One doesn’t have to look far to observe humans staring intensely into an electronic device screen, be it a smart phone, tablet or laptop. It can be unsettling, yet far from uncommon, to witness a group of friends, together in a public area, engaged in discourse that involves little to no verbal communication with one another.
Let’s look inside our own households and consider how our families are often physically together and yet no one is interacting with each other as we, alternatively, are checking and liking Facebook posts, reading blogs, tweeting or searching for ways to escape our current reality. Has technology increased or decreased our ability to connect with each other?
It’s a controversial question that has yet to be determined. Dr. Sherry Turkle is a Clinical Psychologist at MIT that has founded the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. Over the last 32 years, Dr. Turkle has studied the impact of technological devices and the Internet on society as a whole. In the early stages of her research, Dr. Turkle recalls seeing computer science academics at MIT who were interconnected to the web. She was amazed at the extent these “Zyborgs” forfeited their comfort in exchange for constantly being connected and wearing these devices, (Turkle, 2011).
Today, the majority of us can consider ourselves “Zyborgs”. Many of us tote around small devices in our pocket that connects to an extension of our brain, the web. We’re never really alone because we’re only a tap, text or tweet away from connecting with anyone, anywhere, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The allure of connectivity has greatly affected our ability to establish relationship boundaries.
According to Dr. Turkle, many of us keep smart phones at our bedside. It’s the first thing we check when we wake up and it’s the last thing we view before going to bed. Many of the adolescents I see report sleeping with their devices and protest when they are asked to place them on the nightstand. Frequently they deny my request to leave their phone turned off because they might miss a text from an upset friend or partner. These adolescents are often sleep deprived and report symptoms to related to anxiety and depression. Proper sleep is essential for our physical and mental health.
We can all learn from Dr. Turkle’s research. The next time you’re feeling alone, isolated and disconnected from the world, please disconnect your devices and reconnect in-person with your friends, family and children.
Sherry Turkle, 2011. Alone Together: why we expect more from technology and less from each other.