Sherry Turkle’s TED Talk and book “Alone Together” makes some cogent points about the way that technology affects human psychology and society. She says that “we’re so busy communicating that we often don’t have time to think.” The fact that we now have the Internet and communication technology in our pockets at all times serves to dilute our attention and mediate our connections with other people. The resulting thirst for real connections results in the development of technological substitutes. Turkle writes, “we seem determined to give human qualities to objects and content to treat each other as things.”

I heard an NPR story about a year ago where a guy decided to see if it was possible to travel across the entire United States without having to interact with another human being. He was pretty successful.

I always feel like connecting these ideas to other things I’ve seen and read. The same issue Turkle addresses was predicted in E.M. Forster’s 1909 short story The Machine Stops and lampooned in The Onion’s 2009 story “90% Of Waking Hours Spent Staring At Glowing Rectangles”.  The Onion story is just a joke, but also in 2009 the New York Times ran an actual article entitled “8 Hours A Day Spent On Screens, Study Finds“.

In one of Hugo’s earliest posts, he focused on a video where Dan Harmon talks about “why not to take the Internet too seriously.” He says that the Internet is another in a long line of “people-connectors”, or methods that people use for interaction apart from simple in-person communication. Harmon’s chief point is that ultimately, people are what matters in life. Just like Sherry Turkle, he argues that we’ve come to love the things we’re connecting to other people with rather than loving the people we’re connecting with: “The more powerful the connector, the more power that connector has to divide us.”

I think that there’s an accidental social experiment going on. The saturation of communications technology that Turkle talks about is prevalent in most of the US, but there are still parts of the US and big parts of the rest of the world that have not yet been reached by the telecommunications glut seen here. There’s a control group and an experimental group. It would be interesting to see if there’s a way to quantify the problems Turkle talks about and see if there’s a way to measure them in different societies that have different levels of media saturation. I haven’t seen anyone doing that. So far the comparisons have been of the US now to the US then. I think it would be useful to compare other societies at different stages of media saturation.

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