Thursday, October 18, 2012

How Electronics Have Challenged Our Human Values

Sherry Turkle, Head of a Psychology Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) has written three authoritative books about the current intersection of the internet with private life.

In a recent radio interview,* the most disturbing conclusions she described were that:

1) We're losing our sense of how to converse and have uninterrupted conversations even in formal settings such as classrooms.

2) People sleep with their cell phones, of course, while recharging them. And adults are more likely to admit using them at night as alarm clocks.

3) Kids feel shut out from parents whenever they use social media and electronics....Adults often shut each other out, too.

It's not just kids who feel neglect in the presence of electronics. We can't fault inanimate objects, but we can limit their use. Ironically, communication is exactly what they were originally created to improve.

It's true. Yesterday in a small shop, for example, the proprietor gave her cell phone caller a lot more attention than she gave me. I walked out without buying as much as I might have if she'd answered my questions.

4) We feel very lost and panicked in America when we don't have working cell phones with us at all times. And for good reason.

Public phones have completely disappeared off the American landscape. Why aren't there more public phones?

Here's a quick story to illustrate the usefulness of public phones. My daughter's cellphone recently stopped working on the opposite coast and it took a couple of weeks for the phone company to fix it. We experienced an uneasy couple of weeks as she traveled to us until the new one was properly activated, and found life surprisingly difficult without one.

Having digital connections such as a cell phone and access to the internet is somehow connected to the three basic human needs of:
  1. money (or credit)
  2. transportation and 
  3. accommodation 
In the digital age, the values of forgiveness, understanding, compassion, and justice should become highly prized and more priceless than ever before.  But in many ways, electronic interactions are now perceived superior to human contact. Conversation is often, in contrast, considered cumbersome and inferior.

Let's think more about that, and discover how humans can truly trump electronics now and forever. Electronics are so new to humanity that we don't understand all their potential for good and evil. As the digital revolution evolves, we need to share the highest human values. We should encourage the human angle, our most priceless virtues, at work and play.

*Today, Terry Gross of National Public Radio interviewed Professor Turkle, and the interview is here.



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