May 18, 2016 – Reclaiming Conversation

Rev. Jeff Gannon

I was recently referred to a fascinating book titled, “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age,” by Shirley Turkle. She has been studying people’s relationship with technology for 30 years at MIT.

In Reclaiming Conversation, she explores the first generation of children who grew up with smartphones that are graduating from college and beginning to enter the workforce. She also examines the impact of technology on relationships with our families and friends, dating, teaching and education, and the workplace.

We need to pay close attention to Dr. Turkle’s findings:

  • There has been a 40% drop in empathy among college students in the last 30 years. They believe this is due to students having less direct face-to-face contact with each other.
  • People are turning to phones instead of each other. We are hiding from each other even as we’re constantly connected to each other.
  • Studies show that the mere presence of a phone on a table (even if it is turned over and/or turned off) changes what people talk about. Even a silent yet visible phone disconnects us.
  • On social media, we spend more time performing a “better version” of ourselves with as little vulnerability as possible.
  • Research confirms that the first generation of children who grew up with smartphones have a hard time with eye contact, beginning and ending conversations, and are lacking in key relational skills.
  • Over-reliance on devices is harming our ability to have valuable face-to-face conversations, “the most human thing we do.”
  • Many of our children are growing up anxious and awkward because they can’t get their parent’s full attention. They are too distracted.
  • We use phones to block sadness, difficult feelings, and awkward moments.
  • Technology brings significant complications for our singles and their “romantic” connections.
  • 9 out of 10 college students text in class. Two to three minutes is too long for them to pay attention without checking their phones.
  • Multitasking gives us a neurochemical high so we think we are doing better and better when actually we are doing worse and worse.
  • We lose our ability to summon deep attention and be reflective over time. That takes practice.
  • The most powerful learning takes place in relationship. Presence is key. Online platforms have limitations. (Dr. Terry Hedrick and Dr. Ben Staley both attest to the limitations of online learning).

The solutions?

The solution is not to equate our addiction to screens to heroin addiction. Laptops and smartphones are not something to remove. As Turkle says, “They are facts of life and part of our creative lives. The goal is to use them with greater intention. We are faced with technologies to which we are extremely vulnerable and we don’t always respect that fact.”

Dr. Turkle invites us to consider technology time-outs. i.e. no devices at dinner, in the car, or in the kitchen. She suggests designated time for creativity and unitasking (one thing at a time).

Can you imagine a technology Sabbath? 24 hours without the use of technology? What would happen to our souls? Perhaps we would experience deeper love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.

As with all of God’s good gifts…moderation is the key.



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