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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 6 2012: Let granddad take a shot. We took our grandkids on a trip to Disneyland. They text each other in the car, had ipods in their ears and yelled food when hungry and bed when they were tired. We wanted to provide a trip that would inspire memories for years to come. So mean ole g'pa took the devices away and it was real quiet and very angry for a day and then something wonderful happened we talked, we laughed, sang, and enjoyed each other as people. Technology is great ... but it will never take the place of a handshake, laugh, smile, hug, or even the first kiss. I do not want to eliminate technology, I just want my grandkids to know there is joy in books, hikes, trips, conversation face-to-face. You will not die if you do not have the latest gaget even though the ad says you might, Put things into prespective. I hear all the time about people meeting and dating on line. Don't sound very romantic to me. Guess I'm old school. I want to hold your hand, look into the beauty of your eyes, and feel the magic of human feelings and emotions. A person can be loney in a room full of people. Technology can not cure that. For me I go home to the love of my life each night and still wonder what a beautiful woman like her ever saw in a bum like me. All the best. Bob
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    Apr 3 2012: I don't agree that technology reveals loneliness in all cases. First let me say that I enjoy solo hikes where I can meditate as I walk and listen to nature while I reflect on my place in the Universe. For those of us that are educated in the Art of High Technology, (I have a BS in Computer Science) technology extends our range of connections. I now communicate with more people than I was able to in the 80's. I have TXT chats with friends that I rarely have time to be with. But we like keeping up with each others lives and families. My iPhone photo album is quite extensive.

    I must admit that my children no longer pick up the phone when I call. They send me a TXT asking me what I wanted -AND- I get irritated "I just wanted to talk, to hear you via your voice." They send back "can't talk now - maybe tomorrow". And of course they don't.

    Not all us use the phone in meetings for TXTng. I often have thoughts that I need to note. I've given up using paper and pen, I now make notes in my iPhone. I can find my iPhone notes more easily (its with me all the time, and yes I sleep with mine as well) than I can find my notes on paper.

    Now I do know that virtual realities like Second Life provide a level playing field for the culturally shy, disabled, and/or the nerd that has problems socializing. I can see where this connection can reveal a loneliness, especially males that take on the persona of a female. Those guys are either extremely lonely or predators.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that the human-computer interface is in deed a complex connection that allows us to expand our range of connections. AND it allows us to control the fidelity of connection. I think in time the fidelity of the interface will increase and thus allow us even more access to perhaps other species like dolphins and whales. To allow us more meaningful access to data such as manned space missions.

