JWU College of Arts & Sciences

‘Reclaiming Conversation’ with Author Sherry Turkle

Author and professor Sherry Turkle

“I think it's particularly important to write a love letter to conversation at this point in time,” founder and director of MIT's Initiative of Technology and Self, Sherry Turkle told the students assembled in Schneider Auditorium earlier this month. In addition to being the author of this year's freshman summer reads book, “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age”, Turkle was the second Cultural Life Series speaker to visit JWU's Providence Campus.

“In [“Reclaiming Conversation”], [Turkle] discusses how in multiple aspects of everyday life, we avoid conversation with one another, distracted and tempted by digital interactions like texts and emails, in which we don't need to reveal true selves,” Media & Communication Studies senior Abby Bora said while introducing Turkle. 

“Professor Turkle's message should be especially valuable for college students like us to consider,” Bora said. “How many times have you sat in a room with your friends, all on your phones, rather that talking to one another? How about at a party or on the bus, holding onto your phone as a clutch, trying to look busy?”

'I'd rather text than talk' — People want to keep their interactions on the screen.”

Turkle stressed throughout her talk that she's not anti-technology, but rather pro-conversation. While wrapping up her last book, “Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less from Each Other,” Turkle stumbled across a quote that really stuck with her: “I'd rather text than talk.” This feeling was all over the data, Turkle explained, but it hadn't really been something she was looking for. “People want to keep their interactions on the screen,” she said.

Turkle shared several instances of this sentiment throughout her talk, from both her research and personal experience. For example, she noticed a decline in the number of students attending her office hours. Instead, they were reaching out to her via email.  “They want to send me an email that asks their question perfectly,” she said. “And they want a perfect response to their perfect question. It's all too transactional.”

This is a second Silent Spring, Turkle argued, referring to “the moment in the 60s when people saw technology, for all of its gifts, had also created an assault on the environment.” This time the assault is on our empathy. However, Turkle is still hopeful. According to research cited in “Reclaiming Conversation” children were able to relearn empathy after just 5 days with no technology. Turkle claims the “back and forth” of human conversation is what “does the trick.”

“We've gotten ourselves into a lot of trouble together,” Turkle said, “but I believe we're ready to find our way out. Let's look up, look at each other, and start the conversation.”

Author Sherry Turkle with Media & Communication Studies senior Abby Bora

Topics: Cultural Life Series