One of our discussion selections this summer (see Media) is this provocative new book by Sherry Turkle, long known for deeply exploring the social implications of technology. Here’s a thoughtful review of her most recent book that appeared in the New York Times.
Sherry Turkle is a singular voice in the discourse about technology. She’s a skeptic who was once a believer, a clinical psychologist among the industry shills and the literary hand-wringers, an empiricist among the cherry-picking anecdotalists, a moderate among the extremists, a realist among the fantasists, a humanist but not a Luddite: a grown-up … as such, she serves as a kind of conscience for the tech world.
Conversation is Turkle’s organizing principle because so much of what constitutes humanity is threatened when we replace it with electronic communication …. When you speak to people in person, you’re forced to recognize their full human reality, which is where empathy begins. (A recent study shows a steep decline in empathy, as measured by standard psychological tests, among college students of the smartphone generation.) And conversation carries the risk of boredom, the condition that smartphones have taught us most to fear, which is also the condition in which patience and imagination are developed.
Although “Reclaiming Conversation” touches on the politics of privacy and labor-saving robots, Turkle shies from the more radical implications of her findings … Matthew Crawford, in “The World Beyond Your Head,” contrasts the world of a “peon” airport lounge — saturated in advertising, filled with mesmerizing screens — with the quiet, ad-free world of a business lounge: “To engage in playful, inventive thinking, and possibly create wealth for oneself during those idle hours spent at an airport, requires silence. But other people’s minds, over in the peon lounge (or at the bus stop), can be treated as a resource — a standing reserve of purchasing power.”