All Cellphones Off, Please

"I'm surrounded by people, but why do I feel so alone?" This quagmire sounds like something from an emo teenager's journal. And it probably is -- many times over -- but it's also the general conclusion of years of research by Sherry Turkle. In her latest book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, she dissects the contradiction: We are connected in multiple ways that even a decade ago seemed inconceivable (Facebook, Twitter, IM, smartphone, tablet, laptop, WiFi), but we feel lonely and disconnected because so much of our energy goes into the gadgets rather than the flesh and blood at the other end. In fact, she argues, we use them to keep each other at arm's length. Turkle, a clinical psychologist, spent 15 years researching and interviewing hundreds of people for a trilogy of books, of which Alone Together is the third. As her method suggests, she cites scientific data as well as anecdotal evidence. She examines teenagers who form their identities more through a type of persona-management via social media and less through self-exploration. She speaks with parents who believe text messaging with their children keeps them in better touch but also drains the relationships of substance. She cites Facebook users who feel that status updates are used as a shallow substitute for friendship's true intimacy. We're sure the emo teenager would agree with Turkle: It's the "perfect storm of confusion."
Thu., Jan. 27, noon, 2011

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