Alone with our Phones:  the Downside of Cellular

By Shlomo Maital


     Will dependence on devices mean we no longer know how to engage, befriend and converse with live humans? Will IoT kill empathy?

       In her latest book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, MIT Professor Sherry Turkle, a sociologist and clinical psychologist, decries the decline of simple human contact.

     “We’re talking all the time,” she writes.   “We text, post and chat. …Among family and friends, we turn to our phones instead of each other.”

     The result? “Our young people would rather send an electronic message than commit to a face-to-face meeting or even a telephone call.”   The resulting “flight from conversation” damages what is most human about us – our ability to form relationships, empathize, sympathize, understand, collaborate.  

     In the world of IoT, will ‘things’ communicate in place of people? And will we as a result lose much of our essential humanity?

   The 2013 movie “Her” follows Theodore Twombly, played by Joaquin Phoenix, as he falls in love with Samantha, a computer operating system, whose silky voice is that of Scarlett Johansson. Are we already falling in love with our ‘things’? I am told that depriving teenagers of their cell phones, as a punishment, is regarded by them as life-threatening.  

     Every new technology has its downside.   Cellular technology enables us to communicate with everyone, everywhere, any time, all the time. This is a great boon. But it is also destroying our ability to relate to other human beings.

   How can we reap the benefits of ubiquitous smart phones (according to TIME magazine, a year ago, most people now surf the Web with their phones, not tablets or PC’s),   without the downside that Turkle depicts?