These technologies can facilitate communication and cooperation that Robert Wright (2000) suggests are preconditions for social organization and cultural evolution. On a much smaller scale, they can enable me, for example, to confirm from the train that my kids will be home and to order dinner that awaits my walk from the station.
However, I’ve been reconsidering this perspective after reading Sherry Turkle’s (2015) new book about conversation and technology. In it, such reports a range of disturbing effects, such as less empathy and awareness, reduced concentration and productivity, and even less learning and lower grades. Nonetheless, she reports that she is encouraged by discontent among users, including younger users, and she indicates near the end that she is often asked about the next steps.
Technologies ask us to reconsider our values, she explains, and she offers two kinds of suggestions. Some involve our use of these technologies, which include recognizing the psychological power of our phones, selecting appropriate tools for specific tasks, and resisting efforts to understand the world as apps. Others involve our approaches to living, which include slowing paces, insisting upon “unitasking,” protecting creativity, and accepting, encouraging, and learning from difficult conversations (319-329).
Turkle presumes people who have the resources, including contemplative time for her book, to consider these conditions and their alternatives. Nonetheless, I am discomfited by her book, in which I see myself, and yet I’m challenged by these recommendations.
In what ways do these technologies afford greater control over our lives, and in what ways do they come to control them?
Wright, Robert. 2000. Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny. Vintage: New York.