This week's assigned reading, "Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age," by Sherry Turkle, reiterated what I have heard elders repeat over and over since the unveiling of smartphones - such impersonal devices continue to ruin how we communicate face-to-face.
It isn't very difficult to see how true this has become. I, for one, have noticed it multiple times every day since I can remember. For example, I worked in retail for a couple of years, and it is here where I noticed many people dependent on smartphones and less apt to engage in interpersonal communication. Of course, in retail, associates are trained to engage with patrons, so it becomes difficult to do so when this is the new mentality. A simple head nod is the extent of some, maybe most, of these peoples' one-on-one, daily interactions. Even if I would strike up a conversation, many customers would find some kind of way to divert from having to speak, many times grabbing and focussing on their phone, as if they were about to miss something important. This is when I realized that the Digital Age had brought with it major drawbacks for traditional communication.
I have to admit that I am not a total exception to this phenomenon. I notice myself gravitating toward Internet usage in restaurants, bars, doctor's appointments, etc. All of these places offer face-to-face interaction with individuals who are sitting (maybe) three feet from you, but we insist on grabbing our phone instead. We miss out in interpersonal communication which is what has stimulated humans since near the beginning of time. For instance, if I was to engage with someone who is waiting on side of me in the doctor's office, I could learn more about that person, and he could learn more about me. Without getting entirely personal, we could learn about each other while offering a listening ear and/or an opinion to each other. There was a time when this was normal. Turkle says the Digital Age offered more connectivity and less personal communication. I agree completely.
I found it particularly interesting when Turkle mentions how humans readily admit that they would prefer am email or a text message over a phone call or a face-to-face meeting. Once again, her example rang true with me. I tell people all the time that "I don't like phone calls; I prefer texting." What does this say about me as a communicator? My coworkers are the same. We all tend to sigh aloud when we read that we have an upcoming meeting. Many of us even say, "Why can't he or she just email us?"
Turkle says that reclaiming conversation won't be easy, because we usually resist. She continues to explain how computers stay out during meetings, and constant interruptions interrupt group work. This sounds familiar to me too; in my classes, my laptop is usually out, just in case I receive a text message or an email and someone needs me. The only way to cure this problem is to actually try. We must put away the digital tools in order to at least try to reciprocate the problem.
Surfing the web was another one of Turkle's major points. She says that particularly among college students, they surf the web to avoid boredom. This plays into the whole "interruptions" theme at school and in the classroom. This is another guilty pleasure of mine (and my friends). If the class material is not the most exciting, we simply engage in online surfing to make up for this boredom. Imagine the amount of information we would retain if we closed the laptops and were somewhat forced into hearing the information presented in class. The Digital Age has offered students a way out actually learning. It has offered ways to navigate around areas of study that may or may not interest them at all. I am guilty of doing this, and I find it extremely dangerous.
I could discuss so many areas of the first half of this book in this post, but I'll save more for next week. This topic has been the most relatable for me, and I'm looking forward to reading and discussing more next week.
Turkle, Sherry. (2015). Reclaiming conversation: The power of talk in a digital age. New York, New York: Penguin Press.