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    Apr 5 2012: I worry most for the kids who have never known anything else than cell phone and internet living, those who have never had a proper conversation, as Dr Turkle describes. We don't gain social skills magically, we have to be taught. We have to have face to face, real time attention and interaction with loving parents to develop a solid sense of self, boundaries, self respect and self esteem. If kids are brought up on videos, gaming and social networking we are sending us all into a very dark world indeed were personal resilience, empathy and deep societal understanding will be in perilously short supply. What we need is closer, stronger bonds, not more terror and withdrawal from the messy realities of living with each other. Terror is what drives suicide, illness, gangsterism, drug use and all the other symptoms of personal and social breakdown.
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      Apr 5 2012: I agree Anna. I am 60 and raised 5 children. The mother of my children used media as a baby sitter. One day, on NPR radio, A psychologist said " If you would not let two strangers come in to you house and make out on your couch, why would you allow it on your TV." So I did an experiment. I turned the TV around and against the wall. My small children ages 4 to 10 began to play with each on without fighting. They were not aggressive with each other. Well, after a week their mother went back to her style and the children went back to their old aggressive ways. I had a chance to repeat the experiment one more time, with the same results.
    • Apr 7 2012: I agree too Anna. The talk mentions technology isolating people from each other and creating loneliness. One thing no one has yet mentioned here, and which has concerned me for some time, is that it is not just about the isolation. It is about the way we treat each other as human beings. As someone who works in a job where I communicate with the public on a day to day basis, it has become hard to ignore the way some people treat others. It is the people who have minimal social skills (lack of empathy, boundaries) who seem to be unable to treat another person in a respectful and pleasant way - they are interacting with another human being, not a piece of equipment. They don't even realise how they come across.
      I think it has definately become worse the more we use technology but like others have said here it is about making an effort to connect. Really connect, with human contact, not just Twitter or Facebook.
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        Apr 9 2012: Wendy,15 years ago or so, I listened to a psychologist on NPR radio tell this comparison. The statistics are not accurate but close. During the Civill War only 5% of the soldiers actuarially did the killing. Most shot into the air or ground. The battle of Gettysburg they military found 50,000 muskets double loaded. Meaning they were never shot and to make it like the gun was shot by the soldier, he would load it again. World War I, only 10% of the soldiers shot to kill. After WW ll the kill rate only went up to 17%. The military realized that it is not in human nature to kill another person. So Vietnam soldiers were desensitized to the natural human mechanism of preservation. Of the men in combat 98% did the killing. That's why the higher rate of post traumatic war-symptom. The same psychologist stated that todays video games do over 100 time what the military does. And those were games 15 years ago.
        • Apr 11 2012: It would explan a lot of road rage as well. The angry person in one car doesn't seem to realise that the person in the other car is a father, brother, sister, lover, mother who has their own life going on. Who is late for work, who is worried about their mortgage, who is expecting their sister to deliver a baby that day. That is - a person.
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        Apr 11 2012: Wendy, when someone cuts me off or I have to make evasive action to prevent an accident, I just bless them and put a check mark of forgiveness in my column for when I screw up.
        • Apr 11 2012: Ha ha. Sounds like a good plan. I believe in karma. What goes around comes around.
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      Apr 8 2012: Anna, I would add one more thought to your thread. It is also a question of time. There are only 24 hours in the day and if we spend much of our free time in virtual realities there is little time left to explore the real world and the real people around us including family and friends. It also pretty much precludes the experience of doing things together, like building stuff or making stuff or exploring for stuff. Even community learning has been replaced by simply "googeling it" as it were. We love technology and we love TED but we find ourselves having to place strict limits on our on line time to allow for the other, real, local, experiences of life.
  • Apr 5 2012: While this may true for a very small amount of people, social networking is paradoxically eroding our social skills in the big picture.
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    Apr 11 2012: I saw Dr. Turkle's TED piece a couple of days ago. The interesting thing to me is that while these technical methods of communication are very useful; It seems to me that there is a progressive and increasing loss of bandwidth (for lack of a better term) in all of our communications with each other. What I mean is best shown with my recent experience with internet dating. I'm 50 and when I was younger ALL dating (including the preliminaries of setting up a date) was a face-to-face proposition. Now a lot of the preliminaries are handled through email/text. There is a bandwidth (channels of information flow) during an actual conversation, in person, that includes: posture, body language, facial expression, tone of voice, content. We as animals draw information about the person we are talking to from all of these facets of conversation. For me, whether I trust someone on first-meeting is more about their body language than about their words. With Text/Email we loose everything except the content and some very limited faux body language (smiley's etc). I know that for me texting & email in the place of conversation feels sterile even at its' best. I've also noticed that when talking in person to younger folks, that they don't seem to read body language well. Questions: 1) Is this growing increase in the sterility of our communications a factor in the number of folks paying therapists to tell them that they're OK. 2) Is this change in communication a factor in the increasing rudeness/lack of empathy in our society?
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    Apr 5 2012: My perspective on the complex technology-human connection is quite simple. Technology is simply a tool and not a free agent with free will. It is strictly the individual's choice to define and find balance at each given moment as to remind one's self that technology is a tool and couldn't be responsible for whatever negative outcome one may experience. Technology doesn't create lonliness Technology users do:)
  • Apr 5 2012: I've always believed that to achieve balance requires taking/using all things in moderation. Just like people develop a psychological addiction to certain drugs, the wonders of new technologies can also cause some individuals to develop a similar psychological addiction to their use.
    As an historian I also have to take a issue with the concept that the 'threats' posed by new technologies are some revolutionary concept unique to our society. It doesn't take much work to see that every new technology, from movable type thru to radio, television and the internet has had detractors who thought that it would lead to the disintegration of society. From a certain perspective they were correct, but only because a developing society continually evolves and changes through time. For human cultures, to stagnate is to perish.
    Personally I have no doubt that technology will continue to integrate into our lives and even our bodies over the next century. Technology can easily create the opportunity for isolation by providing distractions from the 'real' world whilst at the same time allowing far greater opportunities for communication than have ever been available in the past. To my mind the two positions are not binary opposites, more two 'sides' whose existence is facilitated by the invention of the coin.
  • Apr 5 2012: If one feels isolated, despite connected, it's not caused by high level of technology development. The best to prove that are examples of growing number of people from elderly generations enjoying the latest connection tools either daily communicating with love ones or socializing across the cloud. There is nothing wrong, the technology development is on normal path where it should be. The causes of isolation must be hidden somewhere else.
  • 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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    Apr 4 2012: I am 60 now and growing up "The Wizard of Oz" was aired once a year. So watching it, I had a whole year to absorb and process it. Turn it into my own story, to day dream about characters, to develop empathy and hope. Today, children have a funnel into their brains and a plunger to push everything and anything into their heads. No time to process, reflect or even filter. Time of isolation and reflection of a days lesson was at a pace that one could bear. Today, the weight of misinformation is driving our children to death. Death of imagination and even the taking of their own life. In WNY there is a funeral home that would do 2-3 teen suicides a year. Now they are doing 2-3 per month.
  • Apr 3 2012: Technology makes connections possible, but are those connections of value? Or at least worth the effort?
    Heather, you bring up a very important point, the concept of reciprocity in relationships. Virtual connections (TwitFaceFlickr,etc) forego true reciprocity, they trade the messiness of two wills in actual contact for the control of said contact. Real people are there when we want them but are also, more importantly, there when we don't as well.
    We may choose to ignore, delete, or tragically misunderstand virtual interactions (especially text based ones)which are by their nature inferior to real life connections because of their lack of nuance (tone, non-verbal content etc.) at the cost of true reciprocity. Are ersatz connections of value in themselves? No one steps on your toes when you dance by yourself to the music in your own head. But is it as satisfying, as exciting as that moment you ask "Shall we dance?"
  • Apr 5 2012: I don't see how technology creates loneliness at all. Twenty years ago if you were shy and couldn't communicate in person, you were forced to live a life alone. Today, many people who are too shy in person can have quite an online social life and a successful one. The idea that Sherry Turkle hold about us sacrificing communication for online sharing and a mere connection is wrong in my opinion.

