Professor of Social Studies in Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Sherry Turkle is an authority on describing the effects of digital technology on human psychology. The author of the best-selling “Seuls ensemble” believes that new technologies and social networks are deeply distorting human relationships and undermining the basic structures of society.
SMS and instant messaging become a default mode of communication. Why do you think its impact on well-being is less positive than direct and real communication?
When we speak face to face, we have eye contact, body language, all those subtleties that surround us in the background and allow us to establish a real connection. Any interaction or relationship across screens reduces the spectrum of possibilities. Even in video conferencing, face-to-face is an illusion. When we look at the screen to see our interlocutor, we never look him in the eye. Therefore, if face-to-face interaction is not possible, it is preferable to talk on the phonebecause it allows you to at least focus on the range of the voice.
The problem with face-to-face conversations is that they take place in real time, which means a lack of control.
How do you explain this trend towards the virtualization of exchanges, especially among the younger generations?
I remember an exciting interview with a young man, who explained to me that he loved written messages, and who assured me that the experience was superior to that of a real conversation. According to him, the problem with face-to-face conversations is that they take place in real time, which means a lack of control.
The conversation is too fast and it is impossible to control what the other person will say. In a real conversation, it is not possible to do anything else, to leave the place where you are, while the written messages give this freedom.
We tend to want to control the image that people have of us., which takes us to spend hours taking the best photos, posting them on Instagram or Facebook, applying filters. The use of technology tools is intended to prevent others from telling us things like “you don’t feel well”, “you look tired”, “do you want help?” … So many thoughts that can make you want to do it. hide, because he feels devalued in this way.
Vulnerability is the birth of empathy.
Also explain why a conversation involves accepting a form of vulnerability that doesn’t exist in text messages …
We use text, screens, and devices to make us feel less vulnerable. But this approach is counterproductive, because vulnerability is the birth of empathy. Through our vulnerability, which never appears better than in a real interaction, we recognize the right of the other to be equally vulnerable.. It is the beginning of the relationship, or its enrichment, or its extension.
The paradox is that direct conversations, in real life, are supposed to be lighter and more liberating, because they are ephemeral, while with digital, every detail is etched forever. How do you explain this tendency to want to keep showing so much on social media?
It is not a paradox. We have two divided lives, one in which we tend to imitate the personalities that appear a lot in programs with a lot of manipulation, and the other in which we tend to want to hide. This comes at a cost, as we lose the ability to share how we feel and who we really are, which is basically what we are looking for.
The more connected and visible we are, the more we need to hide and protect ourselves?
A distinction must be made between connection and conversation. We’re very connected, but we don’t really talk or talk much anymore. This is seen in the younger ones, who are hyper-connected and constantly texting, but no longer seem so interested in talking when they are elbow next to each other. We even come to conceive of a future where people prefer to talk to robots.which is obviously the wrong direction.
Explain in your book that half of couples check their phones regularly when they are physically together. Is life as a couple definitely transformed by the advent of digital technology?
People are beginning to realize its negative impact. An important experiment was conducted with subjects eating a meal, with the phone screen visible or invisible. It has been shown that even when the screen was invisible, but the phone was in their line of sight, they thought about what they might have received on their phone during their interaction with the person in front of them. . It has taken a long time for people to understand the unconscious psychological phenomena that exist when a smartphone is within their reach.and be aware that your personal data has been used in such a way that they stay connected for as long as possible.
Seeing a two-year-old boy assert his need for a scary screen.
Dopamine is one of the keys to the problem. How can we better understand reward circuits?
There are other ways to activate dopamine. Go for an active walk on the same circuits, in addition to talking face to face with friends. The fact is that we are waiting for our phones and we have to ask ourselves about the harm it is doing to us and to future generations.. Seeing a two-year-old child assert his need for a screen is frightening, at this age when, on the contrary, he should learn to deal with boredom and loneliness, which will then allow him to establish relationships. Being good to yourself is the basis for being good to others and have the opportunity to take an interest in it.
Facebook’s business model is pernicious, anti-democratic, anti-social.
Are online hate phenomena intrinsically linked to the use of computer tools, or are they mostly the result of changes in society?
I don’t think screens alone are responsible, in a society where so many things are wrong. But if we take, for example, The Facebook algorithm, we know, is essentially about ensuring that people stay in front of their screen for as long as possible, and that their main driver is anger.. It separates people into different groups, which are antagonistic and between which the gap continues to grow. It is a pernicious, anti-democratic, anti-social economic model. When millions, if not billions, of people are trapped by this economic model, the consequences are massive.
The important thing is to know how to be alone … not to suffer loneliness. Not being alone goes to people for the wrong reasons.
You also feel that social media and dating sites do not allow you to develop a good “sentimental education”. What do you mean?
Technologies are bringing us back to modes of exchange quite close to the logic that prevailed in the education systems of several decades ago., where things are learned by heart, they applied social rules without thinking, especially in primary and secondary schools. Only from higher education did we learn to overcome these preconditions, to get to the bottom of things, in our different relationships. Digital, in its globalizing approach, sums it up and oversimplifies itand at the same time leads users to give in to certain facilities, to certain automations, without questioning what they are depriving themselves of.
Like sleep, exercise, or diet, can we quantify the ideal amount of communication, daily or weekly, to maintain good psychological health?
There are no rules. But the important thing is to know how to be alone … so as not to suffer loneliness. Not being able to stand alone is going to people for the wrong reasons, even to surround themselves with people who can be harmful. While accepting and loving being alone will ultimately allow you to surround yourself better, to build meaningful exchanges. Therefore, it is not possible to quantify the ideal time for communication and sharing. What matters is finding meaning, being alone or accompanied.