To mark Juneteenth, a conversation with three contributors to "The 1619 Project" about what happens when we place slavery and its legacy at the center of the American story. Diane talks to New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie, history professor Martha S. Jones and Jake Silverstein, editor-in-chief of The New York Times Magazine.
It’s a common phenomenon: you’re at the dinner table, and the person across from you reaches for their phone to check a text or an email, gazing downward mid-conversation. It’s likely you’ve done this, too. More and more of our daily interactions occur in the digital realm, and according to psychologist Sherry Turkle that’s not strictly a positive thing…and can be dangerous. She says technology is giving us too many ways around face-to-face conversation, leading to what she calls a “crisis of empathy that has diminished us at home, at work, and in public life”. Sherry Turkle on how we’ve lost conversation, how we can reclaim it…and why doing so is critical for us all.
- Sherry Turkle Professor of the social studies of science and technology, MIT; licensed clinical psychologist; founder and director, MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. Her previous books include "The Second Self", "Life on the Screen" and "Alone Together".
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Communication technology has brought us closer in so many ways. Now, we need to focus on the ways in which it's pushing us apart. That's according to MIT psychologist, Sherry Turkle. She's spent nearly four decades researching the relationship between people and technology. She says turning to our phones for interaction instead of to each other is causing a crisis.
MS. DIANE REHMHer call to action, look up, look at each other and start the conversation. We'll do that right now face to face with Sherry Turkle, here in the studio with her new book titled "Reclaiming Conversation: The Power Of Talk In A Digital Age." And throughout the hour, I'll look forward to hearing your comments, questions. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Sherry Turkle, it's so good to have you here.
MS. SHERRY TURKLEOh, it's wonderful to be here.
REHMI'm so glad to see you.
TURKLEI'm so glad to be here.
REHMNow, I have to tell you a little story. When I was a young woman raising young children, I was in the house most of the time. My dearest friend, Jane Dixon, who became a bishop here in Washington, she and I spoke on the telephone almost every day for 45 years. People used to say, what in the world are you talking about? Well, sometimes they were brief, but sometimes they were very long in-depth conversations.
REHMWhat I want to know is what is the difference between those phone conversations and what's happening now?
TURKLEWell, in those phone conversations, as you described them, you allowed yourself to wander. You allowed there to be a lull. You allowed each other to be boring. These days...
TURKLEBoring and loving, but you allowed -- these days, when I interview people, they tell me that if there is a boring bit, I mean, literally, they use that expression, when a boring bit comes up in a conversation, they go to a phone. One young man said to me, my generation is the first generation that doesn't have to tolerate a moment of boredom. And we forget what boredom -- the importance of letting each other be a little boring.
TURKLEI mean, people need a moment to take a breath, to associate, to reach more deeply into their associations and, in fact, it's when we're silent and reach for a word or have a lapse that we often reveal the most to each other.
REHMSo I presume that you have experienced what I talked about in the introduction, someone sits down to dinner at a restaurant, say, or even in your home and puts the iPhone right there in front of them or some kind of digital object.
REHMMine happens to be an iPhone.
TURKLEA device, yeah.
REHMA device. And watches that device in between watching and looking at you. What do you do?
TURKLEWell, first of all, I think you have to -- whatever you do, you have to know that you're acting from wanting to improve that conversation because research shows that if you put that phone between two people in a restaurant, two things happen. The conversation becomes trivial without your wanting that to happen and a second thing will happen, that the empathic communication, the amount that two people care about each other in that restaurant will actually drop.
TURKLESo when you act, you know, you're sort of acting out of love. You know, you're acting out of wanting to improve that connection. So you simply say -- I would just, you know, say, you know, this relationship, this conversation matters to me. Let's put away our phones, Sherry says.
REHMSherry says. But here's the thing, Sherry has been for years and years studying the importance of these new devices, of technology and how it has come into our life. Have you reached a point where you're now concerned about it?
