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Alone Together
April 6, 2012 6:29 PM   Subscribe

Sherry Turkle believes that as we expect more from technology, we expect less from each other. (SLTedTalk)
posted by Evernix (41 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
There's a transcript here at the TED page for it.
posted by codacorolla at 6:51 PM on April 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Forever alone?
posted by mediated self at 7:17 PM on April 6, 2012


Anyone who can fix technology knows that other people still expect quite a lot from us.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:23 PM on April 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


This is a weird correlation. As technology improves, we are more able to see how truly awful we are to each other. Why expect more?
posted by mkb at 7:26 PM on April 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


Actually, most of the people I know who can fix technology (like me) can't stand having to have conversations in person, and hate it that we're expected to do things like make eye contact.
posted by koeselitz at 7:26 PM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Spend a while off the machines, and you will discover a deep sense of being alone and will cherish time spent with other people.
posted by stbalbach at 7:31 PM on April 6, 2012


As soon as I saw the title of this post, my heart sunk a little. I knew where it was going before her talk started, and I think it's true.
posted by shortyJBot at 7:32 PM on April 6, 2012


stbalbach: Spend a while off the machines, and you will discover a deep sense of being alone and will cherish time spent with other people.

As an introvert, I can confidently state that this is not true of all people.
posted by gilrain at 7:33 PM on April 6, 2012 [13 favorites]


Yup, that's just what I was thinking. A lot of the people who bury themselves in computers probably would have just buried themselves in books before.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:35 PM on April 6, 2012 [12 favorites]


Solitude isn't all it's hopped up to be. I've spent a lot of time by myself and it's not all that much fun. I don't think solitude is the answer, just more productive togetherness.
posted by bleep at 7:36 PM on April 6, 2012


Correlation does not equal causation. We pump our own gas and check our own engine oil and tire pressure. I remember when some smiling guy came out and did that for me free of charge. Technology doesn't seem to be the issue here.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:36 PM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Connecting in sips may work for gathering discreet bits of information, they may work for saying, "I'm thinking about you," or even for saying, "I love you," -- I mean, look at how I felt when I got that text from my daughter -- but they don't really work for learning about each other, for really coming to know and understand each other.

People have a lot more options for communication now, a wide spectrum of tools that offer more or less breadth and depth, that crucially have more ways of spanning space and time than existed 20 years ago.

They're new. Sure. We're all still learning how to really use them. None of _us_ will ever not struggle with them, but our children will use them like champions for things we can't even imagine yet, growing up in a world that's always had them. But it's impossible, it is flat out impossible, for me to believe that humans having more ways to communicate with each other can be bad.

Sure, humans are risk-averse and dealing with other humans is inherently risky. I get it.

But I don't, to be blunt, want or care to know and understand the great majority of the people I deal with in a typical day, and I think it's somewhere between romantic and naive to think otherwise. I want, and to manage my interactions with modernity effectively must have, a spectrum of tools and ways of deploying them available, and I can point to way more instances where they made my life better than instances where they've made my relationships more shallow or superficial. And those instances were relationships that were invariably shallow, superficial relationships beforehand.

And we use conversations with each other to learn how to have conversations with ourselves.

Objection, your honour; asserting facts not in evidence.
posted by mhoye at 7:37 PM on April 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


I certainly expect less from my kids as I dump them in front of the Wii while I browse metafilter
posted by mattoxic at 7:41 PM on April 6, 2012


I read Alone Together and got to see Sherry Turkle speak last year. The idea that we "expect more from technology and less from each other" is a main theme of the book, but her other (possibly more salient) thesis is that the Facebook generation willingly abdicates the right to privacy. She cited Mark Zuckerberg's declaration that privacy was an outdated concept, and shared a personal anecdote of going to check the mailbox with her grandmother in Brooklyn and her grandmother's pride that "in America no one can look at your mail."
posted by mediated self at 7:44 PM on April 6, 2012


I think my ability to control my contacts with people is key. For the most part, I dislike interacting by phone or instant message. I'm OK with e-mail (low bandwidth asynchronous communication) and face-to-face (high bandwidth synchronous communication).

There are people in my workplace that think that always-on, instant communication is the Best Thing Ever. OK for them, I suppose. But since I actually have real work to do, and my work requires concentration, I prefer to be able to prioritize my interactions (e-mail) or obtain as much value as possible in a short time (face-to-face).

