Driving home from work I heard Terry Gross interviewing the author of this book, the full title is: Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.
Wow – just consider that title for a moment. Is that statement true for you?
Author Sherry Turkle studies the relationship between people and technology and some of the things she said really hit home. She talked about how kids today feel tethered to their parents by technology. When Mom or Dad text, they know they must respond ASAP or the parent who communicated will be sent into panic mode by the lack of a response. As a parent of teens I can say this is sadly true. Unlike my childhood, my kids have never been “out until dark” without me knowing exactly where they were. And if by chance their whereabouts are unknown – we text.
I also checked with one of my children – does she feel this way – obligated to respond right away when her phone vibrates and the sender is “mom”? And she said, YES!
The other technological “advancement” that Sherry Turkle and host Terry Gross discussed was a person’s inability to ever ”start fresh” because the shadow of their former self is always looming (my term here) on the internet. Over thirty years ago, I recall leaving the rural town of my youth and heading to the Twin Cities – Minneapolis to be precise – with the lofty goal of “getting lost” at a big school. I wanted to be the number on my ID card, not so-and- so’s daughter, sister or classmate. I think I accomplished that goal on a campus of 50,000 and quickly made a whole new batch of friends. Of course I still stay in touch with friends from my youth, but I wasn’t bound to them as I crossed the threshold to adulthood.
My own daughter recently left for college. I don’t think she had the same idea (to “get lost”), but if she had, it might have proven impossible. Life for most teens includes an on-line self, a more perfect reflection of themselves in their Facebook profile. A list of “friends” is there, pictures from High School events, and relationship statuses that sometimes appear to blink on and off. Erasing the past to start fresh is difficult when it is there in “timeline form” for all your “friends” to see.
Sure you can adjust your privacy settings, but even so, it is stressful and challenging to manage an on-line persona as a teen or young adult. Turkle interviewed hundreds of kids about the social pressures of Facebook. What does it say about you if you “like” Harry Potter; are you childlike or just fun? Do you support gay rights? Do you link to political leaders during an election? Are your personal conversations laid out for the world to see?
When you get to be my age – clearly an adult – you are more sure of yourself, confident, not afraid to tell the world who you are, or to remain private and be OK with that option as well. Youth today are trying on different identities just like we did, but they can no longer do it without the world watching.
When they discover the boyfriend they declared their love for on Facebook is totally wrong, his shadow is still there, if not still posted on their wall, at least in the minds of friends and relatives who happened to tune in when that declaration was made. When their interest in a particular music genre changes, some voyeurs may still recall their infatuation with Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber from posts gone by. Their brief passion for a particular movie star, political idea, or lifestyle trend is never private. And when they have long outgrown some acquaintance, those people may still come calling, because after all they’re “friends.”
What a dilemma the current social media has created for young people. I wonder what will be next. Will we fall further into the trance of technology or is there still hope for the human species and our truly human attributes of personal caring, conviction and in-person human interaction?