TURKLEYes. I was actually on the cover -- it seems like old times, but I was actually on the cover of "Wired" magazine, was something of a cyber diva because I was one of the early psychologists who actually said there's something very powerful, interesting about computational devices that allowed us, in particular, to explore aspects of identity when we went online and I wanted psychologists to pay attention and not just say, oh, we're humanists and let's leave this to the technologists.
TURKLEI wanted a much more active participation in the nascent computer culture by humanists and psychologists. So I was very active. I would say -- I don't want to say I was a promoter, but in kind of getting people into it. And I'm sure I came on this show and pitched that.
REHMYou did. You did, exactly that.
TURKLEBut two things happened. Let's say two things happened that turned me around and it made me concerned and I've been on the trail of those two things now for really decades. And now, they're reached a point where my concern is genuine, but my optimism is genuine, too, because I think that I'm not the only one who's seeing the problem. I mean, I really feel now that there's a movement to reclaim conversation and a movement that sees that something is amiss.
TURKLELet me tell you what these two things are. The first is that we're developing sociable robots, something like "Hello, Barbie," that comes out of the box, that says, "hello, I love you. I have a sister. Do you have a sister? I hate my sister. Do you hate your sister? Let's talk about our feelings about your" you know, in other words, that pretends a relationship, that pretends empathy, that pretends it can be a friend. And pretend empathy for a child of this form is toxic.
TURKLEYou know, I know this pitch is a little strong, but I really feel very strongly about this, that giving a child this pretend empathy is toxic and it's, you know, my attitude towards this is really "other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?" I mean, I have very strong feelings about this particular kind of new doll, new robot kind of object. But the second thing that happened and this is what makes up most of reclaiming conversation is that we have devices that are always on and always on us.
TURKLEAnd once those devices came in, my problem is not with the devices. It's the way they interfere with our conversations with each other when we are with each other.
REHMWell, and, of course, eye contact is one aspect of conversation that really rules the conversation in a sense, even more than what's coming out of our mouths.
TURKLEYes. So it's those two things that changed, that came in, that became very important and ate -- and I believe that now people, unlike five or six or seven years ago, people now realize something is amiss.
REHMDo you think it's because the proliferation that these devices that people are becoming more and more aware of how often they are distracted by that device, how often even families may sit at a dinner table and each has a device in front of him?
TURKLEYes. It's been going on long enough that people not only are aware that they're doing it, but they're beginning to feel the cost. In a recent Pew study, 89 percent of Americans said that their last interaction, their last social interaction, they took out a phone and 82 percent said that it deteriorated the conversation they were in. I interviewed a man who said that when he had his -- when he gave baths to his now 11-year-old daughter when she was 2, he would talk to her and play with her and have conversations with her.
TURKLEAnd now, he has a 2-year-old daughter and when she's taking a bath, he just does his email on his iPhone. And that conversation was so meaningful to me because to me, it was exemplary of how we know we're doing something that we don't like and we're sort of poised to do something about it. That man was ready for a change in his life. He wants to have a conversation with his daughter because those conversations, when she's 2 are the necessary conversations for her to develop empathy, a feeling of rootedness in the world and relationship to her father.
REHMSherry Turkle is professor of social studies of science and technology at MIT. She is a clinical psychologist. Her new book is titled "Reclaiming Conversation: The Power Of Talk In A Digital Age." And, of course, you are invited to talk with us. Give us a call. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMWelcome back. Sherry Turkle is with me. She is professor of social studies of science and technology at MIT, the author of a brand new book titled, "Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age." You look at both family life and work life. Talk about work life.
TURKLEWell, we're really at a turning point in work life because new studies have shown that conversation is good for the bottom line. When you give workers time, employees of -- in all kinds of industries, breaks together, their productivity goes up. And yet people have the idea that the only time they're working is when they are at a screen. It's become ingrained in our culture that work means you're at the screen, you're doing your email. That's wrong. And in one company I studied, the company knew how important it was for their employees to have conversation. And so they designed cafeteria tables that were exactly the right size for conversation. They had micro-kitchens where people would pause to have conversations.
