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How to Unplug From a Connected World

In this digital age, our lives are being rewired to work and connect through technology.  With the birth of the internet in the 1950’s, millions of digital consumers have found their lives revolutionized by the power at their fingertips. Many users claim that the increased use of digital media has improved their lives…but has it?

This month, I break down one of my favorite TED talks, “Connected, But Alone?” by social psychologist Dr. Sherry Turkle. She explores how the digital world shapes our relationships, personal/work lives and sense of self.

“As we expect more from technology, do we expect less from each other?”

Turkle studies how devices and online personas are redefining human connection and communication. She poses the question: are we letting technology take us places that we don’t want to go?

We’re all plugged in all of the time – example: I sleep with my phone, I have a TV in my bedroom and Facebook is the first thing that opens in my browser. Technology is making a bid to re-define human habits and communication. These devices not only change what we do, but (without realizing it) who we are.

“We are alone, together.”

Humans are becoming used to “being alone together.” With technology, we can hide from each other and, in effect, we short-change or sacrifice valuable conversation for mere connection.

Turkle theorizes that humans are lonely, but afraid of intimacy. Technology appeals to us most where we are most vulnerable. The sudden boom in technology allows us to feel connected in ways that we can control. With websites and applications like Facebook or Snapchat, we can keep up with our connections in real time and respond or react when we chose.

However, Turkle argues that we really do not have the control we think we do. These technologies create an illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.

 “Constant connection changes the way people think of themselves.”

Users are now able to use tech to share their thoughts and feelings even before defining them. Many have adopted the type of “I share, therefore I am” thinking. Thus, if we don’t have connection, we don’t feel like ourselves. For example, some mobile internet users feel discomfort or anxiety when they are without their phones at any time. Or those who are sitting in doctors waiting rooms are often on their phones, plugged in. If they aren’t constantly updating the masses, are they truly living?

“Embrace solitude and be comfortable being alone.”

Turkle describes three “fantasies” that comes from technology: (1) We can put our attention wherever and whenever we want; (2) We are always heard; (3) We will never have to be alone. She says this third idea is “central to changing our psyches.” The moment that people are without their technology, they get anxious and fidgety. In order to change this, people need to learn how to be comfortable being alone. In this day and age, “being alone feels like a problem that needs to be solved.” We’ve learned to “solve” this by connecting, but really, connecting has become more of a symptom rather than a cure.

“Use digital technology, the technology of our dreams, to make this life a life we can love.”

Digital technology is still in it’s early days. There is plenty of time for us to reconsider and deeply think about how we use technology. Turkle does not preach viewers to turn away from their devices, but instead create a self-aware relationship with the device, with each other and with ourselves.

She concludes her talk by explaining that we have the greatest chance for success if we fully understand our vulnerability and the many ways that tech can lead us back to our physical lives.

Start seeing time away from tech as a good thing – make room for it. Create a space dedicated to disconnecting from our tech, communicating with others or sitting alone in solitude. Learn to really listen to yourself and each other and truly try to connect.

In her final call to action, Turkle urges viewers to “use digital technology, the technology of our dreams, to make this life a life we can love.”


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