Sherry Turkle’s View on the Significance of Technology in Communication as Depicted in Her Book, Alone Together
As technology continues to advance at a seemingly higher rate than ever, one would think that it would be difficult to keep up with the pace of new innovations. Rather the opposite is true as the technology itself allows adapting to change to be more convenient than ever before. In her work Alone Together, Sherry Turkle argues that the interactive technology we have been introduced to in recent times is allowing us to communicate with others beyond physical and natural means. The prominence of social media, along with smartphones that allow for constant access to it, are factors she feels have created a parallel, digital world, in which identity can be skewed. As a result, there are large consequences that digital interaction can have to one’s well being. According to Turkle, when one indulges in the instantaneous and easy-access components of digital interaction, they develop a dependence on this world for their own self-security. Insecurity would threaten one’s perceived identity. I agree with Turkle’s concerns of how the digital world can threaten our true identity. The high level of freedom that we have through digital interaction gives us the tendency to exploit it to our benefit in any way possible. Simultaneously we become dependent on its use, allowing it to facilitate our mental well-being. With instant transmission comes the desire for instant gratification; with constant accessibility comes the lack of privacy.
Long before smartphones and the Internet, there has always been a social element that would affect what one would do, and how they saw themselves. This element was always limited to the physical situation that a person was in, concerning who they were physically around and directly interacting with. There seemed to be an organic balance of public and private presence. One could never commit suicide on their privacy, something that seems to be encouraged in modern social media. The narrative of social media invites us to broadcast each moment of our lives to our peers, as if everything we say or feel is a unique talent that needs approval and admiration from the public. The validation of our feelings is what establishes them (Turkle 162). At the other end, since we are constantly accessing the thoughts or moments of our peers, we are always thinking about what other people are doing, in comparison to what we are doing ourselves. This mindset used to be limited to face-to-face interactions with people, and was only based on what the person we are talking to wants to share with us. Now our thoughts are much more tyrannic, based on what we effortlessly see on the web versus what we sparingly hear in person.
The unique property of digital interaction is that we can be led to confuse the nature of the technology with the nature of the person we are using the technology to interact with. This is very typical of young adults and teenagers. Turkle describes a teenage girl who ties her emotions into text messaging with her friends. As soon as she sends a text message to a friend, a tiny speck of anxiety is formed, multiplying as time elapses with no response from her friends (Turkle 161). The instantaneous transmission of text messages assures the girl that her friend immediately received the message, leading her to expect her friend to immediately reply. It is normal for teenagers especially to seek validation from peers, but when we can interact with such convenience through text messages, we expect this validation to come as soon as we need it.
Because we expect validation so quickly through the digital world, we use social media to portray ourselves as a version of us we feel would be validated and not who we are. Despite how much we may want to show who we really are, we are pressured away from doing so to some extent to compromise with acceptance from our peers. When we have access to their personal details, we’re likely to see things that we wish we were doing or had ourselves. With the option to say things online, as opposed to showing things in real life, we may have the urge to exaggerate, as if we are editing our resume for a particular job. For example, a fourteen-year-old girl who just created a Facebook account sees the accounts of her peers. She’s then bombarded with a frenzy of mental questions, such as what pictures to add and how much to show or hide about her actual life. When she sees that some of her friends have boyfriends, she begins to look for any excuse to post that she is in a relationship as well. This leads to her weighing the repercussions of what she considers a relationship that her “boyfriend” does not (Turkle 165). All of this paranoia and lack of contentment originated from a digital source and is affecting her reality. Our biggest social worries used to center around how we look before we go out. In the digital world, we are always out, so we need to look great.
It is impossible to completely deny the benefits that have come from social media and communication through the Internet in general. People are able to instant message with each other from different countries. Strong relationships are being developed between people who have never seen each other in person or even heard each other speak before. One may argue that digital interaction does not control our mental well-being but gives us the freedom and connection to improve it. This can be particularly true with naturally unsocial people, who may find a niche online in which they can feel completely comfortable. The Internet may be medicinal for these people in that regard, but still does not solve the actual problem at hand. Wendell Berry asserts that he has yet to purchase a computer to replace his typewriter, with a primary reason being that nobody has used a computer to write a work that is explicitly better than Dante’s (Berry). In terms of interaction via Internet, while the technology has advanced, it’s only true advantage involves making a problem easier to deal with, rather than resolving it. Any sense of identity that we feel from digital interaction is completely virtual-based, never having the omnipresence that a true identity would.
At the end of the day, nothing can stop us from living in physical reality. Just as people use drugs to cope with reality, we are literally using the Internet to cope with reality. Social media has instilled in our heads the idea that if you are not interacting, things are awkward. You must always be interacting, or at least look like you are. It is such an accepted practice to always be using your phone that people pretend they have somebody to text over doing nothing, just so that they look normal. With drugs, when one isn’t satisfied with the effect it gives them, they take more. If we aren’t content with our status on social media, instead of giving it up, we become more obsessed with it, in the process deterioriating both our privacy as well as that of our peers. Once we trade our privacy for validation from others, our identity belongs to them. Perhaps the greatest flaw of the Internet is that it allows us to choose who we are, rather than simply be who we are, which is probably the greatest freedom.
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