Perhaps it's not a question of "expecting less from each other" as much as acknowledging that "others are worth less to us" than we pretend.
posted by SPrintF at 8:23 PM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Rather than expecting less from each other, I think some of us are hoping for less from each other, while technology provides a useful buffer.
posted by orme at 8:32 PM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


gilrain: "stbalbach: Spend a while off the machines, and you will discover a deep sense of being alone and will cherish time spent with other people.

As an introvert, I can confidently state that this is not true of all people.
"

Paradoxically, it's the feeling of loneliness that drives people to be around other people. It's easy to kill the feeling of loneliness if you want. Technology makes it easier and easier. Google Glasses is the next great leap forward into a culture of zombies. This introvert and autistic-computer-genius stuff is an excuse, everyone is effected by it.
posted by stbalbach at 8:34 PM on April 6, 2012


Google Glasses is the next great leap forward into a culture of zombies.

The oldest sex toy on record is something in the neighborhood of 30,000 years old, the vibrator is very nearly as old as the generator itself and masturbation exists, yet somehow the world of 2012 is still full of actual procreated people, walking around and speaking to each other and everything.

Craziness, I know.
posted by mhoye at 8:41 PM on April 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


stbalbach: This introvert and autistic-computer-genius stuff is an excuse, everyone is effected by it.

I'm... going to assume that was a poor choice of words. This "introvert stuff" is me, and has been since I was old enough to express myself.
posted by gilrain at 8:47 PM on April 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Indeed, if I hadn't been friending on the internets from age 13 to now, I might be a bit more adept at the whole real life conversationing/connecting thing. [I say this as an introvert now and forever].
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 8:53 PM on April 6, 2012


don't worry, technology is always a good thing and shit that alters drastically how people live and interact can't possibly cause problems
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 9:19 PM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I like having less expected from me.
posted by baf at 9:29 PM on April 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Miranda July called, she wants her facile bullshit back.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:31 PM on April 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I favorited your comment, but you didn't favorite me back. I wanted to be your friend on Facebook, but you didn't want to be my friend. You could have added me to your Google+ Circle, but you didn't even do that, even though we both agree that Google+ is lame.

I stare at my phone. My phone is always there for me. But I miss your text messages. My phone gives me news and shopping offers, and it gives me driving directions. But I always thought that the connection that you and I had was deeper than all that. I miss you.

I am alone in this universe. Even precise driving directions cannot fill the void I feel in my soul.

Note to self: Switch to a phone with a cheaper data plan.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:51 PM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


She felt creeped out when she saw the woman finding comfort in something non-sentient... people have dolls, pets, and other talismans that they treat as sentient even though they clearly understand the difference. She didn't say anything about offering to actually step into the situation and take the robot's place to offer "better" comfort to the subject of the story... this is the crux of the problem. If you're not willing to help others and listen, you can't expect real human attention in return.

Interesting thesis, but way off the mark.
posted by MikeWarot at 10:00 PM on April 6, 2012


I love the interactive transcripts. It means I don't have to spend a lot of time listening. I find that reading is a much faster way to absorb information, because it just goes faster.

In fact, a lot of times if I see a video of someone talking that I'd like to hear, I'll actually download it and increase the playback speed in VLC. (I use keepvid.com which in turn uses java to do this)

Of course, it's a ted talk, so I'm sure it's going to be a lot of palbum.

---
Actually, most of the people I know who can fix technology (like me) can't stand having to have conversations in person, and hate it that we're expected to do things like make eye contact.
I'm the exact opposite. First of all, let's keep in mind that work communication is different then personal communication. For talking about work, I prefer individual, face to face communication. After that, phone, email dead last. Part of the problem for me with email is that it just seems so impersonal.

On the other hand, I really like Jeff Bezos' view that the best communication is no communication. There was an interview where he said "a lot of communication means there's a problem."

At amazon, all the different tech teams talk to each-other through web APIs. You write an API for your area of responsibility, you keep it documented and working and include a billing thing and other departments code against that API.

Think about how much time that might save a typical IT person if their company worked that way?

