TED Conversations

Heather Taylor

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Technology doesn't create loneliness, it reveals it. Once revealed, technology can help alleviate isolation and spur connection.

Dr. Turkle urges reflection and analysis and the idea that technology is its infancy. These are two important ideas and I urge others to consider this perspective: that technology fosters connections and developmental growth among the most socially awkward and vulnerable.

A healthy relationship of any sort (e.g., romantic, friendship, family) requires reciprocity. But when these sorts of relationships are out of balance, technology can fill a void. I posit that while technology can lead to isolation, isolation can also lead to connection when a lonely individual reaches out to others or becomes involved in the community via technology.

I'm curious if others view the connection between technology and isolation as one-way or bidirectional or if some other perspective entirely is needed to describe the complex technology-human connection.

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  • Apr 5 2012: When relationships become out of balance, would technology really fill the void or is it a vapid substitution? Like Dr. Turkle stated, the fantasies of technology have simplified interactions. When relationships become difficult, people look to technology as something quick to fill in the vulnerable gaps that they experience instead of dealing with confrontation. I think Dr. Turkle references technology as an isolating force because people often prefer to deal with interaction solely through technology.

    The idea of using technology to connect to an actual community is part of what Dr. Turkle would probably refer to as "first steps". It is utilizing technology to affirm values in our own lives. If an individual is lonely, they may use these simple means to connect, but unless the individual takes further steps to foster actual human interactions, I believe that individual is still alone. The individual seeks out 'virtual worlds' that simplify interactions because the 'real world' is difficult to access, but when confronted with the 'real world' problems, that's when the individual becomes turned off from dealing with their 'real' life, further perpetuating this vicious cycle towards isolation.
    • Apr 5 2012: Excellent point. I think that's exactly what she's saying - that technology, while it may provide the illusion of connectedness, is not the real thing. I think we need both. We need real connection and for efficiency's sake we need electronic tools. But people are not "learning" about relationships from technology. We have pretty good evidence of psychopaths who are well-connected online and but utterly unable to relate to real humans.

      Also, I would like to make one point that no one has made. Because of threats to privacy - employers demanding Facebook logins and so forth - the profiles we create in social media are by necessity, fake. We must put our best foot forward electronically; we are told by our premier educational institutions now that "success" in this life is all about "personal branding."

      So, online profiles are not our real selves, they are personal advertising. To me that makes them pretty boring and suspect. This is no substitute for real relationships, where we reveal our vulnerability, where we learn to trust and share. Has anyone noticed how similar online dating profiles are? Everyone wants exactly the same thing and describes themselves exactly the same way!! So ironic given the infinite diversity of human nature. I say we should all take regular breaks from our electronic devices, and refuse to be slaves to every little beep and ping. Go out and plant some tomatoes.
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      Apr 8 2012: Could it be that people are seeking these precisely managed and safe virtual worlds because the real world has become too complex and fast moving for them to feel comfortable there? Is there a growing disparity between those who have made lifelong learning their mission and those who are content to be swept up in the wave of technological advancement and simply use modern technologies without understanding them?

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