Friday, June 8, 2012

Sherry Turkle's Message to Families

Sherry Turkle
Photo: Richard Howard

MIT Spectrum
I have a new favorite person: Sherry Turkle. She's a sociologist and psychologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, directing the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self.

Author of the thought-provoking book called Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, Dr. Turkle has spent years studying the interaction between computers and people, or as she calls it, "the subjective side of technology." She's also been featured in news and media outlets a lot lately (see a partial article list below).

I believe parents should evaluate their priorities and determine if technology is helping - or interfering - with what's really important for their families.  Dr. Turkle's research and messages put substance behind the value of doing this. Last night, I listened to a recording of an interview with Sherry Turkle by Krista Tippitt with the "On Being" program through American Public Media. There were so many wonderful takeaways for parents.

Dr. Turkle encourages everyone, including parents, to have "sacred spaces" in the home for technology. As I interpret it, families should have a place where the cell phones, lap tops and other devices are not allowed. For instance, the dinner table, which is one place your family should not have to "compete with the roar of the Internet" for your attention.

Photo: Lauren Randolph/Flickr
from "Alive Enough?
Reflecting on Our Technology"

She challenges parents to put down their phones for a few minutes to take their children to the park or the coffee shop, and give them undivided attention. Watch them attentively as they "perform" for you at the playground, climbing on equipment and hoping you'll notice them. Look them in the eye when they get off the bus at school, and listen when they want to tell you about their day.

Teach your kids how to be alone, to appreciate times of solitude when they aren't connected to people through devices . She says, "If you don’t teach your children how to be alone, they only know how to be lonely.”

I'm guilty. I carry my phone everywhere, check my email too frequently (in an effort to keep my inbox under control), and yes, at times it does interfere with my communication with my kids. My husband and I definitely let it interfere with our connection. But kids deserve a meaningful connection with their parents, and moreover, they're learning from our modeled behavior. They'll get their own phones soon enough, and I don't want to compete with the gadgets for attention and connection with my kids.

Dr. Turkle is performing a wonderful public service through her work. I hope her messages will be taken to heart within our families.

More interviews and articles featuring Sherry Turkle:

Alone Together: So Busy Communicating We Neglect Each Other, MIT Spectrum
The Flight from Conversation, New York Times
Mobile Devices Offer 'Seductive' Fantasy, a video clip at
Sherry Turkle: Connected, but Alone?, video at

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