Going on a digital diet

Molly Wood Apr 30, 2012

Today is the beginning of Screen-Free Week, which is meant to encourage us to log off, power down and go out and experience real life instead. But it’s not as easy as hitting the on/off switch. MIT professor Sherry Turkle says there’re a lot of reasons it can be hard to back away from our computers and smartphones. 

For one, when we text and email, we get to choose the person we want to be. “When we’re talking to each other, you get to see the hesitations, you get to see when people stumble, you know, they are a little more who they are,” Turkle says. “The advantage of a Screen-Free Week is that you rediscover the difference between connection and conversation.”

Turkle says much of technology’s appeal is about being in control.

“People text during corporate board meetings and you ask them why and they basically say the highest value to me now is control over where I put my attention,” she says. Turkle calls it being “Alone Together” (which is also the title of her most recent book). “So they want to go to that board meeting but only have to pay attention to the bits that interest them.”

But why not ignore the boring bits of meetings? Do I really need to know all the ins and outs? All the little details? “I think we declare ourselves to be part of communities by saying we’re going to pay attention to the bits that interest OTHER people who are part of that community and learn what interests them,” she says, “because that’s what it means to be part of a community.” 

Over time, Turkle thinks, too much tech and too much control can cause people to lose a sense of belonging. But she doesn’t cheer-on support fully disconnecting as a solution, more like a place to start. “We have to create a balance that’s a wiser digital diet in which we keep a balance and I think everyone is going to find it for themselves.”


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