We want to live the good life, although the definition of the good life varies from person to person. My idea of the good life is a life that is meaningful, where I am not chasing happiness but contentment. In this trial and error minimalism helps me. I add and subtract ideas, habits, and objects depending whether they add value to my life, or just clutter it. One aspect of my life that needs an edit is my reliance on technology.
In our modern life, we have an ever-growing relationship with technology. We use it to text, find dates, friend new acquaintances, read, watch, work and so much more. Our enthusiasm towards our devices makes it easy gloss over its negative effects.
Maybe you have read about how our relationship with technology is affecting us. Being always connected can make us trapped in a stream of never-ending information. Too much light exposure from our devices disrupts our natural sleep cycles.
Looking for more on the topic I have recently come across a book by Sherry Turkle, an MIT professor. The book, ‘Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age’, delves into how much is at stake when we spend too much time communicating through our devices. This book makes the case for conversation, and shows how it is integral for developing empathy, relationships, education, business, even democracy. This a great book and I can’t recommend it enough. I have been talking about it almost nonstop for the last month. Here is a brief summary of the book (hope you can find a copy in the bookstore or at the library).
Turkle says that, due to our desire to be always connected, we have traded conversation for mere connection. I agree with her.
We have a physiological vulnerability for seeking out newness. That's why we like to scroll through our feeds.
We want to stay connected because we are scared of boredom. We want to multitask. Boredom has become something to avoid, and we forget (or never realise in the first place) that it is a gateway to self-reflection and creativity.
According to Turkle, we are also afraid of having face-to-face conversations. Mainly, because we have forgotten how to. Those of us old enough to have grown up before the age of online conversations are losing our in-person conversational skills as we practice them less and less. The rest have grown up without role models to show them how to converse. We may be having conversations online but they are only second-rate versions of the conversations we could be having.
We avoid conversations, partly because we are afraid of making mistakes. Why reveal your imperfect self when you can edit yourself to perfection in a text or email? We fear we might not be accepted as who we are if we do.
As we have less conversations is we lose what humanises us: empathy. Through conversation, we learn to understand each other not just through words but also through body language.
Children compete with devices at home. When they fail to divert their parents’ attention from their phones, they retreat to their own. Parents don't have the attention span to focus on their children. Families lose dinnertime conversations, a building block to building closeness and openness.
Friends put phones on tables at outings. Friends don’t realise that this keeps the talk small and trivial. People don’t want to open up when they feel/ know that they will be interrupted by a phone. Friendships stay small and transactional. Are you more entertaining than my phone? What can you give me?
Partners are not satisfied with their relationship. With online dating, millions of other profiles are available. Why try to work through problems and complexities when you can just swipe next. The search for “the one” never ends. Looking for love becomes gamified.
Teachers wonder why their students don’t seem to care about each other’s feelings. Too much screen time has left children not knowing how to read other people's faces and body language. They don’t understand what other’s feel and they don’t care. They also can’t pay attention for long enough to understand a complex idea.
In the office, colleagues are too busy multitasking or replying to emails and chats. They are too busy to focus and to develop a relationship with each other as well as clients. With no real conversation, employees and clients change companies as they feel no real commitment. Commitment, productivity, and the bottom line suffer.
On social media we are as vocal as we were ever on issues but we don’t get deep enough on topics. We block people who have different opinions to us instead of communicating to understand each other. We become insulated only with people and ideas that conform to what we believe. In politics it is the same. Politicians share what their followers will agree with when we really need conversations that address our challenges and conflicts.
Seeking solitude and self-reflection have become something to avoid. In our downtime we see loneliness as a problem, which we rely on technology to solve. When we go on social media we embrace the idea of “I share, therefore I am”. We rely on other people to give us a sense of self.
I highly recommend this book. There are so many anecdotes and research to back how conversation is something we need to focus on. Conversation, with self and others, is what makes us understand ourselves and each other best. Everything else pales in comparison.
Finally, here is Turkle says we can Reclaim Conversation:
Detach from your phone. Remember that your phone is not just an accessory, it is a powerful device that can distract you from what is important.
Slow down. Make space for alone time. Look forward to being bored. Turkle suggests that you should try the seven-minute rule. Stick with the conversation for seven minutes before you break out your phone, even though you think it is getting boring. This also applies to when you are alone.
Protect your time. Protect your creativity. Set your own agenda instead of trying to reply to all your emails and messages. Do what is important first.
Create sacred space for conversation. Make space for conversation during family dinners, in your car, or at the park. Design your environment to protect yourself from unnecessary interruption. Pay attention to your thoughts and the real people that you live and work with.
Do one thing at a time. Multitasking only makes you feel in control and productive but in every aspect of life it decreases performance and increases stress.
Be vulnerable, have difficult conversations. Being vulnerable to talk without script is how you allow others to get to know yourself. If you meet new people and only show them the perfectly crafted version of you, that is not all of you.
Talk to people you don’t agree with. In order to solve the challenges we all face as a community we need to talk to others. We can’t come up with a solution if we refuse to listen and understand each other. Turkle mentions a study that showed that people use don’t like discussing things that their followers might dislike. And social media users are less willing than non-users to discuss their views off-line. This life of no conflict may be friction free but we risk not learning anything new.
Choose the right tool for the job. Email is great but people require eye contact for emotional stability and social fluency. Therefore, apologise in person, don’t break up by text, and don’t settle family arguments via email
With love and simplicity,