We live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection.
At home, families sit together, texting and reading e-mail. At work executives text during board meetings. We text (and shop and go on Facebook) during classes and when we’re on dates. My students tell me about an important new skill: it involves maintaining eye contact with someone while you text someone else; it’s hard, but it can be done.
Over the past 15 years, I’ve studied technologies of mobile connection and talked to hundreds of people of all ages and circumstances about their plugged-in lives. I’ve learned that the little devices most of us carry around are so powerful that they change not only what we do, but also who we are…
Which reminds me of a favorite quote…
Sow an act, and you reap a habit.
Sow a habit, and you reap a character.
Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.
– Charles Reade, 19th century writer
What acts and habits are we developing now with all this mobile technology? And does it add up to changes in our individual characters and destinies?
From a comment writer on the Times op-ed…
A few weeks ago, while having breakfast in a crowded restaurant, I was pleasantly surprised to note that a family of 4 across the room was saying Grace before starting their meal. Until my daughters pointed out that Dad, Mom, Sis and Junior were bowing their heads in front of their untouched meals because each one of them was furiously tapping the phones on their laps.
Unlike many online providers, Front Porch Forum does not want to keep its members transfixed to their screens for eight, 12 or 18 hours per day. Rather, we aim for five minutes of daily news and conversation from and with nearby neighbors. We aim to help people better connect with their actual neighbors and take up conversations… not online, but on the sidewalk, grocery check-out, and school playground.
From Turkle again…
When people are alone, even for a few moments, they fidget and reach for a device. Here connection works like a symptom, not a cure, and our constant, reflexive impulse to connect shapes a new way of being.
Think of it as “I share, therefore I am.” We use technology to define ourselves by sharing our thoughts and feelings as we’re having them. We used to think, “I have a feeling; I want to make a call.” Now our impulse is, “I want to have a feeling; I need to send a text.”
So, in order to feel more, and to feel more like ourselves, we connect. But in our rush to connect, we flee from solitude, our ability to be separate and gather ourselves. Lacking the capacity for solitude, we turn to other people but don’t experience them as they are. It is as though we use them, need them as spare parts to support our increasingly fragile selves.
We think constant connection will make us feel less lonely. The opposite is true. If we are unable to be alone, we are far more likely to be lonely. If we don’t teach our children to be alone, they will know only how to be lonely.