A step above that is stuff like ticket systems/bug trackers. Rather then sending an email, I love systems where someone just submits a request, and that request gets tracked. The problem with using email like that is that stuff just gets lost. Paul Graham had an essay recently where he said:
Email was not designed to be used the way we use it now. Email is not a messaging protocol. It's a TODO list. Or rather, my inbox is a todo list, and email is the way things get onto it. But it is a disastrously bad TODO list.
Which is a good point, if you use email to do business, you're using it as a TODO list, and it just doesn't work well. It only works well that way if you keep your inbox totally empty (file everything else elsewhere), which is a lot of work in and of itself.

And then on the other hand, I hate meetings. They seem like a complete waste of time in most cases, I think something like a message board would work a lot better.

---

So to summarize, I prefer more 'higher fidelity' communications with people, email < phone < face to face. Except at the extreme ends: meetings I hate, and tracking software or APIs I like even better. In fact, you can actually think of issue tracking software, at least if it's good, as a kind of "API" for your job. people interact with the code to say what they want done, then you do it and they get a confirmation.

Also, unlike email because everything is mediated through the machine there's less chance of people being offended, whatever. And, in fact if something comes in you can call them or walk over and have a conversation, but the 'official' request is in the system, so you don't need to remember all the details of a conversation, or whatever.

---

For non-work though I kind of get the appeal of texts. I prefer talking to someone on the phone, but sometimes I think I'd prefer to get a text rather then a call, since I can respond to that whenever I feel like, think about what I say, etc.
posted by delmoi at 10:08 PM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some of the things we do now with our devices are things that, only a few years ago, we would have found odd or disturbing ... So just to take some quick examples: People text or do email during corporate board meetings. They text and shop and go on Facebook during classes, during presentations, actually during all meetings.
Yeah, but they're probably getting more actual work done with those texts then they would by paying attention to crap that doesn't even involve them in the meeting.
posted by delmoi at 10:11 PM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


At 3:48 she links to* shows a picture of her daughter and her three friends sitting together while they all stare at their phones.

I think, though that she's missing something about human interaction. Watch some videos of monkeys out in the jungle somewhere. They sit near each-other. But they're obviously not talking because they can't. They're usually not looking each other in the eyes either. So for them, sitting in the same physical space is bonding, even though they can't communicate and even though they aren't looking in eachother's eyes.

In fact, for monkey's eyecontact is very intense. It obviously doesn't cause people to fly into a rage, usually, but it's still pretty intense.

Without technology, if two people are "being friends" or "hanging out" then having a conversation is an obvious thing to do. But before the advent of cellphones, people would watch TV together. They aren't looking at eachother, they aren't talking. But they are "hanging out" in a way that strengthens connections. How relevant is it that they are distracting themselves with the same electronic stimulus? That's really the only difference between what people have done over the past few decades vs. today.

*Why did I write 'links too'? partly because I was trying to figure out if I could link to a timestamp, but it doesn't seem like I can, but also I thought it was an interesting example of how using tech changes the way we think. I still remember reading a printout of a web page in highschool, and almost for a second trying to 'click' a link before realizing how absurd that would be
posted by delmoi at 10:23 PM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


People texting during meetings leads to existential crises of isolation, unlike the days when people doodled during meetings. Also when I was a teenager, I liked to not pay attention in class and instead surreptitiously make stick figure flipbook animations in the margins and corners of my notebooks, which made me much more humanly connected and non-isolated and capable of Real Conversations than today's teenagers who don't pay attention in class and instead surreptitiously text during them.

I also agree that if people would learn to handle solitude better, than they would be better able to connect with one another with meaningful conversations instead of the facile gossip over the so-called convenience of Bell's tele-phonic device.
posted by Drastic at 10:34 PM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]



Hell is other people.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:20 PM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Okay, read the whole transcript, here's what I think:

I think her whole argument rests on the premise that there is a sort of 'level' of interaction between people when they are "being together", and that proximity is is one aspect, but conversation is another:
7:09 Human relationships are rich and they're messy and they're demanding. And we clean them up with technology. And when we do, one of the things that can happen is that we sacrifice conversation for mere connection. We short-change ourselves. And over time, we seem to forget this, or we seem to stop caring.
Here's where I disagree though. Like I said earlier, monkeys don't converse, but clearly proximity is important to them. We had a thread about this reunion between a gorilla who had returned to the wild and a human who had cared for him. The man and the gorilla didn't talk, but clearly it was incredibly meaningful for both of them. In fact the guy was worried the gorilla might not let go of him.

