Talking Like Grownups

Talking Like Grownups October 9, 2015

Jonathan Franzen begins his NYTBR review of Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation by describing Turkle’s unique place among commentators on technical culture: “She’s a skeptic who was once a believer, a clinical psychologist among the industry shills and the literary hand-wringers, an empiricist among the cherry-picking anecdotalists, a moderate among the extremists, a realist among the fantasists, a humanist but not a Luddite: a grown-up.”

As a grownup, Turkle doesn’t approve the infantilization of relationships that technology permits. The “cleaner, less risky, less demanding” interactions we have with robots or across screens. She is dismayed at how quickly we “settle for the feeling of being cared for and, similarly, to prefer the sense of community that social media deliver, because it comes without the hazards and commitments of a real-world community.” There is a form of misanthropy at work, a “deep disappointment with human beings, who are flawed and forgetful, needy and unpredictable, in ways that machines are wired not to.” Mediated through technology, we don’t have to deal with the boredom that descends on live conversation; and, in Turkle’s words, “in bits and pieces; it is as though we use them as spare parts to support our fragile selves.”

Grownups converse, and that’s what Turkle urges, particularly within families, where she finds conversation on the wane: “According to Turkle’s young interviewees, the vicious circle works like this: ‘Parents give their children phones. Children can’t get their parents’ attention away from their phones, so children take refuge in their own devices. Then, parents use their children’s absorption with phones as permission to have their own phones out as much as they wish.’”

Turkle blames parents, and urges them to stop the cycle: “The most realistic way to disrupt this circle is to have parents step up to their responsibilities as mentors.”


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