TEDxUIUC – Sherry Turkle – Alone Together


Translator: Kittithat Promthaveepong
Reviewer: Ido Dekkers Good afternoon. When I first got to MIT in 1978 Michael Dertouzos, who’s the head of the laboratory for computer science held a meeting. There was a several day retreat in Endicott House Conference center. In which he assembled the greatest minds in computer science really at the time to figure out the question of what people might want to do with what was then called home computers. The word personal computers really hadn’t come into the lexicon yet. Now these were the first computers that you didn’t have to build. These were the first computers that you could actually buy. And these great computer scientists got together and I was invited to the meeting because I had begun my studies of computers and people. They got together and they kind of gave it their best shot. Somebody suggested the children might wanna learn to program, listen to respectfully, maybe. Somebody suggested that we would want to put our address books on computers and people laughed, and said well actually paper and pencil, little books paper was perfect for that because most people didn’t have a data base, they had a couple of names and addresses so that didn’t make a lot of sense. Some people suggested well a calendar and actually people said well no, I don’t like using the computer for my calendar. I really find the little Filofax is much better. You can flip through it’s much more practical. I tell this story because I think it’s very important to know, to remember that really not that long ago, we were trying to figure out how we would keep computers busy. And you know, now we know that once we networked with each other. Once computers were our portal to being with each other, we really don’t have to worry about keeping computers busy. They keep us busy. It’s kind of as though we are their killer app. So how does that work? We’re on our email, our games, our virtual worlds. We text each other at family dinners, while we jog, while we drive, we take our lives into our hands to do that even with our kids in the back seat of the car. We text each other at funerals, we go to the park and we push swings with one hand and we scroll through our messages with each other. Lot of my research is observing families and you know, this is what I see. The children who I interview say that their parents read them Harry Potter again. With their right hand reading the book and the left hand scrolling through the messages on the Blackberry. Children describe that moment at school pickup. They’ll never tell you that they care but they describe that moment where they come out of school you know looking for that moment of eye contact and instead of that moment of eye contact with the parent who after all had shown up at school pickup that parent is looking at the iPhone looking at the smartphone and is reading mail. So from the moment this generation of children met technology, it was a competition and now they’ve grown up and today’s teenagers, this generation of children who’ve grown up with technology being the competition, they now have their turn to live in a culture of distraction. And what do they tell me? They tell me they sleep with their cell phones. They begin by saying, well I use it as an alarm clock, and then they come clean and they say well actually it’s not just because I use it as an alarm clock. They want to sleep with it just in case they get a message or they want to communicate and then they say even when their phones are put away — let’s say relegated to their school locker — they know when they have a message or a call, they feel that, they can tell at long distance that they have a message or a call they say they can just sense it. Indeed adults as well as teens report that they feel their phones vibrating. Even when they are not. This is a well known phenomenon, it’s called the phantom ring. It’s been reported all over. When you take our phones away from us, we become anxious, we become impossible, really. Modern technology has become like a phantom limb, it is so much a part of us. So what is the arc of the story that I want to tell? Only fifteen years ago looking at the early internet, I felt an incredible sense of optimism. I saw a place for identity experimentation I called it an identity workshop, for trying out aspects of self that were hard to experiment with in the physical real and all of this happens and all of this is still wondrous. But what I didn’t see coming, and I like to tell my students call me not prescient. What I didn’t see coming and what we have now is that mobile connectivity, that world of devices always on and always on us, would mean that we would be able basically to bail out of the physical real at anytime, to go to all of the other places and spaces that we have available to us and that we would want to. One man I interviewed, who plays with his kids in the park while he talks to his virtual mistress on iPhone, calls it the life mix. So I guess you could say that what I’m talking about are the perils of going from multitasking to multi-lifing, the perils of the life mix. Technology proposes itself as the architect of our intimacies. And these days there is no coyness about its aspiration to substitute life on the screen for the other kind. Technology is seductive when its affordences meet our human vulnerabilities. And it turns our we are very vulnerable indeed. We are lonely but fearful of intimacy. Connectivity offers for many of us, the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. We can’t get enough of each other — if we can have each other at a distance in amounts that we can control. Think of Goldilocks, not too close, not too far, just right. Connection made to measure, that’s the new promise. The ability to hide from each other even as we are continually connected to each other. To put it too simply, we would rather text than talk. Online connections bring so many bounties. But our lives of continual connection also leave us vulnerable. Often we are too busy communicating to think. Too busy communicating to create, too busy communicating to really connect with the people we’re with in the ways that would really count. In continual contact, we’re alone together. To paraphrase Thoreau, where
