Sherry Turkle

As a Professor of Social Studies of Science and Technology in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT, Sherry Turkle is well-known for her research on digital technology and human relationships. For over 30 years, Professor Turkle has been researching the psychology of people’s relationships with technology and how it affects personal relationships, creativity, and productivity. Professor Turkle has appeared on various news channels like CNN, NBC, ABC, and NPR as an expert on the social and psychological effects of technology. To share her theories and research with the public, Turkle has written multiple books and a few articles on the topic, as well as given a TED Talk. Her books include “Alone Together: Why we expect more From Technology and Less From Ourselves,” and most recently “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age.” While Turkle is a fan of technology, she states that too much reliance on it for communication can be detrimental to relationships. Turkle believes there’s a time for the phone and a time for real conversation. Esquire magazine has named Turkle one of 40 under 40 who are changing the nation.

Turkle’s Theory

Turkle’s research is based on the concept that we, as a society, are together but alone - while we are more connected than ever, we feel more alone than ever. In her TED talk, she says:

“We text, email, shop, gamble, and play games while in meetings, in class, at dinner, and during playtime - all times that used to be sacred. We are essentially alone together. Does this disconnect us from ourselves and reality?”

Communication technologies have the capacity to change a person’s personality. When someone hides behind a screen, they gain the confidence they don’t have when face to face. Technology offers the opportunity to delete, edit, and craft our conversations to make sure we are presented in the way we desire. Conversations, on the other hand, happen in real time and are uncontrollable. In this sense, technology promises simplicity while real conversation promises complexity. In Turkle’s opinion, technology supports the “Goldilocks Effect,” limiting the amount of time and effort needed to sustain a relationship to “just enough.” Technology allows us to only pay attention to the things that interest us, holding all else at a distance. This may be desirable in some cases, but in the case of conversation, it runs the risk of creating pretend empathy.

Turkle’s Expertise and Frameworks

At the Head and Hearts Luncheon in 2016, Professor Turkle talked about how technology is distorting our priorities in terms of relationships: We are expecting more from technology and less from others. We are developing problems relating to ourselves and others, and losing our ability to detect emotions and feel empathy. Luckily, there is a solution! Turkle states that this problem can be overcome by changing our perception of alone time. Instead of viewing solitude as depressing or lonely, society should embrace it as a time to reconnect with our thoughts and emotions. For this reason, Turkle supports the Frameworks mission to teach children social and emotional skills. The earlier children learn how to be alone, the less they run the risk of being lonely. We must demonstrate solitude as a value and teach children the importance of face to face conversation. We must define technology’s role in society and in our lives.

Additional Resources

New York Times Op-Ed: “The Flight from Conversation” The Atlantic: “The Flight From Conversation”