    The whole idea of communication is to find connection. Just because she does not find the same level of connection as others do with online sharing doesn't make it worthless or have less meaning. To others this might actually be a better way to communicate.

    For example:
    I saw something that was funny on youtube and wanted to tell my friends about it. I could tell them when I see them in person or I could just link it directly to them since I can easily copy the link. Before the era of Internet sharing I would have been forced to talk about what I saw in a video and hope they understood just how funny it was, which coined the phrase, "You would have had to been there to understand." or "I guess you would have had to been there."

    Guess what, now we don't need to say that because we just linked the entire video directly to them. Now the communication was instant, and exactly how it was perceived by the original person. Now the conversation can go beyond just talking about what you saw into what you saw plus the shared connections of how it made you feel or what you got out of it or if it was genuinely funny for both of you.

    I'm sorry, I just don't see how sharing is not communicating. It in many cases is superior to just conversating about something.

    I grew up on games and the Internet and had next to no social life during my elementary days. When the Internet started to boom, my ability to communicate blasted through the roof. I'm now one of the center of the party social conversationalists. I didn't learn it from talking face to face. I learned it from the Internet.
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      Apr 5 2012: I was very shy and stuttered as a child. I was frustrated but determined to break out. I worked in my family business with my older brother and one day I noticed how he greeted people. He put his hand out for a hand shake. That was my start of breaking out of a shell. It took courage but when I met people, that hand came out and broke the ice. Turkle isn't advocating shutting down the net. Just the tempering of use. I can't tell a good joke or story. I leave that up to others. But we do need to force ourselves out of our shells and into the soulful experience of life. The human experience on earth demands of us self improvement. My parents put great expectation on me. They told me that I was named after a saint that was the corner stone of the catholic church and that I was a leo and needed to be a leader.
      A friend once told me his wife and him did not talk much at all. I told him he should develop regular conversation with her, because if she ever left him he would want to know why.
      • Apr 6 2012: I was never saying we should shun the traditional methods of communication (face to face). I'm simply saying that just because a new type of communication comes into the picture you are not comfortable using, doesn't make it less meaningful to others. I feel the benefits to online sharing and micro updates are great and I feel they have a place in communication.

