Turkle’s Informing Vision – Human Beings need Focus More on Interpersonal Communication

Texts-in-Context Essay

Communication and the connection that it brings is currently an issue of great interest among researchers. Living in the Information Age, the world is now dominated by social media which has been hailed for its ability to hasten real-time communication between persons across great distances (Edwards, et al.). Nonetheless, certain individuals in society have presented a critical angle when reviewing this state of affairs all in a bid to explore the underbelly of this nascent social media age. One such pundit is Sherry Turkle who has spent the better part of her professional life exploring this phenomenon. As a social psychology professor at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Turkle is a leading voice in the exploration and the effect it has on human behavior.

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Her dedication to this subject is evident from her prolific production of books exploring the internet and the virtual reality that it has created for individuals across the world. Turkle has, time and again, underscored the effects that this form of technology has on our lives and respective cultures. Her investigation is based solely on the damaging consequences that these changes are having on human interaction and our ability to cope during different stages in life. Romance, family life and education are areas of keen interest for the author mainly because these are the main areas affected by this new development. At the center of her assertion is the proposition that we are currently spending a considerable amount of time staring at screens rather than interacting with fellow human beings. As a result, the breakdown in communication and empathy in society has been linked to this change in human interaction and a myriad of other social problems. This essay thus seeks to discuss Turkle’s informing vision that human beings need focus more on interpersonal communication basing evidence from her rich literary works.

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Direct human interaction is an integral part of life. As social beings, this interaction plays an integral role in our development in various spheres of life. Nevertheless, technological developments have been taking place at record speeds within a relatively short span of time. Technology now permeated every aspect of human life and was soon responsible for the changes in relations that soon witnessed.  In her article dubbed “Authenticity in the Age of Digital Companions“, Turkle explores this phenomenon and the seemingly adverse effects that were soon recorded. For the first time, electronic gadgets such as cell-phones and social consoles were introduced to children and would now be responsible for shaping their new realities. In addition to this, easy access to computers meant that it was their nearest, and in most cases, only channel of communication when growing up. Changes in demeanor did not manifest immediately but it soon emerged that this new interaction was having a profound effect on brain development (Turkle 64). The popular belief during this time was that computers would transform life in a positive way which was also why they were revered. Turkle opines that it was this particular premise that was used by technological experts to present robots to the human population in the 1990s as ideal relational artifacts .As a consequence, empathy was no longer regarded with the importance it deserved, worsening the already fragile relationships that existed in a number of settings. In essence, the first rate at which these changes were taking place proved problematic for social relations and ultimately hindered healthy communication practices. In reality, the collective perception of the user’s aliveness that had been adopted had severely dented any possibility of reverting to their primordial state. Currently, the drive towards Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology represents an evolution of the digital robot technology which may ultimately spark heated debates with regard to how far we are willing to allow it to invade our lives.

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 A shift towards the production of mobile phones has also transformed communication patterns among human beings. In the recent past, communication was limited to telephone, fax and telegraph which had minimal effects on the nature of relationships that most people shared. Families could still function as they did before, if not better, and now had a unique opportunity that allowed them to communicate with loved ones stationed in far-flung localities. However, all this changed after the introduction of mobile phones. Fueled by the fast-speed internet that a currently second to none, mobile telephones have are close to causing addiction. It is now common for family members to stare down at their mobile devices when in the presence of each other even in the middle of a conversation. The result of this development is the loss of genuine interactive conversations among individuals to a point where most families are not fractured right down the middle. Those growing up in such families are bound to have problems relating with other individuals in society owing to their inability to develop proper communication mechanisms (“PressReader.com – Connecting People Through News”). On the other hand, a collapse is also recorded in the support system that these same individuals expect to rely on during times of distress since preoccupation with mobile devices has been linked to a lack of empathy. It is vital to acknowledge that this is not an intentional action but as a result of excessive mobile phone usage that distracts the users to a point where they are unable to pick up any cues indicating anguish. Turkle also brings this emerging issue to light especially since her research explores them as psychologically potent devices. In her opinion, she links mobile devices to a lack of attention among individuals and a total transformation of their personality (“Opinion | Stop Googling. Let’s Talk”). Conversations bear the full brunt of this state of affairs since those involved are not fully prepared to make genuine connections. A viable alternative that may remedy this situation involves coming up with baselines on demeanor not allowed during social interactions. Children can be taught from a young age about the importance of respecting dinner time or social gatherings since it is only during such occasions that they can interact in the best way possible.

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 The spread of the personal computer (P.C) has also been linked to numerous changes in the human psyche. For the first time in centuries, information is now cataloged online in a fashion that allows anyone with a steady internet connection to access this data. In most occasions, the information stored here is factual and has enabled numerous individuals to acquire enlightening details. Conversely, the flipside in this developing issue is that rogue elements can hijack this process in a campaign of misinformation. Ideologies, dogmas, and narratives find a new conduit since they are now able to reach a wider audience within a short period. The danger here is on the effect that this has on the human mind. Experts in the development of propaganda in Nazi Germany and mind control experiments in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R) have recorded the ease at which mind control can be conducted (Kizza 67). The human mind and its subconscious core is a vulnerable area that can be influenced by creating new subconscious patterns. Those with malicious intent are acutely aware of this fact and have been known to use it to their own advantage. A casual peek at misleading material posted on the internet can lead to a disastrous end, especially when a person reading it decides to take it at face value. Turkle echoes these same sentiments and believes that contemporary computers indeed change the way we think. Turkle explores this existential problem and is shocked at the lack-luster attitude that has been adopted by government agencies regarding the adverse effects of misinformation. Concerns about privacy are now on the rise since computers have created a virtual world where vulnerable individuals may post personal information without acknowledging the risk involved (How Computers Change the Way We Think). In other instances, users choose avatars when communicating with others in online spaces. Here, they adopt new identities that may differ significantly from who they are before ultimately affecting their personality.

The use of robots to substitute companionship is an issue of grave concern for researchers. These appliances are developed using cutting-edge technology that makes them seem more human than any of their obsolete predecessors. Thanks to improvements linked to Artificial Intelligence (A.I), it is now possible to converse with a robot as one would with a fellow human being (Kavoori). An increase in processing power and their ability to “think” has now made them overnight star attractions across the world. It is now common to find parents standing in line for long hours waiting to buy these new versions for their children’s development. The idea behind this new adoption is that these appliances provide companionship to children in a manner never seen before. They can communicate with them and receive adequate feedback whenever they would make such a request. In “The Attack of the Friendly Robots,” Turkle highlights the danger in this type of attachment. Children may grow emotionally attached to these inanimate objects and end up making fatal errors of judgment. In reality, they fail to develop appropriate social skills necessary to survive in the real world and may seek solace in their software-driven acquaintances. In as much as they gain unlimited information from these robots, they also end up failing to adequately learn how to read social cues that are a vital requirement for anyone seeking to understand their counterparts. Similarly, a number of privacy issues have been raised concerning sociable bots. There are numerous reports that government agencies use them as spy devices to collect private data about their citizenry and families (Orlik). An innocent looking M.A.X bot may be secretly recording private conversations and relaying the data to a remote server without the user’s knowledge.  In finality, the technological changes that have occurred within the last century have significantly affected our ability to foster human-to-human communication. Sherry Turkle makes this the focus of her discussion while pointing out the adverse effects that it has had on human interaction.  Her postulation reveals that conversation has been effectively dulled by the development of new technologies that had, ironically, been produced to promote this same concept.

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