How Smart Phones Are Harming Our Ability to Form Bonds and Short-Circuiting Our Personal Development
Contrast the importance the warrior ethos puts on community with what you and I see every day in age of the smartphone.
Look around any public situation these days and what do you see? A traveling group at an airport. All sorts of people at a restaurant. Teenagers hanging out with one another. Passengers on a train. Parents supposedly watching their kids on the playground. The dinner table at home. In each of these social situations, you see people zoned out into the screens of their smartphones and not engaging one another.
Sherry Turkle is an MIT professor and founding director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. Turkle’s expertise includes culture, therapy, mobile computing, and social networking. This is what she has to say about the smartphone:
“What I’ve found is that our little devices in our pockets are so psychologically powerful that they don’t only change what we do, they change who we are. Some of the things we do now with our devices are things that, only a few years ago, we would have found odd or disturbing, but they’ve quickly come to seem familiar, just how we do things.”
Turkle has been researching the effects of digital and social media on human relationships since the mid-1990s—the upsides and the downsides. The danger in our growing reliance in texting and social media to relate to others is that it undercuts how humans have typically formed friendships, communities, tribes, and team. When we actually spend time talking and taking on challenges together, we not only get to truly know the other person but ourselves as well. It’s not easy. It requires listening, thinking, giving, sacrificing, and the courage to screw up. “Relationships are rich, messy, and demanding,” Turkle says.
If we avoid the work and risk of being together and working together and encountering adversity with one another, and instead choose to hide behind texts and social posts, then we shut down what it means to be human. Turkle’s studies confirmed what you and I have seen at cafes, restaurants, work meetings, and more. Smartphones are disrupting everything from family dinnertime to funerals. Turkle’s assessment is that when we encounter moments in life that are especially difficult—like grieving for the loss of a family member or close friend—it’s all too easy to emotionally check out by checking a social feed on a phone.