do we live and what do we live for in our new tethered lives or in other words, what do we have,
now that we have what we say we want, now that we have what technology makes easy? In corporations, among circles of teenage and adult friends, within academic departments, people readily admit that they would rather text or send an email than talk face to face. Some who say I live my life on my blackberry, are forthright about avoiding real-time commitment of a phone call. When you text, one young man says, you have more time to think about what you’re writing on the telephone too much might show. Here we use technology to dial down human contact and there’s that Goldilocks thing. To titrate it’s nature and extent. People are comforted by being in touch with a lot of people, whom they also keep at bay. And we confront a paradox. We insist that our world is increasingly complex yet we’ve created a communication’s culture that has decreased the time available for us to sit and think, uninterrupted we’ve ramp up the volume and velocity of communication but we start to expect fast answers. And in order to get them we ask each other simpler questions, we start to dumb down our communication, even on the most important matters. Shakespeare might have said, we are consumed with that which we are nourished by. This flood of connection affects the development of the self in many ways, here I am just going to mention one of them. Let’s call it, I share therefore I am. For so many I have studied, things go from I have a feeling, I want to make a call, to I want to have a feeling, I need to send a text. In other words the validation of a feeling becomes part of establishing it. More than this, what is not being cultivated is the ability to be alone. To gather oneself, there is a great psychological truth. If we don’t teach our children to be alone, they will only know how to be lonely. For adult and child having gotten into the habit of constant connection, we risk losing our capacity for the kind of solitude that energizes and that restores. So let me share some final thoughts. First about the metaphor of addiction, which we’re too apt to use. And second, about the moment we’re at and the promise it offers. First, addiction. People are compelled by that little red light on the blackberry that tells them a message is waiting. I ask them why, and they talk about their mobile device as the place for hope in their life. The place where something new will come to them. The place where loneliness can be defeated. They say things like, the phone is where the sweetness is. We’re vulnerable to the constant feelings of connection that technology offers. We should focus on this vulnerability because we can work on getting less vulnerable. However apt, we can ill afford the metaphor of addiction. Because if you’re addicted you have only one solution, you have to get rid of that substance. And we know that we are not going to get rid of the internet, we are not going to get rid of social networking. We will not go cold turkey or forbid cellphones to our children. These technologies are our current partners in the human adventure. The notion of addiction with this one solution that we know we won’t take, makes us feel hopeless and passive. We sense something amiss and we’re at a moment of opportunity. Every technology provides an opportunity to ask, does it serve our human purposes? A question that causes us to reconsider what these purposes are. Just because we grew up with the internet, we assume that the internet is all grown up. We tend to see what we have now as the technology in its maturity. That the way we live now with the internet is how we’re going to live with it in the future. And that’s not true. With the internet, it is very early days. It is time to make the corrections and one hopeful place is to restart some conversations we allowed to get derailed. To take as only one example, we close down conversations and much to our detriment. By getting into performance mode on the network in both our personal and our professional lives. Personally there’s been a tendency to use social networking to perform an ideal self. Many people tell me they don’t like to show flaws and vulnerabilities or share bad news online with friends. They say things like, it just doesn’t seem like the place to talk about problems. Not even, as one woman put it, the death of my dog. So certainly not about more serious problems. So the more time we spend online, the more we keep a lot of things to ourselves. Even as we think we’re updating our status and updating our status, and sharing ourselves with the world. But very often we’re sharing what makes us look good. We’re sharing what’s easy to share. Professionally, we also perform in our emails and memos at work. Business people, lawyers, consultants tell me. That in their work environments, they don’t want to leave an electronic trace, of asking for help or admitting failures and frustrations. So we make it harder to fix problems, we make it harder to be mentored. So we cut off conversations in our friendships, and we cut off conversations in our professional life that would improve our performance on the job. The path ahead is challenging but clear for both institutions and individuals, for both love and money, the next task for all of us is to restart those necessary conversations. Instead of casual Fridays, we should all be asking for conversational Thursdays. And that won’t be a bad thing at all. Reclaiming conversation, that’s the next frontier. Thank you. (Applause)

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

  1. Brilliant!!!! Could I please get a transcript of this? Need to extract phrases and sentences and put them around me to get the message to my mind and soul!!

