Technology and the Decline in Communication

Our power went out this weekend, just as I was watching Netflix on my iPad, texting my neighbor, shopping for the holidays on my laptop and getting ready to put a load of laundry in the dryer.  Out of nowhere, it wasn’t even raining that hard, my multitasking, connected afternoon went instantly dark and quiet.


 We have candles, we have battery operated radios and lanterns, cabinets full of food, I would be fine.  Nature had invited me to stop for a bit and literally unplug.  I could relax, write a letter, read an actual book or a magazine, take a nap, any number of calming, restorative ideas come to mind now.

However, on that afternoon, I was instantly swept into a sort of temporary disconnected panic, and immediately went to check my phone—not because it was ringing, or I needed it for anything, I checked it out of habit, and, really to feel less alone.

The complicated, intimate relationships we have with our devices is a research focus for Sherry Turkle, a PhD at MIT who is also the Director of their Initiative on Technology and Self.  In her 2012 Ted Talk Connected, but alone? She reminds us:

These days, those phones in our pockets are changing our minds and hearts because they offer us three gratifying fantasies. One, that we can put our attention wherever we want it to be; two, that we will always be heard; and three, that we will never have to be alone. And that third idea, that we will never have to be alone, is central to changing our psyches. Because the moment that people are alone, even for a few seconds, they become anxious, they panic, they fidget, they reach for a device. Just think of people at a checkout line or at a red light. Being alone feels like a problem that needs to be solved. And so people try to solve it by connecting. But here, connection is more like a symptom than a cure. It expresses, but it doesn't solve, an underlying problem. But more than a symptom, constant connection is changing the way people think of themselves. It's shaping a new way of being.

Technology has fundamentally changed how I make connections and continues to redefine how I relate to others and communicate.  It takes effort to be alone, and even more effort to be present with another person without succumbing to the persistent tug of what I may be missing by not checking my phone.

In Turkle’s new book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, she makes a connection between our dependence on digital technology and our progressive inability to self-reflect, be alone, and have empathy.

I look forward to reading it during the next power outage and continuing to explore ways we can all cultivate stronger relationships that are not mediated by technology.

Jennifer Albrecht, Vice President of Professional Development, has been teaching and consulting with Learn iT! since 1997. Since joining Learn iT!, Jennifer has built and facilitated all of Learn iT!’s Professional Development classes including Communication, Leadership, Negotiating and Decision Making.

Jennifer strongly believes in Learn iT!’s 8 Step Model for Learning and applies it in all of the classes she builds and facilitates. Further information on the 8 Step Model can be found here.