Making Promises

We love our smartphones.

We love our smartphones.

If you’ve been paying attention over the past few decades, you should have learned this important fact about technology. It nearly always over-promises, with the delivery on that promise coming up short.

Back when Governor King was sitting in the Blaine House, he made a big to-do about introducing laptops into our schools. The intent, at least as publicly pronounced, was to make Maine “the most digitally literate society in the world.” He touted how this would be an economic boon for Maine, too. Anyone doubting King and his plan were seen as malcontents and neo-Luddites. It’s how tech evangelists always try to bully the cautious into submission and get their way of adding more technology to our overly-digitized lives.

Fast-forward 15 years and one could make the case that King’s laptop plan didn’t deliver much of a return on the $50 million price tag accompanying laptops for all Maine seventh graders. Digital snake oil for the Pine Tree State.

Sherry Turkel was quite enthusiastic about technology as a tool for learning and like many, believed that technology would greatly enhance our quality of life. Turkel’s spent the past 30 years studying the psychology of people’s relationships with technology and our digital culture. It’s safe to say she’s “cooled” in her ardor for technology’s ability as a tool to teach; she actually presents scenarios where it inhibits the ability to learn, even in her own classroom at MIT.

The techno-utopians and the evangelists of that ilk clamor, “how can that be—technology is a superior tool for learning,” they insist.

Turkel understand the need to laud technology, especially in the realm of education. But as far back as 2010, she was raising red flags.

“In the area of education, it calms people to think that technology will be a salvation. It turns out that it’s not so simple. Technology can be applied in good ways and bad. It’s not the panacea. It depends how; it depends what. It depends how rich you are, what other things you have going for you. It’s a very complicated story. But I definitely think that we’re at a moment when nostalgia for things that we once got right is coded as Luddite-ism.”

 Her latest book out last fall, is a tour-de-force in identifying what’s wrong with our technology run amok.

I started reading Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age last Friday. I’m slightly more than half way through one of the most important books I’ve read in a long time. If Turkel’s right—and I can’t find anything in the book thus far to convince me that she’s not—then we’re at a troubling crossroads with technology and in particular, our smartphones—in that they are killing conversation and face-to-face communication. I’ve blogged about it before, but Turkel’s book provides that ammo and the science behind why texting—especially among the younger set—is so detrimental.

Our attachment to our smartphones and other screens is destroying our ability to communicate, removing experiences of solitude, and blocking the development of empathy among the young. Talking face-to-face has no substitute; sorry—not even Facebook serves as a surrogate. Oh, and multitasking is just a myth, too.

For thousands of years, our brains have been wired for connection and contact with our fellow humans. In just a few years, technology is undoing all of this. We are losing the ability to converse, as our preferences are for inanimate objects and virtual reality, making sure we’re never bored, and alone with our thoughts (Google and our brains).

Do yourself a favor. Read Turkel’s book and try to keep an open mind. You’ll be rewarded for your efforts and perhaps you’ll recognize that you don’t need to be peering at your phone during dinner, when you’re with your children, or spending time with your friends.

3 thoughts on “Making Promises

  1. The sentence you wrote, that technology was “removing experiences of solitude” struck me as I read your post. Solitude, the balm for ailing humanity, the place to think and ponder. Everything in the modern world conspires against solitude. I miss it.

    Thanks for recommending Turkel’s book.

  2. Jim, this issue you write about is becoming very serious and needs greater attention. Like other addictions, smartphones are hijacking people’s brains and the ability to have deep thought as well as conversation, it would seem. Because their ubiquitous use and abuse is so socially accepted now, the effects are insidious. I’ve been following Turkel and other on this topic for a while. May I suggest you take your review of her book and publish it on LinkedIn? Thanks for continuing to hammer on this topic.

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