technology & talk

I just finished Sherry Turkle’s book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. It is a bit repetitive and longer than it needs to be, but it also makes many interesting points about the influence of computers and smart phones on us and our culture.

Turkle’s main point is that constantly being online destroys conversation. Not just in the obvious way, when everyone is on their phone at dinner, but also in subtler ways. Our smart phones cut us off from each other. We don’t learn to read faces and voice tones that we’d pick up in a normal conversation. We lose empathy, the ability to put ourselves in the other’s shoes and appreciate her perspective. We never allow ourselves to become bored—as we fill our down times with whatever we can find online—and so we lose the depth that comes from stillness and being alone. We become shallow, flighty people that have less to offer our increasingly shallow and superficial relationships.

The good news, as Turkle often reminds us, is that we are resilient people. Once we unplug and give ourselves time and space to enjoy unstructured conversation with others, it doesn’t take long until we enjoy its benefits and begin to recover our humanity. Conversation is the talking cure.

Along the way Turkle has a lot to say about technology’s effects on young people. They would rather text than talk because it seems safer and easier to get exactly right. Conversation is scary because it is impromptu. There are many ways to say the wrong thing or something you’d like to take back. Texts can be perfected before hitting send. There is less room for error. But also for intimacy.

Social media has generated youth’s fear of missing out (FOMO). Young people tell Turkle that even at parties they check their phones to see what else is going on. They find it hard to enjoy a perfectly fine party for fear that something a little more fun is happening nearby. Even on dates they duck into restrooms to check who else may have swiped right on their picture. FOMO makes it difficult to commit.

Turkle also has a lot to say about family. It’s not just the kids who are constantly online. Parents bring their phones to the table, to pitch and catch, to the amusement park. We can spend an entire day together and yet not really be together. Many kids say they hope to raise their children the way their parents wanted to rather than the way they actually did.

Turkle also takes on education, including the popularity of wired classrooms and online classes. She warns that such innovations are removing the main thing that makes education work—the face to face, thinking-hard-in-the-moment-give-and-take among teacher and students. Her book convinced me to double down on my no technology in the classroom rule. I have allowed laptops for taking notes, but she persuaded me even that is a bad idea. Students who take notes on computers tend to become stenographers, taking down every last detail. Taking notes by hand forces students to select the most important parts. It teaches them to think. If only they knew cursive!

There are many more provocative nuggets and vignettes in this book. I recommend it to anyone who wants to think deeply about how technology is influencing us individually and communally.



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One response to “technology & talk”

  1. Alan Phillips

    Dear Mike Wittmer,

    What if the church goes bad as it did in Jesus’ day ? Should you agree with the church for the sake of “unity” ?
    What if the church goes bad as it did in Martin Luther’s day ? “If you don’t agree with us you are guilty of stirring up and causing division ?”.

    Do you agree with the church for the sake of unity and so you are not accused of division ? Even if the church is going a bad way ?

    In the “end times” the church is not doing well. Take your pick of the end times churches listed in Revelations. I know people who say they are christian and believe that homosexuality is fantastic. I know christians that believe in “self”. Yet Jesus said we are to die to self ? The Satanic Bible is all about “self”. We are in the end times. The church is deteriorating world wide. (The church is one.) Do I agree with the church for the sake of unity ? Is that what Martin Luther’s friends told him ? Who would you side with, the church or Martin Luther ?
    Or Jesus as He tried to tell the “church” of His day and got really angry. Would you side with Jesus or the church ?
    Sir, the church is going bad. Some would say it has gone bad. I believe there is a remnant but they are hidden and in a lot of cases, not attending church services due to the beliefs the church is espousing.
    If you were to write down the errors of the current church and nail them to the door, as Marty did, would they examine the Holy Bible and turn from their own thoughts and ideas and opinions that they have mingled with scripture and now believe ? I do not think they would as Jonah did not think they would. I am not Jonah but the church is not following God. They have mixed other beliefs that are clearly against God. They don’t seem to know what the Holy Bible says. They refuse to humble themselves and submit to God’s authority. Humans now know better than God. So they pick and choose what they like from the Bible and add to it their own thoughts.
    Unity at all cost ?
    Or is it time to say no to sin. No to things that are listed in the Bible as evil and sinful and yet the church now allows and in some cases promote.

    Joel Osteen promotes selfishness and greed and in a severe hurricane when people were dying and needed to get into his warm and dry church, Joel Osteen locked the doors and refused to allow it to be used for protection. Agree with him or you are creating division ? Agree with the church and lock them out or you do not want unity ?

    Sir, the end times are upon us. The church as listed in Revelations is not doing well. Do you follow the church when it is not following Christ and His Holy Word ? Or you are a troublemaker, just like Jesus .
    Your devotional seem to say, follow the church, even if it is bad. Just like it was in Jesus’ day.

    I truly believe Christ is coming, possibly now as you read this. Are you on Jesus’ side ? Even if the church is not as it was 2021 years ago ? Or are you on the side of the church whether or not they are truly following Christ ?
    If my name was Martin Luther and I was trying to reveal this to you would you receive it or blindly follow those headed for Hell ? People followed the church instead of Martin Luther. Yet you say he was a good guy. Would you think so now ? Or would you as your devotional suggests, go with the church no matter what ? Even if it is bad ?
    Even if Martin Luther was telling you ? Would you listen ? Or say he was wrong and “keep the unity” of the misguided ?

    I am old. I was born in the fifties. The church held sway over all society. Every public function began with public prayer. Everyone went to church. Everyone believed in God. Where is the church now ? And where is society now ?
    Why ?

    All for the sake of unity and so you are not accused of being divisive ? Maybe it is time to stand up and say the church is headed in a wrong direction and are more interested in pleasing man than pleasing God ? Maybe we need to stop following the Charter of Human Rights and freedoms and follow God and His Word instead ?

    I know you will defend your position as they did with Martin Luther and our Lord Jesus Christ but, I am hoping that God’s Holy Spirit will open your eyes of understanding and “see” what is taking place in the church right now.
    God bless you, I hope you talk to God about this ? Please follow Christ, the Groom ? Not the bride.

    Alan Phillips

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