Megan Garber interviews Sherry Turkle, author ofAlone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Otherand of the forthcoming Reclaiming Conversation.

In both books, Turkle argues that despite our constant connectedness we are more and more deprived of real conversation. She tells Garber, “I cant, in restaurants, not watch families not talking to each other . . . In parks, I cant not watch mothers not talking to their children. In streets, I cant not watch mothers texting while theyre pushing their children.

The problem is not simply talk. We talk to each other all the time.

Rather, “the problem . . . is that all of this talk can come at the expense of conversation. Were talking at each other rather than with each other.” Social media technologies encourage performance rather than conversation.

That means social media inhibits the messiness and boredom that is a part of normal converse. As Garber summarizes the point, “Conversations, as they tend to play out in person, are messyfull of pauses and interruptions and topic changes and assorted awkwardness. But the messiness is what allows for true exchange. It gives participants the timeand, just as important, the permissionto think and react and glean insights. ‘You cant always tell, in a conversation, when the interesting bit is going to come,’ Turkle says. ‘Its like dancing: slow, slow, quick-quick , slow. You know? It seems boring, but all of a sudden theres something, and whoa .’ Occasional dullness, in other words, is to be not only expected, but celebrated. Some of the best parts of conversation are, as Turkle puts it, ‘the boring bits.’ In software terms, theyre features rather than bugs.”

By contrast, “The logic of conversation as it plays out across the Internet . . . the into-the-ether observations and the never-ending feeds and the many, many selfiesis fundamentally different, favoring showmanship over exchange, flows over ebbs. The Internet is always on. And its always judging you, watching you, goading you. ‘Thats not conversation,’ Turkle says.”

More on: History

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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