How is technology redefining human connection?

I loved this TED talk by Sherry Turkle on being connected, and yet, being alone. She talks about how we have become so used to texting, rather than talking, because having a face-to-face conversation is in real-time. Conversations can be messy and confusing; you might say the wrong thing. You can’t edit yourself to perfection, the way you can in email, texting, tweeting, or Facebook. Through technology, we can present a fake, edited, retouched, perfect version of ourselves. Not in real life.

We are afraid to be alone, so whenever we find ourselves with free moments we turn to our devices. But is this healthy, and is this real connection? Turkle argues that technology is no substitute for real life conversation, because human connection – the experience of truly understanding others – can only be found in the real world. And only through having such rich interactions with others can we reflect and learn more about ourselves.

I agree with her, and with elements of this fascinating Atlantic piece “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?

Technology makes us unhappy through the evil of comparison. On Facebook, as Turkle observes, we edit our lives until they appear perfect from the outside. Fake as it may be, logging on to Facebook forces us to constantly confront the fact that everyone’s life seems perfect, except our own. Photos of exotic travels and families and happy pets and parties makes us feel like our own lives are sadly inadequate.

The people who experience loneliness on Facebook are lonely away from Facebook, too…on Facebook, as everywhere else, correlation is not causation. The popular kids are popular, and the lonely skulkers skulk alone. What does Facebook communicate, if not the impression of social bounty? Everybody else looks so happy on Facebook, with so many friends, that our own social networks feel emptier than ever in comparison.

Ultimately however, it is up to us. The article and Turkle’s talk both conclude that we have a choice. Facebook is not truly making us lonely; perhaps lonely people gravitate to Facebook. The way you use social media might simply reflect the type of person you are. Social media can be a fantastic tool if we use it as a way to connect with those we care about offline, to have face-to-face conversations with others. But if we reduce our interactions with those we love to spend time online, alone? If we move our lives online and give up the offline? That’s not healthy, but the good news is it’s within our control to change.

Turkle suggests: encourage conversation at the dinner table; set certain areas of your home and life as technology-free and conversation-full; set time aside for solitude. I’ll add: pick up the phone and call someone instead of sending a text; spend time with your family instead of on Facebook; and write in a journal rather than in a blog. I’m guilty of a bit too much social media time, and less real people time, and it’s a constant struggle of mine to change this around. But I know it’s a worthwhile struggle!


11 Responses to How is technology redefining human connection?

  1. This is really interesting. I really enjoy the conversation about and between how technology intersects with our personal lives. I definitely find myself looking to call people whenever I have a free moment, looking to articulate every thought I’m having (a by product of Twitter to be sure). I wasn’t always like that either; I would often go days without speaking to anyone because I had so few friends, and the ones I did have lived very far away and were always busy. I remember in my first year of college, I hardly got to talk to my best friend who seemed to so ingrained in college life while I had tons of downtime because I wasn’t able to establish connections with anyone.

    Now though, I’ve been able to make LOADS more friends using Twitter than ever before. I feel like there’s always someone I can talk to, which wasn’t the case 1-2 years ago. It’s such a novel experience for me, to have people care about what I think (and to an extent, what I feel – though not in all cases). It’s awesome for someone to say, “I think we’re kindred spirits” and to send me over their cell so we can chat. I’ve never made more friends (or casual acquaintances – what have you) in the past months of using twitter than in my entire life. I think this is why social media is so addictive for me. Without it, I’d be sitting in the dark, with no one to really talk to – because once again, so many of my faraway friends are working or just plain busy. I was actually really lonely before social media, and I feel LESS lonely because of it.

    But a friend of mine did confess to wanting to delete her FB because he did feel all the comparison feelings you mentioned in this post. I feel that too, when I’m on twitter and having friends who are really going places and doing things. I don’t get the same feelings from facebook – maybe it’s because all my real life friends/colleagues aren’t doing anything with their lives or just aren’t broadcasting it all over the internet – I’m not sure. But I am trying – though failing miserably – to stay off of twitter so much so that I can accomplish things I want instead of just wishing I was other people.

    • Akhila says:

      I think you are definitely using Twitter in a healthy way because it has allowed you to make friends and cultivate those relationships and make them stronger off-line too. I think what gets to be a problem is when people frequently reduce the time spent offline and “face to face” because of their addiction to feeling connected online. I would say in that case, it’s not true connection you’re getting, and I’m guilty of that sometimes. At the same time, I really value twitter and other platforms for the same reason you do– I too was able to build up a really great network in a new city when I first moved to DC primarily via Twitter, so it was great for me! And I agree, the feeling of comparison is definitely difficult to avoid!

  2. Nadine says:

    This is something I find myself thinking about whenever I spend hours on a computer, or on my phone, or checking my e-mail on my blackberry when my GMail is open on my laptop (unfortunately, this happens often). We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t take a step back and realize how ridiculous this is––how ridiculous it is that the first website was 20 years ago, and what this means for how much our lives have changed.

    I think you, Turkle, and the Atlantic are all exactly right: we are losing sight of ourselves in search of a way to control how “alive” we feel. Thank you for posting, so thought-provoking, and an amazing TED watch (as they always tend to be!)

    • Akhila says:

      Thank you, Nadine. I agree with you; things have changed so dramatically in the past 20 years, and now we are sleeping with our laptops and blackberrys without taking a break from checking emails, tweeting, posting on facebook, blogging or texting. We need to take a step back and look at what all this technology is doing to us, and how we can reclaim our lives offline, if we feel this is leading us down an unhealthy path. And yet, technology is so addictive!

  3. Roxanne says:

    I have been thinking about this since you posted it. There are lots of insights in the articles and talk and they create more questions than they answer – a trait all my favorite pieces share. Some of these questions are: Is it possible that humans are craving a different mode or type of interaction? How have our preferences for socializing changed in tandem/sync with or opposition to the growth in social media usage? 

    I also thought you may enjoy this piece I just read on a similar subject:

    • Akhila says:

      Very true – there are more questions than clear cut answers here. We are definitely changing and I feel we are craving different types of interactions due to technology: immediate, fast, mess-free, easy to understand. We are shying away from the messy difficult aspects of interacting with others deeply on a personal/face to face level. I think this is a sad thing, but also something to note, observe, and react to. Very interesting piece, thank you!

  4. Happiness is the most important metric in personal tech. If it improves
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  6. MallyBaby says:

    I really enjoyed reading your post! I am a student at a community college in Arizona and I am actually writing an ethical discourse on the topic of technology and the loss of human connection. If at all possible, I was wondering if I could get some feedback on a few questions I have regarding this topic that I will be able to use in my paper. The questions are as follows: could technology possibly be a way for people to put up walls around themselves, therefore reducing their vulnerability to other people? What, in your opinion, is the biggest disadvantage of technology? Lastly, do you believe that (further in the future) there will be a complete loss of human connection, and all human interaction will cease to exist?

    Thank you for taking the time to look over my questions, I truly appreciate it!

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