So my feeling is, since apes and man descended from a common ancestor, and apes today have a desire to have 'proximity relationships', that we to desire proximity relationships. One of the biggest predictors of whether or not people will fall in love is actually proximity, people who spend a lot of time together like each other more.

On the other hand, we have an intellectual center that just wants to 'spin' and think about things and be distracted or whatever. The 'ape' part of us wants to be around other humans, the 'higher' part wants to be distracted and entertained and have some inputs to contemplate.

So there isn't really a conflict here. We can share physical space with someone and build a 'connection' and at the same time we can keep our 'higher order' stuff entertained. It's great if other people can engage your higher order stuff on the same level as you but it's not always the case. Sometimes conversations are boring, so people in the past might watch TV or read a paper, now they play with their cellphones, and you don't even have to agree on the show!

(I actually saw an ad for a 3D TV that offered the feature of letting two people watch two different shows on the same screen, using shutter glasses. Pretty ridiculous, when both people could just use a tablet instead. which is why I think TVs are going to end up like sterios, going from being an expensive centerpiece to just a cheap output for other devices, or going portable and personal instead of on the wall and filling the room.)

---

There is a second 'part' to her talk that talks about old people feeling happy when they interact with seemingly empathetic robots. She claims this isn't "real" empathy.
10:07 We're developing robots, they call them sociable robots, that are specifically designed to be companions -- to the elderly, to our children, to us. Have we so lost confidence that we will be there for each other? During my research I worked in nursing homes, and I brought in these sociable robots that were designed to give the elderly the feeling that they were understood. And one day I came in and a woman who had lost a child was talking to a robot in the shape of a baby seal. It seemed to be looking in her eyes. It seemed to be following the conversation. It comforted her. And many people found this amazing.

11:00 But that woman was trying to make sense of her life with a machine that had no experience of the arc of a human life. That robot put on a great show. And we're vulnerable. People experience pretend empathy as though it were the real thing. So during that moment when that woman was experiencing that pretend empathy, I was thinking, "That robot can't empathize. It doesn't face death. It doesn't know life."
But that's actually a really complicated philosophical question:

But lets say she was talking to a hypothetical "sociopath" who doesn't feel any empathy. Not an "evil" one but just someone who didn't feel empathy for anyone and took the job because they need the money. If he pretends to be nice to her, and does a good job of pretending to feel empathy and makes her happy, would she really feel worse off then if she was just feeling depressed and alone?

On the other hand, take a pet. lots of people feel like dogs feel empathy for them (cats, of course, don't give a fuck). Is that "false" empathy because the dog doesn't really know what it's like to be human? I would argue that no, the dog is able to understand something about how you feel but maybe not able to intellectually rationalize it. But that's not too relevant to the robot question, if you assume that dogs are 'sentient'

But it comes back to the "Strong" AI question, is there something about humans that makes our feelings and emotions "real", existing in the physical, or perhaps supernational world? If you believe in a soul, then the question is simple: The feelings you have are supernatural objects, properties of the soul. But if you're not religious, it's more complex. Aren't human minds just build up of the same electrons and protons and neutrons that robots are? What's the difference? If our conscious and intelligence are just emergent properties, that we all agree is real because we can 'feel' them though empathy (caused, perhaps, by our mirror neurons), then if we 'feel' emotions emanating from a robot, are those emotions any less real?

If we believe other people's emotions are real because we feel them, and we feel them when we interact with robots, are those emotions somehow not real? That's a profound philosophical question, and she simply takes the religious view as a given, without even questioning it.

---

This is her transition from talking about people yacking on their phones and ignoring eachother to the creepy AI stuff. I do find it somewhat creepy, and a little 'disturbing'. But not for the same reason she does.
9:20 So for example, many people share with me this wish, that some day a more advanced version of Siri, the digital assistant on Apple's iPhone, will be more like a best friend, someone who will listen when others won't. I believe this wish reflects a painful truth that I've learned in the past 15 years. That feeling that no one is listening to me is very important in our relationships with technology.
Now, one thing that bothers me about this is something I'm always complaning about. Siri is a corporate product run by corporate data centers. If "Siri" (rather then an app local to your portable device) is your best friend who you can confide in, then really you're confiding in some AI, controlled by other people for their own ends. That sounds a little dystopian, actually.

