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“Technology is a word that describes something that doesn’t work yet.”
–Douglas Adams (1952-2001), English author and satirist
Is the cult of oversharing online preventing us from establishing genuine connections? Do we expect more from our phones than our neighbors? Is this natural or healthy?
“I share, therefore I am”
Many believe relying on instant messaging to maintain relationships is a crutch at best – but one that affords us an intoxicating degree of control over our relationships. As esteemed MIT professor and psychologist Sherry Turkle explains in a classic 2012 TED Talk titled “Connected, but Alone?” social networking is human connection on ideal terms: just within reach, but not too close. Dubbed “The Goldilocks Effect,” we crave connection over conversation because it’s safer to maintain “the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.”
However, these heavily-edited exchanges often prevent us from establishing the level of connection that we crave; try as we might, instant messaging can’t convey the nuance of real conversation. Things like eye contact, body language and tone of voice are often lost in translation, and in turn our messages become watered-down – easier to digest but lacking substance. For, as Turkle says, “it’s when we stumble, or hesitate, or lose our words that we reveal ourselves to each other.” The more we depend on our devices to facilitate friendships, the less human our interactions become.
We spend so much time using technology to manage our relationships that it invariably inevitably manages us. Luckily however, Turkle emphasizes in her hugely popular TED Talk that a healthier relationship with technology – and ourselves – is possible.
How? To quote a popular English-language saying – and ancient Greek proverb – “everything in moderation.” We can start by creating more conversation-friendly spaces around us, and by taking opportunities throughout the day to unplug. Make the family dinner table a tech-free zone. Take solitary walks during breaks in your schedule. Grab coffee with friends and coworkers. Turkle continues this theme in her book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (a highly-recommended read).
When we set aside time and space in our lives for real, compelling conversation, we create stronger and more authentic connections. For teachers of English like myself, that starts in the classroom – and continues in student-professor conferences. When we ask more, we know more, and when we know more, we share more. By promoting a more communicative, fluency-focused curriculum, we train not only skilled English speakers, but confident conversationalists.
Where do you have your most compelling conversations – over the phone, online or in person? How do you maintain healthy relationships with your friends, students and neighbors?
For more on creating a conversation-friendly classroom, check out these previous posts: 1, 2.