        I just disagree that they are disconnecting us from face to face conversations. I feel they augment our face to face conversations.
    • Steve C

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      Apr 7 2012: Sharing is communicating when it is not just "copy/paste." I was just thinking about a similar example the other day: what happens when we have to tell someone about a video we saw? We have to remember a lot, retell the story (imperfectly, yes - but still be able to tell it well). We have to make it (can we?) entertaining, animated - almost off-the-cuff or interactive. I think there'd be a lot of value in that. The difference is talking "about something" (external), or are you sharing something "from within" that changed you somehow.
      Since I'm here, and have room to type this: I think I knew a few kids who would have trouble sitting for a few minutes in silence. I don't think that's good.
      There it is: just a little editing.
  • Apr 5 2012: I know many people - elderly, disabled, shy, ill, pre-teen, single parents - all with limited social lives in the real world, for whom technology is a social aid, expanding horizons and mitigating loneliness. Those people crossing roads without looking or yelling at their babies were doing these things before smartphones too. Social media have become so popular precisely because people are *already* feeling isolated or disconnected - and in many cases they really help.
    Curiously, I live in a UK village sometimes described as 'the last real community in the UK', and we have a thriving Facebook group with over 900 members, where people ask for, and get, information, services and real practical help... As well as advertising community events :)
  • Apr 5 2012: The TED talk was very eye-opening for me as I saw how I use technology myself. The talk did not address, but it almost hinted at, what happens when someone, say, posts something and receives no likes or comments. If that happens often, then the poster can learn from his or her experiences and start to train him- or herself to post only what will elicit a reaction and to not feel a need to post otherwise.

    Technology does have a nice way of connecting people. Contrary to the picture that Dr. Turkle illustrated, it is possible for someone to use technology to have long, thorough, organic conversations that truly reveal a person for what he or she is. Long-winded Facebook comment conversations, for example, can reveal a lot about people. Even better, instant message conversations, if actually carried out long enough, can emulate real face-to-face conversation in that many topics can be covered. It's in some ways a regression from face-to-face conversation because, well, there are no faces, but it's also an improvement on face-to-face conversation by eliminating the problems of one person interrupting another.
    • Apr 6 2012: Don't worry about receiving no comment or likes to a post, just like dancing by yourself can be rewarding so can be writing and posting something into to he ether. Keep expressing yourself and if it sparks a like or a comment great but if it doesn't don't use it as a excuse to stop dancing or to dance more provocatively.
  • Apr 5 2012: What I thought was amazing is she completely ignored that in her very own example, it was a txt conversation to confirm plans for meeting later. So she gave evidence that actually worked against her.

    Technology has created virtual communities for people with disabling chronic illnesses that would otherwise keep them completely socially isolated. Online, they can meet other people like them, network, share stories... and they're not the only community for which this has been helpful. Example - Egypt's coup via Twitter. Technology empowers us.
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    Apr 5 2012: I have been doing a somewhat longitudinal study of a religious group who tend to self marginalize themselves from interacting with their "host society" and their extended religious community. However, they have created an amazing online cultural presence that they use to interact, socialize, learn, and take empowerment.

    As I see it now, this group exists as a culture group in the ephemeral world of the Internet, cloistered away from the real world. I'm not sure about their emotional senses, but I know that the culture group imploded at the beginning of the new millennium, but has started to rebuild itself.

    The group's behaviour was similar to George Orwell's Animal Farm, until they imploded. Now, they are even more reticent about stepping up their interactions on the Internet. They ignore that they are self marginalized and are increasingly becoming further marginalized. They talk to each other in very set scripts so as not to deviate from the mainstream thinking of the group as a whole. Ostracism is a form of group sanction that is used freely, so that members fear this approach and act accordingly.