TURKLEBut when you interviewed people -- when I went there and interviewed people about, so how are the conversations? They said, we can't have conversations because we always have to be on the company email system, messaging system, because the most important value in the company is always being available to right away answer a message. So we're really torn at work between two models of are we going to give ourselves time enough to get off our screens and do what we know to be true, give ourselves time to talk face to face. So, but it's a question of culture that has to start at the top. We have to really allow ourselves to talk to each other.
REHMAnd what about the family? How is the family being affected?
TURKLEWell, families are not -- I study families where families are -- first of all, the work and the family story go together. Because if families feel that they -- if the mother or father feel they need to be online all the time for their work, they -- they're texting at breakfast and dinner and family conversations are eroded. And family breakfast and dinner are ground zero for reclaiming conversation.
TURKLEAnd the most important thing you can do to reclaim conversation is to create a sacred space for conversation in the kitchen, in the dining room and in the car.
REHMDo devices present.
TURKLENo devices. No devices present.
REHMDevices put away.
TURKLEYes. And the car is really very important, because the car has become the new place for videos, texting, catching up on your social media feed. That's exactly wrong. The car is the place where a family can talk to each other. And when you have a young child, you explain that to your child and you simply say, it's very important to me that I talk to you. Other families may feel otherwise but, in our family, this is how we do it.
REHMDo you see a generational divide here?
TURKLEYes, I do. And it's a very interesting one and it's one that gives me a lot of hope. Because people in a generation who -- an older generation, let's say 40 to 75 and up, who thought that their best chance of communication was going to be a -- I'd like to say a Dick Tracy two-way wrist radio, that that was the gold standard, you know? They look at their iPhone and they think they died and went to heaven. I mean they think it's going to get taken away practically. And they're smitten, you know, with this new device. And they are the ones who really have raised children where they brought the -- where they brought the phones everywhere.
TURKLEThey became smitten with their phones. And I'd like to say they're like young lovers who feel that too much talking about it will spoil the romance. And they don't want to discuss, you know, what the phone might be doing, you know, to relationships too much. They don't -- it might get taken away, it might spoil the romance. But younger people -- younger people know that these phones are here for good and that it's not a question of giving them up.
TURKLEIt's a question of how we're going to live with them. And for their children, for children who are 18 and younger, 22 and younger, these kids want to live a different kind of life with their phones. I mean, they say to me -- in the beginning of my study, I was talking about how I was going to study the, you know, kind of texting and the sort of micro-analysis of texting -- and one young man said to me, he said -- he was a college junior -- he said, don't do that Professor Turkle. Our texts are fine. It's what texting is doing to our conversations when we're together.
TURKLEThat's the problem.
REHMAnd here's an email -- sorry, a tweet from Mindy, who says, tech can facilitate lifesaving, real empathy, not only pretend empathy. How do we respect the potential benefits as well?
TURKLEBy respecting it. I want to make my message 100 percent clear. I -- this book is not and my position is not anti-technology, it is pro-conversation. I am for every use of texting and messaging and technology when it brings people together. What I'm arguing against is if Diane and I had a phone between us and we're trying to have a conversation with the phone, with Diane calling her besties as well as trying to have a conversation with me.
TURKLEI just -- I just -- this is such, I mean, I wanted to say that again.
TURKLEIt is such a misunderstanding of what I'm trying to say. And I always believe it's the author's fault, you know, if the author is misunderstood. I like to say, it's the author's fault for being misunderstood. That when technology brings you closer to other people, Sherry Turkle is onboard with you.
REHMBut here is a tweet from Jean, who says, my husband and I jokingly say, we're one of those couples, if one of us wants to look something up on our phone, that's relevant to our conversation.
TURKLEWell, this is a -- this is a very interesting point, the kind of using technology to enhance conversation by looking things up. Because it makes every kind of sense in the world. We all do it all the time. But I did interview a 14-year-old girl at a device-free camp, where -- I should say that at a device-free camp, empathy levels rise dramatically -- during five days at a device-free camp and empathy levels start to go up.
