Connecting With Sherry Turkle: My Q and A With the Author of ‘Reclaiming Conversation’

Sherry Turkle is Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, and her new book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age cements her status as one of our pre-eminent thinkers on the ways technology impacts on our lives. In answer to my questions, she shared her insights on our capacity for solitude and empathy, how our phones affect our ability to truly connect with each other, and the difference between being anti-technology and pro-conversation.

Your work over the past few years has focused on how we are constantly connecting with one another via our devices. If we’re always communicating, what’s wrong with our conversation?

My research shows that we are too busy connecting to have the conversations that count, the kind of conversation in which we give each other our full attention, the kind where we allow an idea to develop, where we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Yet these are the kinds of conversations in which intimacy and empathy develop, collaboration grows, and creativity thrives. We move from conversation to mere connection. And I worry that sometimes we forget the difference. Or forget that this is a difference that matters.

But Reclaiming Conversation feels like an optimistic book.

It is, most of all because I found that many young people sense that something is amiss. When I began writing this book, I conducted a focus group with a group of eight college juniors and one young man put it this way: “Our texts are fine, it’s what texting is doing to our conversations when we are together, that’s the problem.”

He had a profound insight. Research shows that if you put a phone — a phone turned off! — out on a table between two people having lunch, not only does the conversation —> Read More