From a summary of a discussion with Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together:
Turkle, who has chronicled the increasing portability and pervasiveness of computers and communications technology, believes children may no longer be learning “how to be alone.” They panic at the prospect of disconnecting from their mobile devices, as if being out of touch erases their very existence: “I share therefore I am.” Turkle detects in her interview subjects an “almost instinctive” fear of solitude, which she believes is dangerous, since being alone “is a good thing,” a path to creativity and maturity. Loneliness, she says, “is when you fail to reach that state.”
More and more, Turkle sees a darker side to mobile connectivity, with people plugged in at funerals, dinner tables, and birthday parties. She thinks “in terms of technological affordances and human vulnerability.” Sociable robots capable of simulating human emotion and cognition pose a serious threat, believes Turkle, especially as they ‘try out’ for roles as nannies, elder caretakers, and teachers. She worries that we may come “to expect more from technology and less from each other.” Social networks like Facebook whittle away at privacy, leaving not just individuals but our entire democracy open to abuse and manipulation.
On a recent Sunday evening, each of my kids was engaged with some electronic gadget or another. I was about to call for a moratorium on screen time and a return to family time.
Unbeknown to me, they were already enjoying family time.
My 9-year-old in our Philadelphia home was playing an online Scrabble game with his grandmother on her iPad two time zones away in Denver.
My 11-year-old was video-chatting with his grandfather in Florida on Skype, a program I didn’t even know we had.
And my 14-year-old was checking in with his “friends” on Facebook. And whom does he count among his 300-plus friends? His great-grandmother in Minneapolis.
Certainly, it’s nothing new that kids are plugging in and staying connected. But what is new is that it may be a grandparent on the other end of that virtual tin can—and that technology is bridging the vast age and distance gap that has long divided the generations…
“When the baby boomers went to college and moved away, we lost an entire generation of connection between grandparents and grandchildren. They saw each other once or twice a year, and there was a real disconnect,” says Andrew Carle, professor and director of the Program in Senior Housing Administration at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
“Now with technology, we are regenerating those bonds. People say technology is so impersonal, but we are watching it being used to reconnect one of the most personal and important relationships of the species.”
Prof. Carle adds, “I watch my own kids talking to their grandparents 1,000 miles away, and I love it,” he says. “They may take it for granted, but I only saw my grandfather once a year. Nothing will replace a hug, but this is as close as it gets.”