As a gift to myself for being productive during my morning planning period, I went to Starbucks yesterday afternoon to spend a few minutes with Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. I got coffee, settled into one of the armchairs, and started reading. I was peripherally aware of someone speaking, but assumed it was just background conversation and willfully ignored it. After a characteristically Southern, “Excuse me, ma’am,” I realized the guy in the chair catty corner from mine was talking to me. I shifted my attention away from the book to the small tablet he was holding out. “Can you believe that Facebook is asking me this question to reset my password?” (It was a gender identification of one of his friends. It was a perfectly logical question for distinguishing human from machine, but he seemed to think it was ludicrous. I didn’t say this though.)
He asked what I was reading, and I sheepishly said that it was a book about how digital technology and our use of it creates barriers to human interaction. It was at that moment that I realized I probably seemed like a pompous ass. We talked a bit about the book and the school where I teach. Then I turned back to my book, and he to his tablet and phone.
What seemed so strange about this reaction is that it seemed to challenge (at least anecdotally) the premise of Turkle’s book. It wasn’t digital technology that had gotten in the way of our interaction; it was the very old technology of print (the book I was reading) and my emotional state (I was tired and not in the mood for conversation). I’m not ready to dismiss Turkle yet. That seems unfair given that I’m less than 100 pages in, but I’m still skeptical. I do think she’s spot on when she notes a “certain fatigue with the difficulties of life with people” (10), but I’m not convinced that, at least for the majority, this will lead to a turn to robots as companions or lives lived primarily on the internet. Books are my default for that kind of fatigue 🙂