In both a TED talk and her interview with Frontline, Turkle discusses how we are too busy "communicating" to talk, to create, to connect. She relates how teenagers, particularly ones with divorced parents, complain about competing with technology for their parents' attention:
This story made me so sad. I never want my children to think they come second to my cell phone. After reading Turkle's article, I became hyper-vigilant about my own use of technology around my children. I was disturbed by how often I had to urge to check my Facebook page or blog while I was with them. Why did I care who "liked" or commented on the wedding photos that I'd posted? Was their recognition of my work really more important than constructing elaborate foam block "bird condos" with Malcolm? It's the "I share therefore I am" mentality. The feeling of validation (of our feelings, beliefs, effort, talents, etc.) we get when we share a part of ourselves online. Before the internet, if I took a bunch of pictures the only way that people would get to see them was if they came over my house or if I sent them copies via snail mail. Now I can take a great picture and people I have never met can tell me how beautiful it is. It is an intoxicating feeling.
Yet what do we sacrifice for this high? Turkle argues that the price for all this connectivity is our real world relationships and most importantly our very sense of self. While she is quick to point out that she is not a Luddite, Turkle convincingly advocates for a critical approach to our relationship with technology. In her interview with Stephen Colbert, she jokes about wanting to "put technology in its place." She argues that technology has become so important to our way of life that it has changed "not what we do, but who we are." We use technology to carefully craft the person we want others to see--editing our virtual selves to mask our real life flaws and insecurities. It is an elaborate and often exhausting performance.
We also use technology to "bail out of the physical real," to avoid/ignore that which we'd rather not deal with. Real life is messy; it's complicated. But life online can be as simple or as complicated as we allow it to be. It's about control. Unfortunately technology is not a panacea for our troubles. In fact it often helps us hide from the very troubles we claim to want to solve. For if we never allow ourselves to be vulnerable, how will we ever take risks. And if we don't take risks how will we grow, learn, develop?
I see this fear of risk all the time in the classroom. It has become almost impossible for most of my students to finish an essay in a class period. If I allowed them to, many of my students would literally ask me to read over every sentence to make sure what they had written was "right." Is this technology's fault? No, probably not. But does technology enable such insecurities? Definitely.
We need to help our students overcome their dependence on simulated reality. Simulated reality doesn't involve the same kind of risk that reality does. We need to help them find a way to bridge the gap between the "I share therefore I am" mindset to the "I create therefore I am" reality. The internet does indeed allow for constant connectivity but it also provides unprecedented opportunity for the creation and dissemination of knowledge. It can help take education outside of the classroom and make it a global experience, transition it from a passive experience to an active experience, reignite the curiosity and enthusiasm for learning that has all but been driven out of today's student. The thrill of creation exists whether four people or forty-thousand people see/experience your product. But truthfully it is a bit sweeter when what you've created reaches a broader audience. And I don't think Turkle has a problem with that. Her issue lies in how we are using technology (or rather how we are allowing technology to use us) not in technology itself: "Technology is a wonderful conversation opener because it's so seductive. That doesn't mean it's where the conversation should end. It's a wonderful means of collaboration. But the collaboration is between people who are excited about the ideas. The technology is not the product."
As Turkle is herself fond of quoting Thoreau, I couldn't help but think of his quote "we do not ride on the railroad, it rides upon us" (Walden: Where I Lived and What I Lived For).