Turkle, Sherry. (2015). Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. New York, NY: Penguin Press.
Look up from this page right now and observe your current surroundings. If there are people around, spot what they are doing. Are they talking to one another? Or are they looking down at their phones, completely oblivious of any kind of activity going on around them? Reclaiming Conversation is a book written by MIT professor Sherry Turkle that talks about how our phone usage has affected our ability to communicate and to connect with others around us. Important social skills such as empathy and teamwork are becoming more and more absent in society largely due to our phones.
The book is divided into six short sections and is based on a quote by 19th century philosopher Henry David Thoreau pertaining to the “3 chairs” that he kept in his cabin in the woods. Each chair symbolized a different type of human relation: solitude, friendship, and society. The book explains how our phones affect all three types of those “chairs” of relating to ourselves and others. For solitude, Turkle explains that we need to be alone at times in order to “find ourselves.” This is our desire and intention with the people, places, and things that we encounter on a daily basis. Phones prevent that reflection time because they stimulate an insatiable appetite for constant bits of information. The result? Because we have little reflection time to understand ourselves, we develop a significant lack of empathy for others around us.
This lack of empathy will inevitably spill over to the “second chair” that is friendship. One of the people the author interviews for the book is a college student who explains that she thinks seven minutes is the amount of time it takes for a group conversation to change from an awkward to an interesting vibe. However, that same student reluctantly admits that many (including herself) are not even motivated to develop a group conversation that lasts that long. Instead, we turn to our phones because conversation there “feels enclosed and self-contained” (Turkle, 154) and not as disorganized when compared to real-time, face-to-face talks. Our education at school and our working lives are also affected by this lack of empathy, as Thoreau’s “third chair” symbolizes society. Our education is negatively affected by our phones when we choose to multi-task by having them out during classroom lectures, resulting in “[forgetting] how to read human emotions” (213) as well as a decreased ability to understand what is being taught in class. Work is affected as well as employees at desk jobs increasingly prefer sending emails to solve any kind of work problem with a co-worker rather than talking about the matter face-to-face. This significantly hurts employees’ unity, collaboration, and teamwork. The solution to all these societal problems due to our increasing phone usage? Arguably the most powerful sentence in the book: “Put away your phone” (319) when others wish to have a conversation. The mere presence of a phone creates a vibe of distraction and lack of interest in what others have to say.
This book is beneficial for a Christian young person to read because it will increase personal awareness of how powerful technology is in changing patterns of thinking and behavior towards the many neighbors that cross paths with us on a daily basis. It will also renew a personal desire to have more face-to-face conversations with others which is really the only sincere way to build true empathy as well as ability to inspire a friend, family member, or coworker. I would highly recommend this book! Although it is a little long at 362 pages, it is definitely worth the read. Some of the quotes in the book are stunning as they clearly show that humans are behaving more and more like robots because of their phones.
“Wherefore comfort yourselves together and edify one another, even as also ye do” (I Thessalonians 5:11
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