Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Put Down the Phone and Learn to Be Alone (And to Listen), Says Sherry Turkle at TED

We constantly text and social network so we don’t have to feel lonely, but while peering into our phones we’re ignoring the people and the world around us. That’s a serious problem, one that should be addressed by technologists, regulators and norms, according to psychologist Sherry Turkle.

James Duncan Davidson

Speaking at the TED conference today, Turkle said she wants people to make a personal commitment to live with each other and teach themselves to be okay with solitude.

Turkle is a professor of the social studies of science and technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and she has done her own research on these topics and published a book about them last year called “Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other” (here she is talking about the book with Stephen Colbert). Her talk clearly resonated at TED, where attendees in the main auditorium aren’t allowed to use their phones or computers, a rare occasion for the many technologists here.

But I don’t think there’s any doubt that after their enthusiastic standing ovation, those twitchy techies were back on their smartphones as soon as the session ended.

What’s so bad about the “I share, therefore I am” mentality, where people live their lives thinking of the pictures they will take and the status messages they will post?

It’s that we’re hiding from each other and real relationships, Turkle said. “We get to edit, and that means we get to delete, and that means we get to retouch. Human relationships are rich and they’re messy and demanding. And we clean them up with technology.”

All this time spent communicating digitally gives us “the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship,” Turkle said. “If we’re not able to be alone, we’re going to be more lonely.”

Turkle asked people to create spaces in their offices and homes that are designated for conversation. She told them to work on solitude and to listen to each other.


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There was a worry before I started this that I was going to burn every bridge I had. But I realize now that there are some bridges that are worth burning.

— Valleywag editor Sam Biddle