The New York Times has a piece about the dangers of electronic communication.
FACE-TO-FACE conversation unfolds slowly. It teaches patience. When we communicate on our digital devices, we learn different habits. As we ramp up the volume and velocity of online connections, we start to expect faster answers. To get these, we ask one another simpler questions; we dumb down our communications, even on the most important matters. It is as though we have all put ourselves on cable news. Shakespeare might have said, “We are consum’d with that which we were nourish’d by.”
Sherry Turkle, the researcher who wrote the piece, relays a haunting experience when she brought a robot (designed in the shape of a baby seal) to an elder-care facility and an older woman began talking to it about the loss of her child. The researcher said that everyone else found this story amazing, not disheartening, a sign that "we have confused conversation with connection and collectively seem to have embraced a new kind of delusion that accepts the simulation of compassion as sufficient unto the day. And why would we want to talk about love and loss with a machine that has no experience of the arc of human life? Have we so lost confidence that we will be there for one another?"
Turkle advises families to create space for conversations -- the kitchen, the dining room. She urges people to make their cars "device-free zones." In so doing, we demonstrate the value of conversation to our children. She suggests doing the same at work.
Most of all, we need to remember — in between texts and e-mails and Facebook posts — to listen to one another, even to the boring bits, because it is often in unedited moments, moments in which we hesitate and stutter and go silent, that we reveal ourselves to one another.
I have a slightly different take on all of this. I understand the fear of what problems can be caused by digital communications. My husband and I don't even keep a television, much less phones or computers, in our bedroom. We eat dinner together as a family. We don't let our children use our iPad apart from special treats on plane trips. I wish we used our phones less in the cars.
But I'm someone who works from home while also raising small children. Without my email, phone, internet communications, etc., I would be having far less meaningful communication with adults than I do now.
The key is the quality of these conversations and ensuring there is time for real interaction, too. Whether it's a Ricochet meet-up or just a meet-up between other friends, or the occasional offline chat to hammer out a problem or phone call to catch up, technology can be just as helpful as harmful. It's all in how you use it, right?