  2. This is bullshit and let me tell you why… This women is telling you that you haven't had a meaningful conversation in the last 24 hours. This is not true. You have. Think about it.

  3. Best comment so far. Moore's Law is coming under limitations right now due to the transistor saturation of the silicone chips in modern smartphones but scientific breakthroughs in this area are bound to happen. And when they do? God help us all.

  4. You mean woman, not 'women' and all she is trying to explain is that we need to put technology in its place… she is a professor at MIT and holds the highest respect to technology. I have yet to hear her say we don't have meaningful conversations. If we are not careful, our generation and future generations are not going to know, respect, or understand solitude. Think about that.

  5. I think you will find you made a mistake in your grammatical choice of words. You ought to have said a great respect 'for' technology rather than 'to' technology. Remember pedants always end up looking stupid. Secondly, why would you care if she is professor? I mean you did listen to her words and not her badge. But actually thirdly, you are right: she does have a point. But to be honest her talk sounds like my grandmother bemoaning the fact that having a phone at home is an inconvenience.

  6. I am an Internet Communications student in Australia and have written a paper “Mirrors and light: Performances of identity….” for Western Australia's Curtin University's CommUnity: Online conference Networks & Communities 2012 . This talk influenced my subject choice and writings. We should all be one with ourselves before we can be as one with others. Thank you Sherry Turkle! Great food for thought!

  7. I hate the "we do this…we do that…" phrasing. No Ma'am "we" don't text while driving, this overarching "everyone" – this is full of generalisation as to what "we" as in "all of us" do.

  8. I want to laugh at comments like this, when people judge a lifes work on a 20 min talk.

    Can she support this? YES, of course she can. Do you know who Dr. Sherry Turkle is?
    Turkle is a professor in the Program in Science, Technology and Society at MIT and the founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self.

    "What technology makes easy is not always what nurtures the human spirit."
    Sherry Turkle

    You want research? Read a book, she has written several.

  9. Yes, I agree. The fact is we have, as a society, externalized our internal experiences. It is not the day that is nice, it is my experience of the day. And we do this with people. You do not make me angry, I am feeling angry. If we continue to confuse this we will not form meaningful relationships.
    See Brene Browns TED Talk about Vulnerability and Shame.

  10. No, it is not that kind of generalization. She is listing the various activities that we, as a whole, do. It's a common, non-controversial way of describing the individual and/or group behaviors within a larger group, so relax and focus on learning from her instead of nitpicking terms that aren't doing what you claim.

  11. I don't own a smart phone because I am terrified of what it will do to me, and I know you can't easily go back. I don't even let my computer at work inform me when I get an email because it is too distracting.

  12. Sherry Turkle is not only a visionary but an amazing teacher. I feel as if I were in the presence of an enlightened prophet. What a message!

  13. "Reclaiming conversation is the next frontier."
    Unfortunately, addiction to technology is destroying peoples ability to carry on a conversation.
    It saddens me as I experience people more devoted to the latest text message or email that arrives to their "smart" phone, than to talking to the person who is present with them in the flesh.

  14. She's right on point, but also it doesn't mean you should be afraid of it. It's like anything you can learn to control it, then you can embrace it.

  15. Think further it is not technology that is the problem – it is the economic system structure which is triggering all the negative aspects of technology!!!!!

