Home The Downside of Digital Life: Disconnection

The Downside of Digital Life: Disconnection

Team Gantt co-founder Nathan Gilmore takes just one sentence to sum up what Sherry Turkle took 1,800 words to say in a New York Times op-ed piece Sunday.

“While technology can help strengthen relationships with people you barely know, it can damage relationships with the people that are close to you, like family,” Gilmore said.

Turkle, the MIT psychologist and author, is making waves in tech circles. It was Turkle, after all, who told us a decade ago that children should go online to learn communication skills. Now Turkle is publicly rethinking that stance, saying that while we are always communicating, we are rarely connecting. That strains our relationships and, as the title of Turkle’s latest book echoes, we spend a lot of time being alone together. Despite some criticism, however, many people who consider themselves tech-savvy are seeing some sense in her op-ed.

The Good Old Days, Circa 2004

“In the past, I worked in offices where there was a constant hum of conversation. In today’s office, there is almost an eerie silence,” said Jon Gelberg, chief content officer of Blue Fountain Media. “Colleagues talk to each other, but most of the conversation is through Skype or email.”

Indeed, here at ReadWriteWeb, where most of us work remotely, we recently abandoned our daily editorial call on Skype because it was more efficient and more productive to discuss stories and plan coverage on Trello. We’re by no means Luddites, and neither is Gelberg, whose company designs and markets websites and mobile applications.

“I left home last week without my iPhone, and I felt as if I had been stranded on a desert island. I am one of those people who reads books, magazines and newspapers almost exclusively on my iPad,” he said. “But I am nostalgic for the days when people actually talked to each other.”

You won’t find those nostalgic days of yesteryear in the office of the future. WinTech recently rolled out ALICE, a virtual secretary. The company promises in its marketing materials that “ALICE is the perfect virtual receptionist for every lobby, office and front business foyer” and promises that she (it?) adds an “efficient and valuable tool to any company while cutting down the cost of another employee.”

Your company can even win its very own ALICE by submitting a photo of your office and a reason as to why you need her.

Tech-Induced Dating Downfalls

Jack D. Serrano of dating advice company DateMasters said his firm’s research teams have spent the past several years going on dates trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to building fulfilling relationships.

“What have we learned about texting, Facebook, Twitter, social media and all the other hip, new technologies that seem so popular these days? Nothing destroys everything that makes us attractive to the opposite sex faster than these things,” Serrano said. “People who use these things are just tossing all of the excitement, mystery and intrigue that comes with getting to know a new partner out the window.”

Turkle discusses why this may be in her op-ed piece. Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media are about connecting. It’s hard, she says, to confide in someone when 3,000 Facebook friends are watching.

But that hasn’t stopped people from dreaming of the next version of ALICE: If a computer can be trained to be a receptionist, why can’t it be trained to be a therapist? Or, in a world where people find it hard to form close friendships, why can’t a computer fill that role?

“A high school sophomore confides to me that he wishes he could talk to an artificial intelligence program instead of his dad about dating; he says the A.I. would have so much more in its database,” Turkle wrote. “Indeed, many people tell me they hope that as Siri, the digital assistant on Apple’s iPhone, becomes more advanced, “she” will be more and more like a best friend — one who will listen when others won’t.”

Ultimately, it’s up to the end user to figure out how much, or how little, they’re going to let technology build or tear down connections.

“I have a wife, a 1-year-old daughter, and a baby on the way. After 5:00, I try hard to disconnect and not look at my phone so that I can spend quality, uninterrupted time with them,” said Gilmore, of Team Gantt. “It’s about quantity vs quality. Now it’s easy to keep in touch with a lot of people. However, that can come at the expense of those close to you.”

Images courtesy of Shutterstock.

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The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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