TURKLESo there's this 40 percent decline in empathy levels among young people. Five days at a device-free camp, empathy levels go up. And I was at a device-free camp and this young woman says to me that her father visits and he takes out his phone to look up something and she says to -- to enhance the conversation with her -- and she says to him, Daddy, please stop Googling. I just want to talk to you.
TURKLEAnd I heard that in different forms so much, that when I hear a comment like that about how we're enhancing conversation by looking up knowledge, I think back to the conversations you had with your friend, you know, those 45 minute conversations every day, and I wonder what would those conversations had been if you had interrupted them to look up important facts and figures that you didn't have onboard. You know? And I think that sometimes we make too much of the information that we're missing and we don't get to the heart of the matter of what we're feeling.
REHMHere's an email from John in Virginia, who says, my wife and I have been married for some time. Back in the day, we would take the Sunday Times to brunch. It was a form of parallel play, each person reading something different, stopping to share interesting tidbits, ask a question or comment on the food over the course of a leisurely, enjoyable morning. Now, with devices, the interaction still seems the same to me. What am I missing?
TURKLEWell, I've carefully studied the difference between people interacting over newspapers and over devices. Now, mostly I should say, I've studied this among children and their parents. And here's what, for example, a high school senior says about his dad. He says, my dad and I used to watch Sunday football with The New York Times spread between us and we used to pass the paper back and forth and we used to fight about political things or fight about, you know, he used to tell me about things that I didn't understand what was in the paper and he used to talk to me. Now he does his email. And he's lost to me, he's in the zone.
REHMInteresting. When our family was young, we had breakfast and dinner together.
REHMThere were always discussions in which either my son or my daughter would say, I'm going to go get the encyclopedia.
REHMNow, how was that different from looking it up on a device?
TURKLEThat is an example where I think it isn't. That's an example where it isn't. The difference I think would be, and this happens very often, that on a device, and we see this in classrooms, you look something up because why don't we want -- I mean, five years ago, I did a survey of professors. You know, how do you feel about open laptops in your classroom. And people said, I don't want to be a nanny. I'm not going to be a babysitter. Let our students do whatever they want. Okay, now, it's like faculty have really changed their minds. They want -- they don't want open devices at all because we see what happens.
TURKLEThis is pertinent to your question. What happens sometimes online is you look up the fact and then you see an ad and then you see something and you follow it.
TURKLEAnd then, you're buying shoes.
REHMYou're going somewhere else totally.
TURKLEYeah, I mean, you -- all of a sudden you're elsewhere.
TURKLEI mean, you, it's, you know, because the ads are now tailored so completely to what you really have been looking for...
REHMYeah, that's really important.
TURKLEAnd you are now -- it's just like you make that gesture to your family, you know, that hand up, you know, just and put people on pause. Because really the ad for the shoes that you have been looking for a month have finally gone on sale, there you are and you just buy them. And so that is a difference.
REHMBut the encyclopedia information...
REHM...brought us all back together.
TURKLEYes. And also you could put it on the table and share it.
TURKLEI mean, there are differences. But again, my rule is that if you have a practice that brings your family together through devices, hold on to it, treasure it, use it. You'll know. I mean, I think people know if they're doing something that enhances conversation by the use of technology. I think people know. And I think people know, like that dad who says, you know, I'm sitting in the bathroom and instead of talking to my daughter, I'm doing my email. I feel so terrible. I think he knows that he's not.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Now, let's bring our listeners in. There are many who want to comment. Let's go first to Pat in Yakima, Wash. You're on the air.
PATThanks, Diane. My -- after the Oregon shootings and friends and family and I were engaged in what felt like the obligatory debate on gun control, an interesting topic came up about how technology has led to a cultural decrease in empathy and the relationship that may share with the seemingly increase of gun violence and just violence across America in the context of these mass shootings. And I was wondering if your speaker would be willing to touch on that subject.
REHMThat's so interesting.
TURKLEWell, I do argue that we face a crisis in empathy because empathy is born. And I think technology is implicated in a crisis on empathy. One of the working titles of the book at one point was an assault on empathy. Because I think that we face a kind of Rachel Carson, "Silent Sprint," moment, where this time technology is not involved in an assault on the environment but an assault on empathy.
