Sherry Turkle’s book, Alone Together, was important to me and my work on digital citizenship at my school. She made a strong argument for the power of face to face communication and the potential hazards for people steeped in digital media — most primarily the loss of empathy.
I’m now waiting anxiously for Turkle’s new book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age. In particular, I’m curious whether Turkle’s essential thesis remains the same, especially in light of what I’ve read this week. Alison Gopnik’s “No, Your Children Aren’t Becoming Digital Zombies,” Sumathi Reddy’s “Pediatricians Rethink Screen Time Policy for Children,” and Teddy Wayne’s “Found on Facebook: Empathy” all contribute to the growing body of evidence that technology is less dangerous and possibly less disruptive than previously thought.
Contrary to many parents’ fears, says Gopnik, “teenagers’ experience in the mobile world largely parallels rather than supplants their experience in the physical world.” In other words, digital relationships run alongside or depend on real relationships, making them no more or less complex than they really are.
Pediatricians, according to Reddy, are in the process of reevaluating screen time recommendations for children. While it has been argued that children under the age of 2 should not have access to any screens at all, researchers and groups including Common Sense Media are suddenly wary of this advisory. Reddy cites James Steyer: “Some of the traditional recommendations, like discouraging all screen time before age 2, just don’t fit with reality circa 2015-2016.”
And contrary to the view that social media necessarily decreases empathy, Wayne argues that it actually has the potential to broaden our knowledge about and perspective on the lives of others. Further, it is possible that the younger the user, the greater the empathy. “The youngest generation may be the most amendable to screen-based opportunities for empathy,”
No matter where Turkle comes out on some of these issues in her new book, it’s clear that we have plenty to learn and observe when it comes to the impact of digital media on how we communicate, learn, and live. Of course, this makes developing and honing best practices even more challenging. But it is certainly fascinating to see it unfold, and to participate in shaping the future.