3 Questions: Sherry Turkle on “Reclaiming Conversation”
MIT professor makes the case that meaningful, face-to-face dialogue is necessary for human beings to develop self-knowledge, empathy, and cognitive skill
“Conversation is essential to our humanity — and to our creativity, our work, and our ability to be in families.”
Face it: Many conversations today involve distracted people looking at their phones, not their companions. To Sherry Turkle, the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, the decline in thoughtful face-to-face interaction constitutes an epidemic.
Her new book, “Reclaiming Conversation,” makes the case that human beings need meaningful conversations in our families, classrooms, and workplaces, to help us develop self-knowledge, empathy, and cognitive skills. The book has been widely praised: In The New York Times, Jonathan Franzen wrote that “Turkle’s argument derives its power from the breadth of her research and the acuity of her psychological insight.” MIT News recently spoke with Turkle about the book.
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Q. Your previous book, “Alone Together” (2011), examined some of the isolating effects of technology. How did you move from that to “Reclaiming Conversation,” which argues specifically that the erosion in our conversational abilities comes at a huge cost?
A. “Alone Together” was a report on the state of the field as it was. People were telling me: I’d rather text than talk. “Reclaiming Conversation” is looking at what that means: Did people really mean it? Yes, and since it was so, the book became a call to action. It’s not an anti-technology book; it’s a pro-conversation book. We can enjoy and profit from mobile technology and not give up conversation. I would go further: This is what we have to learn how to do, because conversation is essential to our humanity — and to our creativity, our work, and our ability to be in families.