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Reclaiming Conversation

by Sherry Turkle

Favorite quotes from the book:

We say we turn to our phones when we’re “bored.” And we often find ourselves bored because we have become accustomed to a constant feed of connection, information, and entertainment. We are forever elsewhere.

“Students don’t seem to be making friendships as before. They make acquaintances, but their connections seem superficial.”

These days, we see that when people are alone at a stop sign or in the checkout line at the supermarket, they seem almost panicked and they reach for their phones. We are so accustomed to being always connected that being alone seems like a problem technology should solve.

Afraid of being alone, we struggle to pay attention to ourselves. And what suffers is our ability to pay attention to each other. If we can’t find our own center, we lose confidence in what we have to offer others.

Studies show that the mere presence of a phone on the table (even a phone turned off) changes what people talk about. If we think we might be interrupted, we keep conversations light, on topics of little controversy or consequence.

Studies show that when children hear less adult talk, they talk less.

Research shows that those who use social media the most have difficulty reading human emotions, including their own.

So, instead of doing your email as you push your daughter in her stroller, talk to her. Instead of putting a digital tablet in your son’s baby bouncer, read to him and chat about the book. Instead of a quick text if you find a conversation going stale, make an effort to engage your peers.

Language ... has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.”

If you act out, you create change and perhaps crisis. All of the new noise you make can drown out the feelings you were originally trying to understand. Nevertheless, it is often what people try first.

When digital media encourage us to edit ourselves until we have said the “right thing,” we can lose sight of the important thing: Relationships deepen not because we necessarily say anything in particular but because we are invested enough to show up for another conversation.

when the day comes that machines are able to take notes for us, it will not serve our purposes, because note taking is part of how we learn to think.

“The trouble with socialism is that it takes too many evenings.” Social networks enable a new fantasy: that online, even socialism can take a shortcut. But it is only that, a fantasy.

These days, our online practices put us in a world where the real question is “What do you have to give today?” What information about yourself will you offer up today? We exist alongside digital representations of ourselves — digital doubles —that are useful to different parties at different times, or for some, at a time to be determined. The digital self is archived forever.

Slow down. Some of the most crucial conversations you will ever have will be with yourself. To have them, you have to learn to listen to your own voice. A first step is to slow down sufficiently to make this possible.

Conversation, like life, has silences and boring bits. This bears repeating: It is often in the moments when we stumble and hesitate and fall silent that we reveal ourselves to each other.

© 2021 Enea Xharja