Is Technology Killing Human Connection?


I have been reading a book of late called Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age. Frankly, it has prompted me to not only question my interactions with the world around me but also to make some changes.

Written by media scholar and M.I.T professor Sherry Turkle, the book examines how the all-consuming digital world in which we live has been an affront to face-to-face conversations, leading to a breakdown in relationships, creativity, and productivity. Having studied the role of digital technology’s impact on society for over thirty years, Turkle notes that the proliferation of texts, emails and social media chat and other forms of electronic communication have given us permission to dismiss much deeper forms of engagement; and the consequences ensuing from this, she says, are profound.

It’s for this reason that I was an early naysayer of email and other digital forms of communications back in the 80’s when the Internet was still in its initial ascendancy. Phone and face-to-face conversations had been pivotal in my life, and thus I saw no reason to migrate away from what had been working so well.

Fast forward to today, and I’m a huge advocate of digital communication. At the same time, I find myself conflicted by what I see as a lack of deep connection in human interactions these days. Much of this is undoubtedly attributed to the 24/7 access that our desktop and mobile devices afford to us on a daily basis. Symbolic of Linus’ ways in the Peanuts comic strip series, technology has become our security blanket.

In response to this trend, Turkle believes that we should reconnect with the importance of in-person encounters in our daily lives, versus turning away from it. Here, her book is replete with tons of suggestions on this front – from keeping one’s cell phone turned off and visibly out of sight during conversations with others, to invoking a device-free mandate for family dinners.

Reading this book was eye-opening to me. And as a result of some of the things she shared, I’ve decided to experiment in terms of making changes in my own life. So here are five of my takeaways:

Use Technology To Schedule Offline Conversations: I’m now using technology exclusively as a bridge to either a face-to-face or a phone conversation. I think in part this is how tech tools were originally intended.  

Random Conversations Count: I was at my favorite sports bar last year, and I started chatting with the guy next to me in the middle of a Denver Broncos game. Turns out that he is the editor of a local publication for whom I’ve been wanting to write. Can you say Paid Assignment?

Digital Holidays Are Needed: I am now making a point of turning ALL of my devices off for a daily rest period. These digital holidays are a great way to jump off the grid for some rest and renewal time.

Lead With Inquiry: Asking thoughtful questions in a face-to-face discussion is a lost art. I’m now constantly reminding myself to learn about the other person first.  Listening is key, versus all of the shouting that occurs on social media.

Stay Focused: Technology can create so many distractions. I’m reminded by this when I am bouncing around among all of the open tabs on my computer while my phone is lighting up with text messages. My new mantra is ‘focus on one thing at a time, and do it well.’

Michael Scott is a Denver-based journalist specializing in emerging trends fueling the new digital economy. More on Michael’s work can be found HERE