Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Technology and social media. Are you listening to me?

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A big thank you to Tractorgirl for drawing my attention to another thought-provoking and challenging TED talk.  Sociologist Sherry Turkle's Connected, but alone? reflects on whether our  increasing use of digital technology and social media, designed as a means of connection, is, paradoxically  hindering authentic and genuine communication with each other.  From Ms Turkle's own site:

Technology promises to let us do anything from anywhere with anyone. But it also drains us as we try to do everything everywhere. We begin to feel overwhelmed and depleted by the lives technology makes possible. We may be free to work from anywhere, but we are also prone to being lonely everywhere. In a surprising twist, relentless connection leads to a new solitude. We turn to new technology to fill the void,but as technology ramps up, our emotional lives ramp down.

Now I'm not one for knocking modern technology; I'm in agreement with many folk, Tractorgirl included, that social and digital media has been a wonderful means of enlarging my horizons beyond my own little corner, and yes, I've also made connections with people online that have later matured into   friendships 'in real life.' The plus side's been covered pretty well elsewhere and I'm not intending to add to that here.

No, what really caught my attention were the assertions of the effect our use of  the media is having on our ability to  just 'be,' by ourselves, alone; to give ourselves space; above all to give that 'safe'  space to others where they're truly heard and accepted. We are, Ms Turkle says, increasingly unable to listen, really listen to each other.

“If we're not able to be alone, we're going to be more lonely. And if we don't teach our children to be alone, they're only going to know how to be lonely.”

“We all really need to listen to each other, including to the boring bits.”

“The feeling that ‘no one is listening to me’ make us want to spend time with machines that seem to care about us.”

(Well, sorry, but if people think that when I'm old and grey I'll satisfy my social, emotional and spiritual needs by talking to a robot, they've another think coming! )

'No one is listening to me.'  That shocked me. Sadly, it didn't surprise me in the least.  I guess I've a vested interest; being involved in spiritual direction where listening skills are key.  As they are in so many of the helping professions.

So where does that leave us?  For myself, it's a timely reminder - if I needed one - of the need that is out there. And for anyone- I'd suggest, take a step,  doesn't need to be a huge project, just a small step will do, to once in a while switch off the laptop/phone/insert device of your choice.  Then call a friend (oops - alright, I'll let you have the phone back as long as you promise not to text or tweet). Speak to that elderly neighbour; the person next to you on the train, in the bus queue, the chap at the supermarket till, the elderly lady walking her dog in the park. And do it with no other agenda other than to offer the other person that precious gift of unhurried  time and space.


  1. excellent post. I always try to keep time for myself and the spend quality time with friends and family.

  2. Thank you. It is so important, isn't it?


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