REHMYou know, it's so interesting how many of those individuals who've been involved in mass shootings or in assaults on individuals have been described as loners.
REHMDo you think technology has played a role?
TURKLEWell, I think it plays a role in many ways. It gives you the possibility of being what I once called alone together, that is, you know, being able to live connected to many but essentially being alone. But it plays a role in this conversation, in book, in a very direct way, which is empathy is born -- Diane mentioned eye contact -- empathy is born through the conversations we have with each other: eye contact, body language, putting yourself in the place of the other, practicing that. In the book, I say, you know, and then repeat, and then repeat.
TURKLEThis is why the dinner table is so important. The regular conversations you have with a child from the very beginning and then repeat. The face-to-face conversations where a child sees all of that unfold, is given practice in putting themselves in the place of the other. We're simply not doing that enough. And children are not getting enough exposure to that kind of conversation. I was called in to a middle school where the teachers were beside themselves because 12-year-olds, they said, were playing like 8-year-olds. They could not put themselves in the place of other children. And this crisis in empathy is something that has been remarked on, really, by educators and psychologists all over the country.
REHMWhat about bullying? Do you think that that’s...
TURKLETerrible. Terrible. Bullying, essentially, there are two kinds of bullying. We've thought a lot about cyber bullying and we know why that happens. There, when you're online, the online blocking of the face -- the face is where the person and the needs of the other person comes alive for you. You know, great philosophers say that we become moral creatures, you know, when we see the face of the other. And when you don't see the face, we almost forget that we're dealing with another person. But, now, with so much of our everyday conversation taking place with a device, empathy is blocked.
REHMThe book is titled, "Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age." Sherry Turkle of MIT is my guest.
REHMAnd for those of you who've just joined us, Sherry Turkle is with me. She is professor at MIT, with a new book titled, "Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age." A number of people want to hearken back to your comment about boredom and what happens when boredom begins to set in. Someone here in Charlotte, N.C., has written, "Five seconds and people pull out their devices."
TURKLEYes. I do a lot of my study at stop signs. And I -- at a stop sign -- also at a checkout line in a supermarket people will pull out a device. There's a very interesting study in which college students are taken in a group and they're told all they need to do is sit without a device and without a book. And they're sit and they're gonna be asked to do this for about six minutes or six to fifteen minutes. And do you think they'll have problems?
TURKLEAnd they say, no, we can do that. And then they're asked, do you think in that time you'd want to administer an electroshock to yourself? And they say are you kidding? That would be -- no. Crazy. They, you know, they say fine. And then after six minutes they begin to administer electroshocks to themselves.
TURKLERather than sit quietly with their own thoughts. So we start to see being alone as a problem that technology should solve for us. And we make it solve for us by going -- we make it solve it by going to our phones. But not being able to sit with your thoughts and have the capacity for solitude is actually the beginning of not having the capacity for conversation because the link between solitude and conversation is very close.
TURKLEYou need to be able to know who you are in order to come to a conversation with other people and be with them and not distort who they are. There's a great saying from the psychoanalytic tradition that, you know, if you don't teach your children to be alone they'll only know how to be lonely.
REHMWhat about the use of dating websites? They've become very prevalent. How do you interpret what's going on?
TURKLEWell, I think they're great to bring people together when people use them to get together. What I've gotten from interviewing people on dating websites is that very often people want to be on dating websites to stay on dating websites and talk on dating websites, in other words the use of the dating website -- people become phobic about face-to-face conversation and begin to use the dating website as a place to have a lower risk conversation…
TURKLEYes, of contact. And I think that the question is are we so busy having communication that we are afraid to have conversation. And I think that's the question that we need to pose in every area of our life, whether it's dating or friendship or work. Are we so busy communicating that we don't have time for conversation?
REHMThe other part of that is that people are not necessarily who they say they are.
REHMOr communicated the real person behind that device. And that, I could understand, would generate a little reluctance on some people's part to really meet that person on the other end.
