Alone Together

Connected Flikr Image by amsd2dth

Connected

Yesterday afternoon found me sitting on the couch here at TJP headquarters (read: our Jesuit living room in Berkeley) watching the Lakers play the Thunder.  Now, I hate the Lakers – their 18 point comeback yesterday didn’t help – but I love watching them.  And it’s not just because I get to root against Kobe (which I also love) or because of the chance that Ron Artest, err… Metta World Peace will do something crazy.1  I love watching them because my buddy Bob is a huge Lakers fan, and inevitably something will happen during the game (like this did yesterday) that will prompt me to text him with some snarky comment.2  All this to say: I love watching the Lakers because Lakers + cell phone = connection.

When I got up off the couch, tossing laptop and phone to the side, I wandered into the kitchen to see our newspaper flipped open to a bright yellow picture of individuals gazing directly into their phones. Uh oh, I thought to myself, and sat down to read.

“We live in a technological universe,” the article’s opening lines read, “in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection.”  The rest of the article, by M.I.T. professor Sherry Turkle, keyed on this distinction between conversation and connection, often pinning my techno-philic self right to the wall.  Here’s a quick run-down of a few of her best quips coupled with my reactions:

Her: “When people are alone, even for a few moments, they fidget and reach for a device.”
Me: Yeah, but I had a round of New World Colony to play and I love that game!

Her: “People are comforted by being in touch with a lot of people [who are] carefully kept at bay.”
Me: Yeah… but… umm…

Her: “We use conversations with others to learn to converse with ourselves.  So our flight from conversation can mean diminished chances to learn skills of self-reflection.”
Me: Maybe that’s why I fidget for my phone during the first ten minutes of my prayer.

Her: “We think constant connection will make us feel less lonely.  The opposite is true.”
Me: I gotta write about this.  And then maybe turn my phone off for a few days.3

Whether I actually turn my phone off or not, Ms. Turkle has certainly made me consider the kind of impact technology is having on the quality of my relationships and on my comfortability with being alone.  She’s forcing me think more about how I’m being used by the technology I’m using. And she helps me recognize that my texting Bob during the Lakers game is only fulfilling because we make time to have real conversations about our hopes and our worries, and that it’s those conversations that fill the gaps in our technology aided connections.

So while I love technology almost as much as I hate the Lakers, I’m realizing that I may not love what technology is doing to me.4

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  1. What? He “accidentally” elbowed somebody in the head last night? You don’t say!
  2. The comment always used to be about my irrational hatred of Derek Fisher.  Ever since Fish was traded I’ve been like a boy who’s lost his puppy.
  3. And by “days” I mean “hours.” Seriously, I might get a text.
  4. On a completely unrelated note, don’t stop checking TJP.

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