Why didn't we teach to live alone
"We are alone together"
Why talk to each other when you can reach anyone at any time?
SZ-Magazin: Mrs. Turkle, you have long been considered a great friend of every new technology – You are now criticizing the loneliness that constantly staring at the smartphone brings with it. Have you become a convert?
Sherry Turkle: No. Technology still excites me. But I believe that it will lead us to something we don't want to go. For example, defining sociability as what makes us do a social network. With my book Alone Together, I repent for my mistake in overlooking something.
When I touted the internet as a place where people can experiment with their identities, I thought you sit at your computer, spend some time on it, and then get on with your life. I didn't foresee that you and I would sit here together, your phone vibrate and you say, "Excuse me, I have better things to do now."
So the importance of person-to-person conversation suffers?
When something has worked and has been useful to parents, teachers, and children, we should cherish and promote it. Smartphones, computers, and the internet aren't bad. It's about the place we give them in our lives.
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But you have more contacts than ever thanks to the Internet.
You show each other your photos, good. It's sociable, but when you measure people's sociability by how diligently they are doing this, you forget that there are far more important and valuable aspects of sociability. For example, the ability to sit quietly and patiently listen to someone.
Why can't we do that anymore?
Because those little things in our pockets are so psychologically powerful that they not only change what we do, but also who we are. They determine how we treat each other and ourselves. We get used to being alone together.
What does that mean?
You want to be with each other, but at the same time also somewhere else, in places that you can visit and leave at will. What matters is being in control of who and what things you turn to. Do we want our children to have social skills, to be able to look each other in the face, talk, negotiate with each other, feel comfortable in a group? If so, then a little less time on the Internet, s’il vous plaît.
What is wrong with young people maintaining their contacts via the Internet?
That they think they are nobody if they don't. The motto is: "I communicate, therefore I am." Digital communication needs no content, no message. From "I have a feeling, I want to call someone" it goes to "I want to have a feeling, so I'll send a text message". Teenagers don't feel their emotion if they don't. What would once have been considered pathological is now the style of a generation.
To which neither of us belong. Is that the problem?
It affects the older generation as well. If we are not in constant contact with one another, we no longer feel ourselves. So what do we do We are looking for more contact. Which eventually leads to isolation.
Because you lose the ability to be alone. Only being alone enables you to find yourself and to bond with others. If we cannot do that, let us turn to the others so as not to be afraid, even to feel alive in the first place. The others become a kind of spare parts store for what we lack. A generation that experiences loneliness as isolation lacks autonomy. Developing this is vital for adolescents.
So away with the smartphone?
Teenagers panic when they don't have it with them. They say things like, "I've lost my iPhone, it feels like someone has died, I've lost my head." Or, "Even if I don't have it with me, I can feel it vibrate. I think about it when it's in the locker. ”The technology has already become a part of themselves.
How does a thing do that?
Smartphones satisfy three fantasies: that we can always turn to someone immediately, that we are always heard and that we are never alone. The possibility of never having to be alone changes our psyche. The moment you are alone, you begin to be frightened and reach for your cell phone. Alone has become a problem that needs to be addressed.
It's about control.
The American cultural scientist Sherry Turkle (Photo: Peter Urban)
Were you often alone as a child?
Yeah, and it was great. What we call boredom is important to our development. It is the time of the imagination, in which you don't think about anything in particular, let your imagination wander.
Without sending three thousand text messages a month like the average teenager does today. Adults who did not grow up with this means of communication are not lazy either.
Yes, they do it in business meetings, during classes and lectures, actually all the time. And texting is used even at funeral ceremonies.
Did you experience that?
Yes, at a close friend's funeral. Several did so during the music and the memorial speeches. An elderly woman told me afterward that she couldn't stand not using her cell phone for so long.
Does the older generation imitate the young?
Many children I interviewed complain that their parents' smartphone has become a competitor. Mothers and fathers who Harry Potter Read aloud and at the same time write SMS under the covers. Don't look up from your smartphone when your kids come home from school.
The boys are no better. You even avoid using the phone - why?
They prefer SMS because it is less risky. They say, "I can send the info out, I'm not involved in all the rest." You don't have to face the other person. Anyone who makes a phone call risks a conversation.
Is it about control?
