Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I Share, Therefore I Am

 I pride myself on the fact that I don’t go around railing at the younger generation’s softness. You’ll never hear me say “In my day, I walked twos mile to school in my bare feet,” (though it’s true). Nor do I worry about handing over our world to a generation, who when ordering morning coffee say, without a hint of self-consciousness, “ I’d like a Venti, sugar-free, non-fat, vanilla soy, double shot, decaf, no foam, extra hot.” I know enough smart, curious, caring and generous ‘young people’ to make me very optimistic.

However, I read an article in last weeks’ Globe and Mail that makes me worry for them ­­– and myself.

Seems that MIT clinical psychologist Sherry Turkle believes that our mobile Internet age has produced narcissistic, ‘digital natives’ who expect continuous connection, and experience profound discomfort in those rare moments when they are alone, or between ‘correspondences.’

“We’re relying more on more on Facebook, e-mails and Twitter,” she says in her new book Alone Together; Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other, “because in a conversation, you have to deal with people.” She says we used to call that ‘getting to know someone.’

Ironically, using technology’s instant speed and response possibilities make us more demanding of each other, she continues, but “what we’re expecting back is not necessarily depth but velocity; we’re expecting back shallow and we’re expecting it back fast.”

Enough about Dr. Turkle for now. Let’s get back to me for a moment, shall we?

When my husband was in hospital, my daughter bought him a game called The Art of Conversation. It’s a deck of cards, and on each card is a list of possible conversation starters, like “The most positive person you have ever known or met?” or “The worst meal you’ve ever been served in a restaurant.”

The card that got the most conversation going was “Who would you prefer talking to on the phone rather than e-mailing?” When my turn came to answer, I heard myself saying, “Usually, no one,” I can’t be bothered half the time. I’m tired, or busy, too worried about the kids or have other things on my mind. In an email, I can get to the basics – make plans, relay important information or send kind wishes. All of which I can do without having to really ‘engage’ with anyone.

Since I value my relationships, I don’t see my response as a positive. When and why did I start turning off?

Turkle, founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, describes a younger generation compelled to answer their phone, keep up with Facebook accounts, tweet their every sneeze, and respond immediately to friends’ sneezes.

“Technology is making it uncomfortable for young people to be alone. In between waiting for that text back, you’re very vulnerable. You look for response as validation. It’s impossible not to be continually sharing what you’re feeling.”

Turkle calls narcissism a self-love that is so fragile, it needs constant support. “We’re not teaching ourselves to feel okay without constantly reaching for something. We can’t not have that constant validation.”

Which brings me back to me again. What is this blog other than exactly what Turkle is referring to. I’d be lying if I said I was only doing it for the love of writing or to keep a record of my thoughts. While those things do mean something to me, I still check back more than I should to see if someone left a comment. I want feedback. I want validation, and I want it NOW.

In the ‘old’ days, I’d write a magazine article (or the like). My editor would (maybe) give me some positive feedback, and if I were lucky, really lucky, I’d read a Letter to the Editor about the article in the next issue. That’s just the way it was. At best, I felt good about what I had written. Self-validation I believe we called it.

But no more. I don’t have that disciplined self-restraint like I used to. Within seconds of going ‘live,’ I fell into the trap technology allows for immediate response. My expectations have completely changed. I’ve become unsettlingly hungry.

What’s next for me? Could I become another Sally Field, who in her acceptance speech at the 1984 Oscars gushed thankfully to the world, “You like me. You really like me.”

Dear readers, you will get back to me on this, won’t you?

1 comment:

  1. I like you.. I really like you. (But then, I really like Sally Fields, too. So...)