Turkle is on to something and I slowly realize I am making a conscious choice to strive, whenever possible, to make sure all my friendships involve eye-to-eye conversation. Words have far more meaning and connection when there are the feelings of attachment and empathy that can only be achieved by the power of eye contact. Even if it is only via Skpe, the “mirroring” pathways in our brain are engaged and a deeper connection occurs.
Turkle reveals shocking studies. More and more youth in this day and age are accustomed to constant interruptions in conversation due to social media. So much so, the interruptions are not viewed as a bad thing but rather as another form of human connection. These interruptions provide an “out” for things folks want to avoid, and the overwhelming thing people want to avoid is boredom. Boredom is basically a warning sign when you come down to it. It’s the mind is telling us we have to pay closer attention to something… anything. At its core, that’s a good thing as it teaches us to take note to what makes us tick and pushes us to make new connections or learn new things. But if boredom is constantly swatted away by the allure of the phone and the online world, how are we to come to know ourselves? And in that, how are we to come to make meaningful conversations with one another?
This world is too fast paced if you ask me. People want instant gratification. I’ve said that numerous times at work. The “meat” of a story has to be within the first paragraph, or three sentences, lest you risk losing a reader. More often than not, people want to be told what to do, not how to do for themselves. Focus is lacking and lulls in conversation are a bad thing. During the point in my life when I was online all the time, I learned that any “lull” in a conversation committed by me that was longer than 3 seconds would spark questions. It led to more anxiety for me, which wasn’t good when you have an anxiety disorder. I’d worry for a split second that I wasn’t fast enough to reply. Many times I’d have to think before I would type or respond to a question. 99% of the time all I was doing was processing what I just read and was forming my thoughts. It takes me longer than most sometimes due to my Pure O. I think in pictures and metaphors. I absorb things slower. My “lulls” would spark questions of if I was multitasking. Who else was I talking to? What else was I doing? What was going on? Well…. nothing. I was thinking. Plain and simple. If you speak to me and it seems like I am not replying fast enough, give me a second. I am just flipping through mind mind and rotating my thoughts into words. But this digital age has programmed a world where faster is better, and, when people lack the empathy found in face to face conversations, silence can be misread. Turkle mentions this. She writes:
“...people who chronically multitask train their brains to crave multitasking. Those who multitask most frequently don’t get better at it; they just want more of it. This means that conversation, the kind that demands focus, becomes more and more difficult.” I can’t help but think that those who are constantly on the go, and especially our youth today with their crazy schedules, might expect others to be on the go too. That if they multitask, they expect, or assume, others are as well and are capable of functioning in that environment. Where I respond slower, an expert multitasker may be quicker to a reply. How does the movement from texting, to instant messages, to Facebook, to Twitter feeds, etc., affect people’s ability to slow down, form thoughts, and carry on conversations, and can it be done without the interruptions? Youth today are experts in juggling multiple forms of social media. Turkle discovered that, for people in their teens and twenties, the most commonly heard phrase at dinner with friends was “Wait, what?” Everyone is always missing something because they are not slowing down enough to pause, process, think and then respond.
I suppose that is why I love small groups at church. They are highly focused. It’s why I love dinners at the dining room table with my daughter. Togetherness breeds connection. A slower pace creates time to think before you speak.
It’s not easy to unplug from it all though. Just last night I was having a hard time with my necessity to say good night to my best friend so to have my dinner and walk the dog. I kept wanting to flip my computer back open so to be in constant connection. I felt selfish for leaving. Backing away from the world I was so involved in when I am home is strange for me, especially when it’s part of my job, but it’s giving me a lot more power to be a better person and friend. I’m less stressed now that I am offline more than I am online. I feel like I have privacy.
Always being connected in the digital world leaves you never alone and, in order to know yourself the best, you have to be alone sometimes.
It’s rare that a book makes me leap out of the tub to post a blog, but just a few pages into this one and I knew I had to. It’s called “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age” by Sherry Turkle.
The art of conversation has died around us. I was never a big conversationalist to begin with but I sure did listen..a lot. I don’t hear many real honest to goodness conversations where people are talking with each other and not at or through each other. In this day and age human empathy and connection has suffered by placing windows and screens in place of eye-to-eye, face-to-face contact.
I spend most of my time in an online world. It’s a part of my job. I interact with countless people on social media that I will never see face to face. For many years I came home and social media was my world too, so much so, the first thing I did when I walked in my door was to make sure the computer was on and the alerts were turned up. But the online world is no substitute for being present before another person, and yet, we all succumb to it. We love the idea of being able to edit a thought before we say it and be as flawless as we can possibly be.
Things have changed for me over years. I started to get involved in small groups with my church. I am less interested in social media and growing more addicted to God and small groups. I get a high from making connections and hearing the flawed stories of people face-to-face.
It’s 2017 and it took some time and a lot of prayer but I can say I social media is not running my life as it has for the last 9 years. My phone is used to make calls or send a text to one of a handful of people. When in a waiting room full of people looking at their phones, I’m the one looking at them.
I’m “reclaiming” my own art of conversation. That’s why I am going to read this book and post a blog when a thought strikes me. I sure hope this helps me learn a lot more about the conversation before my daughter gets to be the age where she wants/needs a phone. I don’t want her to be one of those tweens who never looks where she is going when she walks or who’s idea of hanging out with friends is sitting around looking at their phones.
Turkle writes: “The very sight of a phone on the landscape leaves us feeling less connected to each other, less invested in each other….Once aware we can begin to rethink our practices. When we do, conversation is there to reclaim. For the failing connections of our digital world, it is the talking cure.”
Granted, it’s the digital age, but God made people so people can be known to one another. He did not make us to live alone. He did not create us to love in secret. He did not design us to hide from one another. He gave us empathy for a reason.
I know mine needs polish.