But the general problem is it's just sad. I have a decent number of people who will listen to me whenever I want, but, that's not true of everyone. Getting rid might mean richer conversations for lots of highly social people, but it would probably mean even more isolation for people who wish they had a robot friend. What's really 'disturbing' about this is simply the fact that some people just don't have good friends, and that 'disturbs' in the sense of making you feel bad about them :(

She describes feeling awful when she saw the old lady play with the 'social robot', but really I think what she really felt terrible about was that people weren't coming to see this old lady themselves. Maybe she also felt guilty about not spending enough time with her parents, or fear that her daughter might abandon her to the nursing home, leaving her to play with robots. And indeed, those thoughts are troubling. It's very sad to think of someone so abandoned by society and offspring that they have no one to play with but some robots. (especially for a parent, and someone pushing middle age)


In a sense, she is blaming technology for mans inhumanity to man. But that's an excuse, not a cause. (IMO)

She goes on for like another 9 minutes after that, but I don't think there's too much there. She says we should be happy alone. Which makes sense, but might not part of being happy alone mean playing with robot toys?

I don't think the solution to senior loneliness is "steel yourself for loneliness now, that way when you're old it won't be so bad". That's… optimistic. I think you will still feel bad. Especially since, no one is really 'alone' in an intellectual sense these days unless they want too. I think 20, 40, 70 years from now seniors will all be on their laptops and smart phones tweeting and blogging and playing video games and probably enjoying life a lot more then today's. They'll feel proximity loneliness, perhaps, but not 'intellectual' lonlyness (but usually they are all packed in together at nursing homes)

The other key point is that relationships are messy, and we use tech to 'manage' that (i.e. sending text, rather then face to face communication since it's just less effort to deal with texts). She says we should do it the hard way. That will probably sway some people but the reality is lots of people are just lazy. Even if they think they should be trying to have 'old-fashion' relationships they might just give up. They could discover their friends are actually boring for one thing.

The other thing she ignores is that there is a range of different social skills in people. Forcing people to give up technology to help them 'manage' relationships means putting with weak social skills (people who didn't develop them properly, people who on the autistic spectrum, whatever). So if tech helps us manage those relationships, then isn't it good for people who might have trouble otherwise? Think about all the people play WoW all day in their basements, and socialize with other humans that way. Would they have found eachother otherwise? Or would they still be in their basement except bored and lonely.

---

That said, I do find one thing disturbing about the idea of people having relationships with AIs. And that's the fact that the AI, ultimately, is controlled by the author, not you. It's purpose is whatever the people who create and run it want. Especially if it's an 'online', cloud based system.

Already if you use Facebook to 'manage' your relationships, then Facebook has a ton of power of you. They control the way you present yourself to the world (see the new Timeline thing everyone hates, plus all the privacy stuff). They already recommend new friends for us and remind us to msg people they think we might have forgotten to talk too. Think if they used that for 'evil'. Low-level dystopian: Rather then recommending people you might be friends with, they recommend PR people who might try to sell you crap. Gibson-style dystopian: They could recommend corporate spies. Orwell-dystopian: they could recommend government informers.

So what if, rather then just the connecting glue between friends, they actually become friends. The potential dystopian scenarios get exponentially worse.


---

Misc thoughts:
5:08 A 50-year-old business man lamented to me that he feels he doesn't have colleagues anymore at work. When he goes to work, he doesn't stop by to talk to anybody, he doesn't call. And he says he doesn't want to interrupt his colleagues because, he says, "They're too busy on their email." But then he stops himself and he says, "You know, I'm not telling you the truth. I'm the one who doesn't want to be interrupted. I think I should want to, but actually I'd rather just do things on my Blackberry."
I think what's really happening here is that this guy is sort of offended that he, after working 30 years doesn't get the respect and attention that he gave his elders when was starting out, because this tech wasn't there yet.
6:10 An 18-year-old boy who uses texting for almost everything says to me wistfully, "Someday, someday, but certainly not now, I'd like to learn how to have a conversation."

