindering your human connections with your spouses, your children, your friends?
When I think of my life I’m thankful that technology can keep me connected to loved ones near and far. Like many others in my life, I lead a busy life, and technology allows me to stay connected with quick bits of conversation, and let loved ones know that I am thinking of them. However, Turkle’s talk put into words many of my thoughts about technology and human connection, and it was a timely reminder of the importance of true, unedited, real time, real life conversation!