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My response to Dave Cormier’s response to Sherry Turkle: What are humans for?

May 2, 2012

Years ago, I read an article by Sherry Turkle called “Can You Hear Me Now?” published in Forbes Magazine, and it brought greater understanding to my research about the impact of digital media on literacy and life as we know it. I haven’t taken the time yet to read her recently published book on this topic entitled Together Alone, so I was excited to see that some of her thinking from the book was put forth in a New York Times article entitled “The Flight from Convesation.”

At the same time, I saw a response to her article posted by Dave Cormier, so I read her article and then his response. Here is my response to his response:

Dave, I appreciate your analysis of Turkle’s article. Though I am allied with Turkle in her quest, I too found the article a mixed bag. I think Turkle mistakenly characterizes conversation unfolding slowly compared to digital devices accelerating the velocity of communications. In fact, one of the reasons many prefer digital media is because of the buffer placed between interlocutors, a point Turkle makes at the beginning of her article. Heck, writing changed the world because it made possible the kind of in-depth reflection Turkle is advocating, so I think she got off track promoting conversation as the key to self-reflection.

However, I think you missed the strength of her argument. What she is saying, to put it very simply, is that human beings are increasingly desperate for someone to be there for them, and they’re turning to technology to meet their need. And it does meet their need, providing a shriveled version of human interaction – “connection over conversation.” You dismiss this by pointing out that people have always been too busy for one another – same story, different chapter. But plenty of sociological evidence points to the fact that people are lonelier and have fewer close friendships than ever. For example, in his seminal work Bowling Alone published in 2000, Robert Putnam found that “friendships in the 1990′s were fewer, weaker, and more fluid when compared to the 50′s.” He pointed to “social surfing” as the culprit, and we were only getting warmed up with digital media at the turn of the century.

Just because a person hasn’t experienced a healthy allotment of friends and loved ones giving him or her their full attention without any sense of hurry or distraction doesn’t mean human beings aren’t supposed to live that way. That idea, more than anything else, is what Sherry Turkle and others like me are trying to promote when we urge folks to put their damn smart phones away and look the person in front of them in the eye.

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4 Comments
  1. Dave,
    Thanks for the follow. I think we’re on the same page on plenty of these issues. I just returned from another day of a Teacher Literacy Institute, and we had a guest describing all of the Web 2.0 tools available to us educators to faciliate thinking and engagement with students. I’m wary of many of these tools, and use them with discretion in my class. We need less multi-tasking and more slow-thinking. I’m wondering how effectively you can teach a teenage mind the metacognitive skills to be more aware of what their communications choices mean in the larger picture, in addition to what they mean for their own brain development. Thoughts?

    • I’m Greg. The guy my above post responds to is Dave.

      Yes, I discovered you when I stumbled on your article in Ed Week, which I immediately “liked” and retweeted. Agreed: we seem to see things similarly. It’s great to find a “comrade-in-arms.”

      If you read my stuff (in particular the section in my thesis on multitasking) you’ll see that I agree with your views on that issue as well. I’ve been using the term “single-tasking” in hopes that it will catch on. Whereas students once needed training in multitasking, it seems a greater need nowadays is training in single-tasking.

      Looking forward to further dialogue!

      • Me too, sorry about the name confusion. About to read your Mediashift piece!

  2. Have you gotten a chance to take a look at my essay from a few weeks ago in Education Week Teacher? http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2012/05/30/fp_barnwell.html?tkn=QNQFXf%2Bgm2Hh96lVefsGIUTQ48puVu4ZbE8h&cmp=clp-edweek

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