Yawn: shock anecdote, think of the children, yadda yadda yadda. There are lots of 18 year old boys that don't know how to talk to girls and just grunt and make jokes with their guy friends, there always have been.
6:26 When I ask people "What's wrong with having a conversation?" People say, "I'll tell you what's wrong with having a conversation. It takes place in real time and you can't control what you're going to say." So that's the bottom line. Texting, email, posting, all of these things let us present the self as we want to be. We get to edit, and that means we get to delete, and that means we get to retouch, the face, the voice, the flesh, the body -- not too little, not too much, just right.
Like I said. I like conversations. One reason I like them is there's no time to fret about saying something the 'right' way, you just have to say it. But, if you're talking in person you're sending 'sideband' signals, you can say something that might sound rude in an email, but if you smile, it won't bother them. Plus, there's no record, people only remember their impressions, so you don't really have to worry about making a mistake like you might online.

I think people who don't like conversations are simply introverts. But introverts have always existed, they never liked conversations (for those same reasons!) and now they have options that let them communicate with people without physicality.
7:38 I was caught off guard when Stephen Colbert asked me a profound question, a profound question. He said, "Don't all those little tweets, don't all those little sips of online communication, add up to one big gulp of real conversation?" My answer was no, they don't add up. Connecting in sips may work for gathering discreet bits of informationsub
She shows a somewhat condisending graphic showing 'tweets' like ":( ??? WTF". "LOL :)". "4 U XOXOXOX sorry", and "R U coming to the party tomorrow"

First of all, I'm hardly twitters biggest fan but I would never characterize most tweets that way. Maybe a lot of texts overall. But twitter has plenty of concise, witty jokes.

But what I think she's missing is that if you were to record people's actual interaction, you would find that there is a lot of 'sideband' communication that goes on that matches up to these expressions. Like, someone will laugh and smile. That's not a 'shallow' message, then "LOL :)" isn't either. Someone might frown and say grunt sympathetically in place of ": ( WTF". "R U coming to the party tomorrow?" is a perfectly grammatical query, other then spelling it's really just elitism/classism directed at someone someone might imagine as a member on Jersey Shore who spends their days parting.

In general though, these tweets take the place of the sort of 'side channel' communication that you get in a person to person setting.
posted by delmoi at 12:31 AM on April 7, 2012 [9 favorites]


I favorited your comment, but you didn't favorite me back.

Favorites are for comments, not for people

(Actually, the way favorites are used is completely different then what was intended. The plan was just to work like bookmarks. Instead, they are popularity measures. Matt actually tried to stop showing the fav count, and people flipped)
posted by delmoi at 12:34 AM on April 7, 2012


I exist in a nebulous space where my closest friends are people I've never met, or will never meet. I feel very close to these people, but none of then showed up at my recent birthday party. I talk to the world, but I am alone.

All that sounds better in Swedish: Jag finns i en dimmig plats där mina närmaste vänner är människor jag aldrig träffat, eller aldrig träffas. Jag känner mig mycket nära dessa människor, men ingen av sedan dök upp på min senaste födelsedag. Jag pratar med världen, men jag är ensam.
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:16 AM on April 7, 2012


People sucked anyway.
posted by clarknova at 2:05 AM on April 7, 2012


When I ask people "What's wrong with having a conversation?" People say, "I'll tell you what's wrong with having a conversation. It takes place in real time and you can't control what you're going to say." So that's the bottom line.

This was actually Proust's observation about writing, made long before Ms. Turkle was born. He was extolling the virtues of an earlier technology, the written word, which mediated how we communicate back then.

I remember how, in the early 90s, psychologists were worried about the internet (in those days you were required to capitalize the word, but my spellcheck is happy with the lower case 'i') and how it was keeping people away from each other. I'd point out to them (on line, ironically) that I'd met my wife (a psychologist) on the internet, but they ignored this piece of anecdata, possibly because they could as I wasn't addressing them in real time.

What Ms. Turkle terms the Goldilocks effect: not too close, not too far, just right, has always existed. Even before Proust, people were managing their level of intimacy with each other. They used dress, culture, protocol, social class, language, convention, religion, facial expression, tone of voice, etc. But because it was seamlessly integrated with their sense of the world, it was largely invisible to them. Too much intimacy, experienced as awkwardness when the conventions break down, is to be avoided (an observation made in the recent FPP on loving sociopaths).

What's new here, if anything, is that the rapid changes brought on by technology, especially the differences between the generations, makes this phenomenon particularly visible (though not THATmuch so as not to require a TED talk to point it out).