  16. Yes, reclaiming communication and appreciation… and best use of each others differences being different for different individuals all being decently respectful (requires lifting perceptions idea's talking to inspire),- with the computer as a tool to do or help do, seek /find – but with the computer as a simple tool and each individual person as the intelligence, is correct. The mighty internet can now permit this to happen to our great advantage globally only today it the other way round

  17. 80 percent of the time shes just bullshtting.. i get it you dont like to be on your phone 24/7… but what about all the good things it leads to? shes just an opinion

  18. Increasingly in my work I see confusion over relating to people in real life . The mediated message allows us to hide behind technology so we may be starting to lose empathy as time goes by. I think shurckle makes some compelling points. The illusion of the 'social'

  19. i believe the disconnection we create by communicating by social network and text has dehumanized our society overtime and causes a lack of empathy that ebbs with every passing generation.

  20. Guess what, the moment I told my friends that I was planning to go make cash online, they teased me. But afterward I showed them my cash flow. Go and Google "Phantom Cash System" to see the very best way to make money online.

  21. I re-watched this and attempted to itemize my issues with this talk, but a two part post seemed quite egregious. Suffice it to say that this talk builds strawmen quite readily, and bases itself upon the 'fact' that interactions online are inherently less than those had IRL. Do people have profound relationships with gas station attendants? Most interactions IRL are fleeting, online you can seek interactions which are more deep and meaningful than passive encounters with people IRL. IMHO.

  22. Your comment appears to derive from the very disconnection she is talking about. The full import of this talk is better appreciated by those who can "stand and stare" as W. H. Davies implored way back, circa 1911, in his poem "Leisure". Sherry is making the same observation 101 years later, albeit with reference to a different social phenomenon – excessive social connection paradoxically leading to inadequate socialization.

  23. There are no real relationships derived where the primary context assumed is of hypothetical constitution. What is to be gleaned where the mere permissible attributes of an individual can only be conceptualized through those perceiving them and the detriment of liable characteristics are left wayside. This is not reality, nor is it any basis for true and lasting relational endeavor. There are subtleties, nuances and intricacies to consider for viable relationships to thrive. This is fantasy.

  24. The problem is that we're more privy and prone to those characteristics we admire and embrace when, at the end of the day, we're able simply to turn off the pc so as to quell the angst when those we presumably love online piss in our Cheerios. The reality is the illusion, less having to roll over come sunup, to bear witness to the source of our current contention. True love is resilience amid the "fuck offs" exchanged when we're pissed as opposed to simply ceasing to type.

  25. "Meaningful" is the extraction as perceived by those seeking meaning, but can be misleading when all the pieces of a true and meaningful relationship are not present and accounted for; hence the true fold of face-to-face encounters that leave nothing to chance. If you piss me off here I can boot'r down to relinquish the irritation, whereas if you're in the living room with me the problem becomes more than aesthetic with your voice chiming in at every turn. There's real and there's derivative.

  26. Erroneous at best online where the exchange suits the rift of that which otherwise gets left to chance. Beyond perspective, which must be the primary asset online where all tangibility is left wayside, is the reality of fleshly exchange that lends humanness and humaneness to any real relationship. There is much to be said for inflection, caress, verbiage, vociferousness, pitch, warmth, etc of actual human interaction unavailable online where the source of gratification is one's own perspective.

  27. If computers themselves could type we could conceivably engage in meaningful love relationships with anything at the other end of words we see through the extraction of what our imaginative, needy minds lead us to glean from it. This is not reality, but rather fantasy. Suppose I create a pc that can in fact type for itself. I could therefore lull anyone into a self-perceived relationship commensurate to what they believe they're engaged in. This is merely a relationship with one's own desires.

  28. Any extrapolation heralded from encounters based primarily on one's own needs suits the primary aspect of ego, emotion and necessity alone. There can be no reality-based relationship where perspective rules the roost. If forced to incorporate one's own meaning into what others type then the ultimate basis is self-cohesive and self-reliant, i.e., I say to you "I hope I don't die tomorrow" you are left completely to that of your own device and therefore forced to exact your own meaning to it.