    The Internet is also a way to "keep an eye" on members. Through active participation in various fora, members know who each other are, who is rising up to take a leadership role, who has been sanctioned, and most importantly, how everyone thinks, as expressed in their writings.

    Currently I see only small movements within the group because of their rebuilding. Those who are ostracized either leave the group (most common) and try to reintegrate into the host society and/or the extended religious community.

    My study is somewhat longitudinal because I am following the progress of certain members of this group as they progress through life. In time, perhaps, I can see the emotional impact.
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    Apr 4 2012: It is not so much the filling of voids at issue here, but the type or kind of the filling used.

    In one way or another technology functions in the very same way that capitalism does (my intention is not to critique based on ideology here though, but to compare functioning processes). Having said that I would argue that technology attempts to multiply the possible connections between people by effectively reducing the amount of labour and time required to form and maintain them.

    Once upon a time you would have to talk with someone to discover their likes or dislikes and assess the possibility of real connection to them. Now the same can be done without verbal or physical or even reciprocal connection to the other via social networking site profiles (issues with content fidelity and truthfulness also arise). This indeed fills in the void, but it only does so with information, not with feelings or physical communication.

    Also if you note the format of websites, blogs (TED included) and social networking sites everything comes with a cap, a limit. Every message has to be a maximum of characters, every photo has to be of a certain size. This may be based on the physical limits of our current technologies, but it does set limits to communication too.

    Turning to connections per se they do not and for the moment cannot replace the non-verbal communication. The majority of our online world (video-chatting is the only exception) is constructed around bits of textual or graphical information. We send public and private text messages (less is more again prevails) and inform of our decisions, intentions and feelings through text. We tend to forget one thing though...non-verbal communication used to make two thirds of all communication.

    The links between technology and isolation are multi-directional and have just started to be explored. The more we use technology, the more we learn of ourselves and our relationships with others. I for one remain optimistic for the future.
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    Apr 3 2012: Actually i tried going without my cellphone on the weekends,it worked to the point i didn't want it anymore but alas the job requires i carry the damn thing.I've been in a room where all the people were on there phones,i don't know why but i felt kind of stressed.

    I understand your point of view but i've seen young mothers yell at their babies while they spent 15 minutes locked to the smart phone and i've almost run people over crossing the street looking down at one.It's actually everywhere you look,i use to see people talking on their phones now all one sees is tapping.
  • Apr 17 2012: After my recent experience, I have to agree. I think there is huge potential for technology to alleviate isolation, but it could also be a double edged sword. I think it will be fascinating to see where the next generation takes this.
  • Apr 16 2012: Just after watching the lecture, I read about the new Google Glass project that's launching soon. It was incredibly striking to see that google had unfortunately managed to encapsulate in a 2 minute video just how damaging digital integration can be to our lives.

    The video starts with our hero arranging to meet his friend at the book store for a coffee. After exchanging handshakes he spends the next 10seconds checking in on google plus and leaves without even turning his music off. He spends almost as much time snapping a pic of a graffitied wall as he did actually interacting with his friend. Perhaps if I hadn't watched the Dr. Turckle talk before, I wouldn't have realized just how tragic that scene actually was.