Yes. And about the appearance. I can formulate a text as I wish, and update the Facebook status as I see fit. This generation is used to presenting itself. SMS, e-mails, posts - you can show yourself how you want to be and be seen. You can edit, retouch, not only the messages, but also your face, your body.
But that's good. Why should one torment oneself with feelings of inferiority?
What friendship and intimacy ask of you is complicated. Relationships are difficult, chaotic and demanding, especially in adolescence. The technology is used to bypass this in order not to have to deal with the problems. The boys appreciate a medium of communication in which one can hide embarrassment and awkwardness. You withdraw before you are rejected.
But they also have real relationships, love one another, have sex.
Of course, it is not that nobody has friends anymore, that you no longer see each other personally. The many pupils and students I have interviewed like to meet and seek physical closeness. But they don't talk to each other that much anymore. They play video games, text, shop online.
They say they spend a lot of time together, but on Facebook. And also that they don't talk to each other that much. They justify it by saying that talking is not that important.
If it helps, why not? Aren't the many snippets of contacts and communication taken together a conversation?
It is not enough to get to know and understand each other. In talking to others, we also learn to talk to ourselves. If we don't talk to each other, we compromise our ability to reflect on ourselves. For adolescents, however, this is the foundation of their development.
What about in your industry, in the university?
At faculty meetings, everyone pulls out their laptops and does their emails. If someone says something that interests you, you look up.
Many suffer from the flood of emails. Does it have more serious consequences than the higher workload?
If you don't reply to an email straight away, you will be resented.
How is it at the university?
Nobody who has taught for thirty years like me overlooks the fact that today's students need to be stimulated to a degree that was not necessary in the past. PowerPoint dictates the style of teaching, and students learn that a good presentation is a PowerPoint presentation, bang, bang, bang! They lack the silence of thought, where one thing leads to another, the whole thing slowly builds up. The intellectual pleasure of following complex subjects in a poem, novel, or play is lost because one no longer acquires the skills to grasp them. A novel by Jane Austen demands attention to things that are long, intertwined, and complicated. To say: "We are the generation that wants it short and sweet and haiku" means that you let technology dictate your aesthetics. Just because it makes everything easy that is short and sweet and haiku.
What does that mean for the future?
When technology demands that our stories be short and simple, we leave our children with a world of short and simple stories. How are we supposed to convince them that the world's problems are more complex than ever? The environment, the politics?
Do your best students spend so much time texting, on Facebook?
Yes. They too can hardly concentrate on one thing. They write worse than they used to and find it difficult to think a complex idea through to the end. You always multitask.
A skill this generation has been hailed for, isn't it?
Not today. The new studies clearly show that when you multitask everything gets a bit worse. What is fatal is that the multitasker thinks he is better and better because he is always doing more at once. The opposite is the case.
What do you think of Siri, Apple's iPhone's digital assistant?
Many say they want a more advanced version of Siri as a friend than someone to listen to. This feeling that nobody is listening is very common, and the reason that Facebook or Twitter is attractive is because you have so many automatic listeners. Look at Apple's ads - all those movie stars talking about their conversations with Siri, people like Samuel Jackson or John Malkovich. They demonstrate how to talk to robots about pretty intimate things. Jackson wants advice on a date and Malkovich wants a joke. You can have a serious conversation with Siri, that's the message - celebrities are doing it! But Siri doesn't really have a clue about anything. It finds a pizzeria, has good speech processing, this and that, but that's it. People are so used to not having a real conversation anymore that they are almost willing to say goodbye to people altogether.
We just change. Machines become socially acceptable. And what we once thought to be private is now unabashedly published.
We gave our kids Facebook and said: Have fun with it. And now it is as if we had given them a kind of mini-Stasi. Where everything they think and do is forever owned by Facebook and can be used by Facebook for whatever purposes. Google, a search engine? No, not really, it incorporates everything that has ever been written and saves the traces of my search. It's not illegal - that I didn't read the agreement, my mistake. How a magician distracts our gaze from the scene so that we don't see the trick. Not realizing what is really going on.
Young people are becoming aware that employers are looking at their Facebook page.
Not only that. Today you ask for the password for a job application, access to the Facebook account and thus to everything, every message, every private e-mail. It's like, "Can I read your love letters, search your desk, the drawer with your underwear?"
