Technology is Not a Person

While celebrating my birthday dinner at Cask Bar + Kitchen with my husband, I indulged in a great conversation and a delicious plate of lamb nachos. As we waited for our food, I mentioned a TED talk by Sherry Turkle: Connected, but alone? that I watched in the morning on my way to work. I glanced around the bar and I told my husband to look at the man with the cell phone in his hand. He’s with a group of coworkers staring at his mobile device scrolling through his Facebook feed. I heard Sherry’s voice in my head:

“Technology appeals to us most when we are most vulnerable.” – Sherry Turkle

I’m thinking does he not want to be part of the conversation? Is he not interested in what his friends are saying? My husband stated that the gentleman in the blue-collared dress shirt may feel that he is not confident enough to hold a conversation and it seems like his cell phone is his security blanket.

We quickly shift our attention to a group of girlfriends at the opposite corner of the bar. One of the women was perusing through her cell phone almost the entire time. I’m sure she felt connected with all of her friends digitally but she was completely alienated from the jokes, smiles, and good laughs with her friends at the table. We probably should have been minding our own business but these observations contributed to our really great conversation.

“We expect more from technology and less from each other.” – Sherry Turkle

My husband and I strengthen our relationship and connection with meaningful conversations over dinner because one of our “technology boundaries” is to check our phones at the door during meal times. These conversations shape our “real-selves” and the way we view each other.

How are individuals using technology to mold their real-selves? It’s funny to think that the man and woman, who were glued to their mobile devices, could be seen as “social” by their family and friends on Facebook but are alone. According to a study conducted by Zhao, Grasmuck, and Martin, Identify construction on Facebook: Digital empowerment in anchored relationships, “This nonymity of the Facebook environment does seem to make people more “realistic and honest” in their self-presentation, the reduction of “gating obstacles” in the online setting enables the users to “stretch the truth a bit” in their efforts to  project a self that is more socially desirable, better than their “real” offline identity.” I witnessed this “stretching of the truth a bit” first hand.

I’m assuming these two individuals shared a post of their evening out with friends on Facebook. In the photograph, they appear to be having a great time with friends at Cask, laughing and smiling, but are they portraying their real-selves or their virtual-selves?

This leaves me to inquire, are we using technology to replace human interaction to find our true selves? Technology is not a person and will never replace human interaction. A robot cannot feel empathy, a text does not improve self-esteem, and Facebook will not truly identify who we are. Our future hangs on profound questions that Sherry Turkle concludes within her impactful article, Can You Hear Me Now?.  Let’s take a step back, reflect, and make adjustments to make real connections.

“What will we be like, what kind of people are we becoming as we develop very intimate relationships with our machines?”

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