TURKLEYeah, I mean, the thing about the internet, I mean, that old thing about, you know, you can be who, the dog says, you know, on the internet, you know, the joke about, you know, even a dog on the internet, you know, could get bit. And I'm forgetting the line, but it -- certainly you can represent yourself however you want to be.
TURKLEYou get a chance to edit. You get a chance to -- I call it the Goldilocks effect. You get a chance to really put forth sort of your ideal self. And I -- to speak about dating, I followed one couple in "Reclaiming Conversation," you know, kind of a detailed case study. And they did meet in person, they did have a relationship in person. But so much of their relationship was online that they missed important cues that they would have gotten if they had been together -- if they had put more emphasis on the time they had spent together.
TURKLEBecause online they were sort of trying to be perfect for each other, more empathic, more -- and they missed who they really were because they were kind of so invested in who they could be if they edited themselves online.
REHMRead, if you would, that portion where a young woman talks about her relationship with her mother.
TURKLEYes. This is -- well, this is author thrilled to be reading your book on the radio. I've got to say I've never done this. This is really wonderful. Okay. So this is a young woman, a 15-year-old, talking about her family conversations at dinner and how they're fragile things. So she says, "So my mom is always on her email, always on her phone. She always has it next to her at the dinner table. And if there's the slightest little buzz or anything she'll look at it.
TURKLE"She always has some excuse. When we're out to dinner she'll pretend to put it away. She'll have it on her lap. She'll be looking down, but it'll be so obvious. Me and my dad and my sister will all tell her to get off her phone. If I were even to be on my phone at the table I would get grounded by her. But she has her phone out. At dinner my mom is doing her own thing on her phone and it ends up my dad is sitting there, I'm sitting there, my sister is sitting there and no one is talking or anything. It's a chain reaction. Only one person has to start. Only one person has to stop talking."
TURKLEBut see this is -- it's sad, but these are the conversations with a 15-year-old that gives me hope because actually it's someone her age who says to me -- a young man, another 15-year-old, who says, "When I have children I'm gonna raise them, not the way my parents think they're raising me, which is at a dinner table where there's talk and where we don't have phones out, but the way they're really, you know, I'm not -- I'm gonna raise my children not the way I'm being raised…
TURKLE…which is where everybody has their phone out, but the way my parents think they're raising me, which is at a dinner table where we really talk.
REHMAll right. Let's go now to Margaret, in Indianapolis. You're on the air.
MARGARETOh, thank you so much. And I want you to -- first of all, this is an incredibly important book and conversation.
MARGARETNumber two, it is a gift to me on my 66th birthday.
REHMOh, happy birthday.
MARGARETThank you. Where -- when my -- our 27-year-old daughter texted me last week asking if I had any special requests for my birthday, I said, yes, for you to call me on the phone and we have a conversation. And she's a wonderful person. But -- and number two, one thing she hears from me -- I've stepped back and made a decision not to buy into this, even though I've been doing all of this since the early 1990s. In fact, was -- I don't want to get into this so much.
MARGARETI have calmed down a great deal from when I first heard you and I first called. My background is a -- what is now an MBA at Yale University. It used to originally be called the Masters in Public and Private Management. I graduated in the mid-80s after eight years on U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy's personal staff. Bottom -- oh, and I mean, I've got a lot more. So I'm bringing to this -- it's not just generational. Because I can do and have been a -- had the good fortune of being a pioneer in the technology and the positive uses in terms of convey agendas.
MARGARETWhen it just really does need to be the facts. But in fact, if I understand the current scholarly research adequate, 80 percent of communication is nonverbal. It is non-text.
REHMAnd that is a fine point.
TURKLEAbsolutely. So we're missing out. Again, my point is -- is not that there's anything wrong with all of this great technology and all of the other things it can bring us, informationally, broadening our world, but it can't bring us that 80 percent of empathic contact of feeling what another is feeling that we're missing.
REHMNow, here's an interesting from Karla. And we only have a few seconds here to respond. What about when technology fosters empathy more effectively than conversation? Like when that viral picture of, Aylan, the young Syrian boy who drowned accomplished more than 1,000 interviews did?"
