This week, Krista Tippett — host of the show Being — is talking with Sherry Turkle, head of MIT’s Initiative on Technology and Self.
Turkle has written a new book called “Alone Together,” which wrestles with the idea that communications technology (Twitter, Facebook, texting, smartphones, etc.) are linking us more efficiently and isolating us at the same time.
This is a subject I’ve been thinking about and wrestling with the last few years, not as a journalist but as a parent.
Increasingly, the natural spaces of privateness and aloneness that protected us and our families from America’s hungry, churning popular culture, have collapsed.
The car during a long drive. A walk in the woods. The bedroom. Dinner time. This essential terrain has more or less evaporated for many families.
Think of it as the communications equivalent of urban sprawl.
It’s challenging enough for grown-ups. I work in the profession where the term “crackberry” first came into widespread parlance.
But in my experience, kids have almost no context, no frame of reference, for how and when this technology is necessary, helpful or appropriate.
For a lot of people growing up now, the idea that there is such thing as an ‘off’ button seems foreign, alien, bizarre.
Turkle and Tippett speak intelligently and with nuance about this massive social experiment that we’ve embarked upon.
What is happening to a family that is effectively hard-wired into the cultural mass mind all the time? We don’t know really.
They make a strong argument that we all — grown-ups and kids alike — need to be much more aggressive about turning it all off.
If the natural spaces for family and privacy are gone, then we have to work harder to create deliberate space for these crucial, vital things.
I’ve had good experience on this front. My son Nicholas is, false modesty aside, a really cool, interesting, thoughtful15-year-old.
Occasionally, other parents will ask me about our approach, in the vein of How did you do it?
And mostly, in all honesty, it’s all about Nicholas being Nicholas. He’s just a good egg.
But I will take credit for the early decision to not have a television in our home, or a video-game console.
I know. It sounds Luddite. It sounds like the stuff of hippy communes. But really, no.
We’re a profoundly normal family. We go to movies, we like theme parks. We love pop music and, indeed, Popular Culture of all stripes.
We just wanted all that stuff to not be so intimately, inexorably wired into our home, our heads, and our private lives.
This year, we made a similar decision to turn off Nicholas’s texting account. This doesn’t mean that he’s living out an episode of ‘Lost.’
He still has plenty of ways to communicate with his wired-in friends and has adapted just fine.
But this simple act — hitting the ‘off’ button — allowed us to claw back just a little space, throwing up one more fragile rampart around our terrain, our lives, our family.