  29. My statement is based empirically not experientially. You speak of meetings online which were followed up by RL meetings. I was referring solely to online relationships. I've had online relationships which led to RL meetings. I'm alluding to all the nuances of person to person interaction that must be procured in order to glean the actuality of real love which includes more than self-perceived online encounters that require us to guess what the other person is like 24/7/365 in the flesh 😉

  30. There is no draw, nor can there be but self-perpetuated virtual attraction, where the negation of human interaction is not the mainstay. In other words, if a relationship is procured/maintained solely online the only reality present, and here's the paradox, is one's own perception of how they view the other individual in the relationship. You've supported my contention by alluding to the different sorts you've run into online. I could be a murderer claiming to be King and you'd not know it.

  31. Example: I'm a bum living on the street with a laptop given me by a passer by. I meet you online as a woman longing for love. I upload a few photos of a handsome, well-to-do man and proceed to win you over in light of your perception of me. In the end no relationship has been procured, nor any real emotions on your part but for those which you'd desired and ultimately created in your own mind for a man you've never met. You see my point? This is fantasy meets and fulfills desire 101.

  32. So true…social media is the world's biggest reality show. I disagree about sharing bad news though…I think people, just like the media, want to share all the dirty laundry. I do agree that it has become a major distraction to creativity, I had to stop myself from playing a word on words with friends during the video.

  33. How i wish I seen this talk that time when i was doing my undergraduate research. She said it all when nobody wanted to admit it. I love this research, it says a lot even if its just a 16 min video.

  34. Hi, have you experienced Shatter Weight Loss? (look it up on google) You will learn about the crimes we commit against our bodies. With "Shatter Weight Loss", you will discover how to burn fat quickly.

  35. I love her book. so on the money. her picture of the tethered generation is brilliant. well worth reading 🙂

  36. Very thought-provoking. Makes me reflect on my own use of social networking. It's also fitting that this video is on YouTube.

  37. Life sucks. My buddy has started seeing a ten as 8 weeks ago he joined an internet site called Master Attraction (Google it if you wish to learn more.) I'm envious because I want to just fall in love as well. I'm gonna take a peek at this Jake Ayres man's material. Funny point is, my friend once had NO results with females. How do you improve that quickly? His girl's like a model!

  38. Based on what?

    like I could say that I believe the conflict we create by communicating in person has caused us to interact based on emotion rather than a common humanity and reason and this basis for interaction causes more tribal behaviour and greater pent up anger towards those we would otherwise agree with if not for the uncontrolable emotions of fear and hate experienced in face to face contact blah blah blah

    Based on what?

  39. Other psychologists have noted that our new 'addiction' to computers is related to being MORE connected. texting, FB, twitter, the most popular games are MMORPG's, they're all about increasing social ties rather than isolation. Sure we're more physically isolated, but the invention of the telephone a hundred years ago brought up the same fears in that generation. I find Turkle's opinion to be antiquated, a relic of a previous generation who simply grew up with different technology.

  40. She doesn't realize it but she's playing God. Thinks she knows how everyone should live.
    "we need to do this" and "we must do that".

  41. 15:09
    "We are sharing what makes us look good"
    "We are sharing what is easy to share"
    One word : FACEBOOK

  42. Albeit that technology has made the globe 'smaller', never before has the distance between two people sitting right next to each other been greater!

    I have seen couples in a restaurant, he busy on his mobile device connecting with someone a world away, she equally active on her device; both sharing the feelings created by physical proximity in the real world, with an entity somewhere in the virtual world.

  43. It's a persuasive speech. The point is to identify and discuss a problem, and also present some sort of solution or point of view in hopes of convincing the audience.

  44. When anyone starts preaching, that is…directing what others must do, they are speaking about themself but not being honest enough to speak in first person singular.

    I will try harder to do ….
    I will put more effort into being more….

    Convincing others how to live is playing God.
    But convinced against their will they are of the same opinion still.

    If anyone needs direction there are far better ways than this psychobabble bullshit.

  45. Good talk. I imagine it mostly pertains to teens, but honestly, they're probably too busy texting to watch this video. Yes, she mentioned parents, and yes, parents use technology, but it's almost always the teens or recent teens that seem completely lost socially.

  46. Good talk indeed. I think sometimes we have to think about technology from another perspective. However, I think we should think in the ways that we can use technology but at the same time avoid the temptation of being isolated.