TURKLEWell, I think there's a difference between, I think, moving -- this is such an important question. Because moving forward we have to make a distinction between compassion and empathy. What you get out of that picture is compassion and understanding for something you would never know about it. It's not the same as my being able to put myself into another person's head or have my child understand what an emotion is and being able to do that give-and-take that is so important to their development.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." A text from Ken, who says, "My wife and I find there's great solace in the quiet, relaxing use of devices. We share what we find interesting, stopping when we do."
TURKLEAnd I say great. In other words, I think that people who've integrated this technology into the give and take of their relationship, into conversation, into quiet solitude, I -- again, when people find their rhythm, they know they've found their rhythm.
REHMAnd here's another important point from Christina in Woodbridge, Va. Hi, you're on the air.
CHRISTINAHi, Diane. It's great to be on the show.
CHRISTINAI wanted to comment on -- I technically am a millennial myself, but I notice more and more with people younger than me that they're using digital devices and communications to alleviate social anxiety. For example, even when you're having a conversation with someone, they'll get on their phone and be texting other people at the same time to avoid any uncomfortable lapses in conversation or not knowing what to say, which in the moment might seem like it's helpful to them, but in the end, I think, just makes the problem worse.
REHMWhat do you think? Just makes the problem worse.
TURKLEYes. I mean, basically, there's nothing more deadening to a conversation than your going off to be with the people on the phone instead of the people you're with. I mean, that, you know, you're just -- that is the habit, you know, that is the habit that -- that's hard to break.
REHMBut she talked about the avoidance of the awkward moment.
REHMAnd isn't that where the gazing into…
REHM…another person's eyes come in.
TURKLEYeah, what's wrong with the awkward moment? In other words, life…
REHMExactly. Is filled with awkward moments.
TURKLE…with the awkward moments. And I was once at a demonstration of what's called the internet of things. And, you know, not to get too deeply into it, but it showed you how your phone could help you walk to the -- to get your cappuccino, which would already be made exactly as you wanted it. And you could avoid, like, passing by ex-boyfriends on the way because your phone would know their location and you would never have to have an awkward moment. And I thought to myself, do I need a life where I never see?
REHMWhen you never have an awkward moment.
TURKLEDo I -- is this, you know, is this -- who decided this was the good life? In other words, when did we decide this was the good life? And I think that the -- that, you know, just like boredom is your imagination calling out to you, we need to be bored. We need our children to be bored.
TURKLEBecause boredom is your child's imagination calling out to them and saying look within. Children need that experience. They cannot be continually stimulated. They will lose. Boredom is the moment when they develop a kind of stable sense of who they are and of their autobiographical self. Neurologically they need those moments of boredom and mind wandering.
TURKLEAdults need it, too. We cannot do without boredom. And we cannot do without awkward moments. Not good. In other words, where technology -- author's choice, my favorite line in my book is technology makes us forget what we know about life. And we have to start remembering what we know about life.
REHMThat really sort of scares me that so much in the way of choice, as far as technology is concerned, can really pull us away from the reality of living.
REHMAnd being with other people.
TURKLEYeah, something as simple as an apology. In other words, if I've hurt your feelings and I say I'm sorry, so much work, so much learning happens. I get to say I'm sorry. You get to see that I mean it and I'm in pain. I get to see that, yeah, I've hurt you, you look not happy, but you do get to see that I'm sorry and I'm in pain, too.
REHMWhat -- and how does that differ from a text saying, sorry?
TURKLEAnd -- right. And then when you see what came, then something new can happen between us.
TURKLEAnd it's empathy. The empathy begins a new relationship. And each of us learn something about empathy. That's what children need to be doing. If I type I'm sorry and hit send, nothing happens. And that's the difference.
REHMSherry Turkle, professor at MIT. Her new book is titled, "Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age." I think just a very important book, Sherry. So glad you've written it.
TURKLEThank you so much.
REHMAnd thanks all for listening. Talk to each other. I'm Diane Rehm.
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