Alone Together tells the story of our encounters with robots and “social” applications. The narrative of the book is based on anecdotes of Sherry Turkle’s research. Through the testimonies of teenagers and adults, Turkle shows why “technology ties us up as it promises to free us up.” She writes that when technology provides us with emotional satisfaction, it deceives us, and distracts us from facing the symptoms of our social issues.
“When technology is a symptom, it disconnects us from our real struggles. In treatment, symptoms disappear.”
As we escape our symptoms and struggles, our retreat to social apps give way to our impulses, and suppress our desires. Desires allow us to build relationships, create memories and feel that “we exist” as individuals.1
“I feel naked without [my smartphone],” one girl confesses to the psychologist. Another one admits that “[i]f Facebook were deleted, [she]’d be deleted.” A nurse reveals that she “return[s] to the Internet for another hit of what feels like connection” and log on Facebook so she feels “less alone.”
Turkle’s book highlights damages of social apps; some people can no longer enjoy solitude — but feel lonely. “Loneliness is failed solitude,” wrote David Mann.2 And solitude is needed to build oneself, Turkle explains. This solitude we no longer allow ourselves for us to daydream. This down time we “physiologically and emotionally need to maintain our ability to focus.”
Although mostly anecdotal, Alone Together3 helps us realize we might want to change the way we use technology socially; and rethink how we build relationships and create memories with people we care for.
Beyond the topic of our relationships with technology and one another, this book inspired me to explore the theme of solitude which I explored earlier this year during a 10-day meditation, vipassana4. In her book, Turkle mentions the work of Anthony Storr who writes “about the importance of being able to feel at peace in one’s own company.” That will be my next read.
Hey, I’m writing a book to explain how platforms and applications get away with what they promise they will do (and don’t do); and what impact your usage has on your well-being. You can sign up here to get an email when the book is out.
Bernard Stiegler, Aimer, s’aimer, nous aimer : Du 11 septembre au 11 avril, 2003, Galilée↩
Dr. David Mann, Failures of Feeling, 2009, unpublished↩
Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, Basic Books, 2011. Sherry Turkle is the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT, and the founding director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, http://sherryturkle.mit.edu/↩