In Professor Sherry Turkle’s TED Talk, “Connected, but alone?” she grapples with the central paradox of the modern influx of social networking technology across nearly every living generation: what has originally assisted us in connecting with other people may ironically lead to the demise of our socialization altogether. Unfortunately, specifically in the Millennial generation, her contention about our seemingly unending use of cellphones and social media may be correct, and the repercussions of our reliance on technology as a substitute for genuine human connection may be catastrophic. Indeed, as its impacts transcend far beyond merely the avenues through which we send and receive basic information, our contemporarily proliferative use of social media may lead to such cruel ramifications as both decayed conversational skills and marred interpersonal relationships.
By ignoring—or simply lingering in our obliviousness of—a true conversation’s enduring benefits, including both strengthening our ongoing relationships and helping us to ascertain the most effective methods of self-conversation, we endanger the trait we may need most: our potential for growth, individually and in relationships. Turkle states that “human relationships are rich[,] … messy[,] and … demanding,” and thus, by hiding any pauses, stutters, or reconsiderations behind the cellphone screen, we pare our thoughts and emotions down to abbreviations and emoticons (7:05). Furthermore, by failing to convey the very idiosyncrasies of our contemplations, when we elect to converse via text message, we ultimately lose the essence of a meaningful, worthwhile conversation: our deliberation before our self-expression. Likewise, when we rely upon text messages and other comparable media to impart such powerful personal emotions as love and grief, we fail to express the vulnerability that, for the entirety of time, packaged itself within such communication, and we forget the necessity of losing total personal control in conversation and fostering interdependence with our loved ones. Reliant on artificial communication, we resort to being “alone together,” linked only by physical proximity (4:04). Indeed, from the contemporary proliferation of social technology, we have learned to never be alone, but instead, to be lonely, vulnerable, and yet inexpressive (14:29). Hence, the advantages of unendingly expanding communication technology—conversational privacy and a choice of from whom we receive information—are far outmatched by those of person-to-person discussion, such as greater interdependence, through which we all may better grow both individually and in our relationships.
Unfortunately, we, people living in a world of rapidly redesigned technology and nouveaux technological techniques for social connection, rely on artificial communication as our primary—and often sole—mode of conversation, and this newfangled cultural adaptation to ever-flowing, disingenuous “sips” of conversation may ultimately lead to unsustainable and insincere relationships (7:32). As, according to Turkle’s observations, cellphone use permeates nearly every social occasion, be it a funeral, a meal, or an afternoon with friends, it is apparent that people of the modern era have adapted to contemporary social technology by substituting it with legitimate, person-to-person interaction (2:59). The harsh consequences of our modern allegiance to communicative technology, however, should be cause for the billions of Facebook and Twitter members across the world presently casting away their potential for quality communication to delete—or, at least, deactivate—their accounts, set down their electronic devices, and simply delight in the newfound time for togetherness with friends or family found in the hours that had been previously devoted to mindlessly scrolling through news feeds. And yet, the majority of us remain, as always, unabashedly occupied by our cell phones and computers, steadfastly awaiting a new update on our news feeds, an unread text message, or a recently published tweet, to satisfy our momentary need for transmitting and acquiring information, while we overlook our deep-rooted necessity for genuine interpersonal conversation.
Throughout her speech, Turkle binds our hands, forcing us to face our own interpersonal dysfunction and decide our conversational destiny: should we follow the current progression of social technology that has given us the capability to artificially and unempathetically connect to the outside world, or are we bound to find a new alternative, a newfound mindfulness—and, perhaps, dismissiveness—towards our devices, in order to make time for genuine relationships? Surely, for the sake of continued personal and relational growth, we must urgently consider the latter as a ready solution to our present technological crisis, as our inactivity in the face of the deterioration of our rapports will only lead to further depreciation of all of our interpersonal connections.
Perhaps, in the long run, the moments we dedicate to sipping black tea, under blankets, in the company of close friends and closer conversation, as far away from cellphones as possible, may actually be worth missing an update or two.