"What is consumed by what nourishes you"?
The privacy as we know it is historically something new. Can't it just be that the younger generation will get away from it again?
We gave the boys an aggressive application whose inventor and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said privacy was irrelevant. What is intimacy without privacy? What is democracy? Privacy is a social good. Eric Schmidt of Google is known for the advice: "Be good." I beg you.
Aren't we just addicted? And Zuckerberg & Co. the dealers?
No, I do not think so. When you are addicted, there is only one solution: abstinence. But we won't want to get rid of our smartphones. It's like eating: you have to find the right amount.
But the behavior is addictive - you can't get away from it all, you never have enough, you always need more.
When you write text messages, send e-mails, collect information from the network, it makes you feel good. One high, one is the master of the universe. At the end of the day, you realize you've been busy all the time and haven't thought about anything serious. That, as Shakespeare puts it, "is consumed by what nourishes".
What surprised you most about your investigation?
The fact that the parents are the role models for the behavior that they then criticize in their children. They got lost in the whole thing, and it is the young who suffer from a lack of care. They are also more likely to help us correct the course. They are teenagers who want their parents not to be so seduced by technology. They have needs that are not being met and they say so clearly.
And how do the boys feel about their own behavior?
Some want a break. I interviewed a 16-year-old, it went on for about an hour, and when he switched on his smartphone again, he had a hundred text messages.
How do young people deal with this excess of communication?
One boy worried that everyone would think he had no friends because his last post on Facebook was a week ago. Some take a vacation from Facebook for reasons like this. They can't stand the pressure of constantly updating their profile, keeping everything consistent, making sure they look slim in the photos, and worrying about whether they should like this band or not. Some see how Facebook reduces their personality to a series of "likes".
They talk about 14-year-old Pattie who turned off her cell phone and enjoys not being available. An isolated case?
No, the handling is changing. Another participant, 25-year-old Hugh, says he needs more than email and social networks can deliver. He feels rejected when he talks to a friend on the phone and realizes that he is on Facebook at the same time. Youngsters, even SMS aficionados, talk about their difficulty in getting someone's undivided attention. That will increase. There are a few who keep old-fashioned diaries again and send letters to each other to show their appreciation.
And what about the adults?
The people I speak to, personal or business, are not happy. They feel that they are communicating too much to be able to think, be creative. Yes, too much to be able to get in touch with the people who are most important to them.
How is it with you yourself?
I get five hundred emails a day. I do them before bed. When I wake up there'll be three hundred again. Many have a legitimate claim to me. It's nice, also a sign of my success.
What do you advise us to conclude from your investigations?
Talking about where this is all going. We fear, like young lovers, that talking too much spoils romance. We think the internet has grown up just because we grew up with it. But it's not grown up, it's just beginning. We have a lot of time to think about how to use, modify and expand it.
What could the first steps be?
Realizing that being alone is a good thing. Show the children that there is value. Create protected spaces at home, the kitchen, the dining room, which are reserved for conversation. Stay together for a while after dinner and talk and make sure that not everyone disappears into their room with their smartphones.
How do you do it with your students?
Today, every professor stands across from students in the lecture hall who email, browse Wikipedia, google the professor, google themselves, googling their neighbors.I start my class by saying: This is not about more information, but about thinking together, and for that I need your undivided attention. I want you to interrupt me, so that you come up with ideas and not some snippet you just fished out of the net. So: no laptops, no iPads, no smartphones. If you want to write something down, it is on a piece of paper.
And they swallow that?
They say: Then we'll just scribble and paint little men.
I do not mind. If you scribble, you can listen - yes, I even think the scribble somehow reflects what you are recording.
Sherry Turkle: The Cyber Diva
The American scientist already studied the effects of digital culture when most people were still typing on the typewriter: her book The Dream Machine: The Origin of Computer Culture was published in 1984. Turkle studied at Harvard, is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and was featured on the cover of Wired magazine. In her current book Alone Together (in German: Lost among 100 friends) she investigated how smartphones and online networks are changing the way we live together. In conversation, the sociologist exudes wit and wit, sometimes pauses for a long time before answering, and occasionally drops a few words in accent-free French – and when she gets angry, she breathes: "What the fuck ..."
Photo: Linus Bill
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