  47. I find it incredibly humorous to stumble upon a video wherein our increasingly dehumanized connections are discussed only to find spam comments about hooking up with women evaluated solely by their surface qualities.

    Well done!

  48. this lecture seems more like a narrated article. i think it is more interesting as a retrospective on how out of date thinkers see modern society then an actual conclusion on modern society. i see much ignorance and condescending in what she's saying, but it all seems like a mask for the good old "fear of progress".

  49. Life sucks. My cousin has begun seeing a stunning young woman as 8 weeks ago he joined an internet site named Master Attraction (Google it if you wish to learn how.) I’m green with envy because I want to fall madly in love too. How come it’s so difficult? I’m gonna have a look at this Jake Ayres guy’s material. Surprising thing is, he used to have Zero luck with women. How do you change so quickly? His girl’s like a model!

  50. I think it's just the normal thing: The new spirit and mores of the times are more readily visible in young people because they were not brought up and socialized in the old spirit. In fact however, it affects all individuals in the entire society, just to varying extents. If you have firmly established social connections, then you're safe. But many don't, and they're ever more unlikely to join and/or create a social circle.

  51. My chubby uncle was able to make the best pole dancer I’ve seen in my life fall in love with him as he cheated by using the Cupid Love System (Google it). I wish I was excited for him but I wish a beautiful individual would fall for me. I am really green with envy. Does that make me a terrible human being?

  52. what an irony – we've never been so connected, yet never so alienated from each other – and ourselves!

  53. Como se tem criado uma multidão de angustiados, infelizes e frustrados. Vidas virtuais, cérebro desligado…

  54. Remember when we exchanged letters by mail? Remember the excitement when we went to the mail box and realized there was a letter from a friend, relative or lover? We looked forward to receiving letters the same way we look forward to see that little red icon. 

  55. This is sensationalized. Digital natives and newer generations receive a lot of flak for their affinity with the access to a global archive of information. When she claimed people were texting at funerals I wondered if I was watching FOX NEWS and not TED TALK. Once again someone is stigmatizing technology for exposing pre existing human flaws. Some people are shallow and before portable communication there were many ways in which those people ignored you.

    It is actually impossible to communicate a feeling without first validating it. For something to be shared must first exist, I cant communicate fish if fish never existed. Digital communication is still genuine, exaggerated maybe, desperate at times sure but reflective of reality nonetheless.

    This feels like a cheap fear mongering of progress. What is Sherries solution? Shall dismantle the networks and remove global communication for less annoying dinner guests at the cost of rapid response life saving benefits and the advantage of instant notification of significant world events, threats and developments?

    If the communication between two individuals is more significant than the communication between yourself and one of those two, perhaps you should evaluate and discuss the current condition of your relationship to that person rather than blaming the medium via which they are communicating, If the person they are communicating with on their phone were to teleport to the physical space where this person is currently ignoring you, they would most likely still communicate the same things they intended to through their devices.

    In the end humans are still humans and our behavior is not affected by our creations, they simply reflect what was already there. Recognize the person, assert yourself by holding them responsible for their actions rather than calling them a victim of technology and its enthusiasts.

  56. I agree with the overall thrust, but I think she misses the point regarding texting vs calling. Speaking on the phone is and has been a phobia for many for a long long time, for the simple reason that all you hear is a disembodied voice without any of the visual cues that make conversation face to face a basic human experience. Speaking to a disembodied voice has always been unnatural (since the invention of the phone) and therefore the option to communicate via text is preferable to many.

  57. Pseudo intellectual babble, also lol at her claiming to be a Psychologist (Psychoanalysis is not Psychology, it is Astrology for Highbrows)

  58. Has anyone on Youtube ever heard, if you do not have anything to positive to contribute to a conversation then don't contribute at all? No wonder why our society is becoming stagnant in thought and creativity. People find it better to crucify opposing thoughts instead of actually listening and growing as a person.

  59. Social media isn't a breakthrough in technology, it's a breakthrough in advertisement. Facebook is an advertisement company. THAT is the reason why everyone is addicted to social media, because Facebook uses psychological manipulation to keep you addicted, because it makes them more money. People aren't addicted because they send too many texts to their friends.

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