Perhaps the tools to manage the minefield of interpersonal intimacy have now become more sophisticated and subject to finer tuning, and perhaps people are still getting used to it and thus will sometimes overuse the new techniques available to self-isolate, or to create false intimacies, but the tools themselves are not the problem (if there even is a problem.)
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:48 AM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


delmoi: "She describes feeling awful when she saw the old lady play with the 'social robot', but really I think what she really felt terrible about was that people weren't coming to see this old lady themselves. Maybe she also felt guilty about not spending enough time with her parents, or fear that her daughter might abandon her to the nursing home, leaving her to play with robots."

Well said overall, IMO. This bit especially jumped out at me as I read through the transcript.

On the one caveat hand, you have to be careful about being an armchair psychologist. But on the other hand, I have a comfortable armchair! So:

It strikes me as rather telling that years ago, her daughter was in the audience. Like all healthy young children, she was a new and amazing person, coming together from a dizzyingly-fast period of explosive neural development that itself consists of equally, fractally amazing developmental explosions--motor coordination, language, telling foreshadowing hints of the human empathy and executive function that's going to be following in slower but no less impressive growth to come. As a young child, she'd happily chatter at mom about just about anything and everything going on inside her mind, the fresh connections and beliefs and theories about things that young kids will come up with, sometimes touching, sometimes hilarious, and those occasional things that are so profound they rock the adults in their lives right back on their heels. Back then, she thought of technology as something already amazing, coming together in a spectacular way after a dizzyingly-fast period of computational development and telling foreshadowing hints of the amazing things that were going to come.

Now, her daughter's in the audience again. She's a young woman in college. Still a lot of potential ahead of her, but the basic template of the person she is, that's more or less set and in place. And when it comes right down to it, that person she is and where she goes from here, what will be the deeply meaningful moments coming up for her, has very little to do with mom anymore. Daughter will continue to develop and grow and change, but she's not part of that, not in the intimately proximate way she was when she was very young. They can talk, but as a young woman now, daughter has all sorts of things going on in her mind that she'd rather die than have a conversation with mom about. And now, she thinks of technology as still something amazing and wonderful, but she's troubled by aspects of it that she sees as leading to growing isolation and distance between people.

Again, comfortable armchairs. But still, that doesn't seem like a coincidence to me.
posted by Drastic at 6:46 AM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Symbol-mediated reality leaves out enough to inspire people go to monasteries and sit very still, for long periods of time, in hopes of catching what they've been missing.

Under the HTML, the beach.
posted by edguardo at 8:13 AM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


When somebody analyzes culture the way Turkle analyzes it, it "means" that they can't have "direct" contact with their subject matter -- which "probably" means that they're not "really" connecting, on a "real" emotional level, with "real" people either.

Obviously this is indicative of a severe problem in interpersonal relations that Ms. Turkle must have.

Oh, which I've been told is what psychologists like me have too.

Oh, and not just psychologists -- probably all academics, right?

Well, no. I imagine Turkle would say that there is "real" communication going on in departmental meetings, right? because the people are speaking face to face? And that there is "real" communication going on among family members, lovers? because no instrumentation is mediating?

Obscure Reference posts for me except far more eloquently.
posted by DMelanogaster at 8:51 AM on April 7, 2012


Everybody jokes about how cats supposedly disdain their owners, but people like them anyway.

Anyway, I think part of what's going is that she actually has the empathy direction backwards, in a sense. Rather then feeling like the little robot shares your plight, the little robot behaves in a way that makes it seem like it's happy, and that via empathy makes the observer feel happy.

We had a thread a couple years ago about keepon. Everyone thought it looked adorable. We all knew, on some level, it was just a soulless automaton. but since it looked happy, it made us feel happy.
posted by delmoi at 2:37 PM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, and the robot she was talking about was actually made by the same lab as Keepon
posted by delmoi at 2:40 PM on April 7, 2012


I communicate with one of my best friends in the world almost exclusively through Twitter. Email threads just sort of die out, we see each other twice a year or so and it's consistently hilarious every time--but Twitter involves the sort of continual micro-attention span that keeps us informed about each others' quotidian trivia and our shared in-jokes.

If there's a better foundation on which to maintain an extremely close personal friendship, I haven't found it. Granted, it would be a lot harder to create one ex nihilo, but not impossible.
posted by Earthtopus at 10:48 PM on April 22, 2012


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