    Yes technology facilitates human connectivity, it will continue to bring us together in ways unimaginable. But here's the issue, the Google Glass character didn't take those glasses off when he met his friend. Instead, he continued to find ways to engage with the technology and not with the very person he'd arranged to meet.
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    Apr 15 2012: I think that your statement is true but I also believe more so that we have already been sucked into this vicious cycle. Technology has a prime focus of alleviating boredom but it then creates more boredom because we are now conscious of the boredom. The problem now is that everyone is desensitized to everything from a young age, so nothing amuses us when we grow older; but technology provides a temporary solution because it is continually changing. I would hate to see the day when everything has been thought of in technology.
  • Apr 14 2012: Hi Heather I think the Beatles dealt with this issue in Doctor Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band so i guess this problem has been with a us a long time there was a book written long time ago at least fifty years maybe longer it reprinted news stories from Wisconsin at the turn of the century and it only covered the period between 1899 to 1902 and the reason he chose this time period and this area was because of the unusual amount of people that killed themselves and the name of the book was The Wisconsin Death book most of these people lived in very rural areas pretty much shut off from any interaction with many people if they maybe could have had a way to let others know how fragile they were maybe the outcome may have been different and so i agree with your statement
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    Apr 11 2012: i cant wait the day that we'll turn into smthg different!
  • Apr 11 2012: The advance in technology is a two-edged sword. For every advancement in humankind, from a technological standpoint, there is an equal and opposite dynamic that creates a fresh set of challenges. As an example technology has given the opportunity for instant communication across the globe - yet personal one on one communication is at an all time ebb. The laws of physics embrace the supernatural, and the law that dictates "for each and every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction" runs a thread of truth through our lives. Indeed life existence is made from the fabric of such natural laws, and in the end, physics and philosophy will go full circle and meet each other in understanding by creating nature's perfect shape - a circle. Witness the parallels between quantum physics (the science of the micro) and astronomy - the physics of the macro. Both turn out to be universes in their own right.
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    Apr 9 2012: I'd have to agree, the internet has managed to transform many industries so far and continues to transform while being evermore so engrained in our culture and in the youth. The future only looks bleak to those who can not let go of their egotisical notions of what it means to be in touch with another person. I can envision the future where the internet connects families in NYC directly to farmers in Såo Paulo and friends in Queensland. The coorperations of the future will be those who can aid this, because the coorperations of the now are old and waiting to be disrupted. When i see directors from MNC's show up at lean start up meetings, i know that they are trying to adapt, but their CEO's and the time it takes to make desicions in this old model will die, and i hope to help bury it like many young entrepreneurs.
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    Apr 9 2012: Hi

    I hope i remember to be online on the 12th for Dr Turkles 2pm open discussion as i'm sure the community will like to ask her more indepth questions.
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    Apr 9 2012: Regarding the thought that "isolation can also lead to connection when a lonely individual reaches out to others or becomes involved in the community via technology." I strongly disagree. Loneliness is much deeper feeling, it can be about being alone in the crowd. It is a sense of being understood, cared about, and belonging. That requires a level of intimacy technology does not establish, but it might be able to sustain. Whether the technology is even available to the most vulnerable is also a concern.
    What is the value of a hug, or its effect of on the body? Can technology really turn off the cortisol and turn on the oxytocin in our brains.
    "Reach out and touch someone," was another slogan from awhile back, but let's actually do it.
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    Apr 9 2012: Dr. Turkle says it better than I could ever hope to.
    Please watch this TEDxUIUC talk. In many ways it is a better talk for answering the question posed here than the talk posted at TED.
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    Apr 9 2012: There are several things to comment on here. I do agree the technology can foster connection, (any one remember the advertising campaign that long distance phone service that made the claim that it was, "the next best thing to being there"?), and that it can, and does, provide the socially challenged and socially disadvantaged opportunities. "Virtual Ability" is a simulation in the virtual world of Second Life that provide people the opportunity of address such adversities. I recently started a discussion group that feature TED talks by Aimee Mullin, Keith Nolan, and others that address these challenges. It is has been noted that TED talks are wonderfully suited to educate and aid in such discussions.
    Turning to the issue of whether technology creates loneliness, or reveals it, is an entirely different matter. Is it sufficient to say that there are limits to how it can eliminate it. We must be careful not to substitute technology for human interaction and intimacy. And this is part of Dr.Turkle's warning to us:

    "Human relationships are rich and they're messy and they're demanding. And we clean them up with technology. And when we do, one of the things that can happen is that we sacrifice conversation for mere connection. We short-change ourselves. And over time, we seem to forget this, or we seem to stop caring."
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    Apr 9 2012: The emergence of technology as a means to connect with others is thrilling. It's impact on how humans interact, communicate value each other is mind blowing. I liken the growth and dependence on social media to that of the industrial revolution. In both examples, the value of humans beings and the way in which we worked has been changed. During the Industrial Revolution people became less important as the machines they worked and simply put were facilitators of machinery. In our current Technological Revolution. humans have flipped the script and are now determining the value of the machines we use to facilitate our interactions with others. As an educator what particularly excites me about technology is the ability it naturally has to bring people together. Believe me, I am well aware that there is simply no substitute for face to face interactions but in many cases, elementary to middle school age children can see the value of simple educational practices through online collaborations with their counterparts in other regions of the globe. In many cases when these types of interactions occur on a regular basis, the social and societal benefits can begin to outweigh the educational goals. People say the internet has made the world flat and leveled the playing field for our global economy, the same is true for the education, socialization and inspiration of our young students.
  • Apr 8 2012: Technology is a tool, a helping hand before it outwits human. Here, I assume, the technology meant social media that today we can't function well without. We use it as a way of conducting business on the daily bases. Look at the content on the internet, over the phone, through the email, they are all the reflections what's happening in our real time and real world. Busy life or life style created loneliness, you feel the most when you need to be connected, is a simple truth. If we have time and willing to connect, technology actually helps us to do so, now more than ever. However, if you don't want to get connected or the connection starts fading away and then technology can be a help as well in its own way. That's when the downside or negative impact begins. And one of them is the gadget that can trigger the addiction in you, especially among the teenagers, which plays a huge part in forming the cycle of compulsive behaviors. The more internet gadget time the less connection there you don't wish to see.

    Happen to recall a poem "If I control the internet" by John G.Rives.
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    Apr 8 2012: In answering the original question - "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."

    Yes, technology can spur connection, only if the person wants to be connected. So technology is providing the option, but it cannot make the decision of human connection. There is a lot of psychology behind human interaction and social connection. I can be connected and still be a loner. Or I can be disconnected and be the most social person. It is all a matter of choice! and believe me, technology will never make this choice for you. You will always have to make this choice.
  • Apr 7 2012: In my opinion, a good place to start would be phone etiquette, i.e. no texting/ facebooking at the dinner table, in meetings, when you are with friends. Balance is needed. Too much of anything is not good, lets have a bit of moderation and basic good manners please. I think Sherry's message is going to be even more relevant in 10 years time than it is now, unfortunately.
  • Apr 7 2012: I recently celebrated my 60th birthday. I received many kind, loving, and funny well wishes by email, texts, e-cards, Facebook, calls, and even cards by mail. They all made me grateful for the family and friends that remembered my special day - a milestone birthday. Many wanted to know what I was going to do to celebrate. I decided to take myself out to dinner and to a movie. At the end of the day, I realized that what I missed was human contact - a heartfelt hug would have been wonderful. I write personalized e-cards and schedule the day for them to be delivered, still mail cards, make calls, and use the other technical options to let people know that I am thinking of them and let them know I love and care about them, too. That is not enough. I will try to connect now in a more human way. Maybe video calling where we can look into each other's eyes when the miles keep us at distance would be a more intimate use of digital connection.
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    Apr 7 2012: It's children I'm worried about. You talk about a TV baby sitter of video games. Your parent should of kicked your butt outside to climb a tree to get a better perspective of life. Your parents no doubt looked at you and said "how smart he is." ENABLERS.
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    Apr 6 2012: The use of technology to connect people has it's pluses and minuses. Speed of connection is possible and is brilliant in bringing together like-minded individuals who may have never connected in the same physical space. Speed is often accompanied by shallowness unless one is willing to put in the time to build relationship. Where I think it works well is connection for a purpose or cause outside of the aim to make friends. Communities of purpose are built on relationship but relationship is not the primary driver and that is key.
    The need for connection between individuals is fundamental , but using the internet leaves you more open to fill in the missing elements of people which may not be based on reality. Though over time as video technology improves this situation may change.

    I think technology has a place to maintain relationship and may initiate connection but will never replace direct contact
  • Apr 6 2012: I agree with your opinion, technology is a great tool for all socially awkward individuals. Technology connects people of all parts of the world which leads to human interaction. A great example of that is the success of where you can connect to people from all parts of the world face to face.

    However, I think what the speaker is ahead of her time by looking at is the generations to come. Kids need to interact with adults to be able to learn how to conversate with others. This is essential as kids grow. Kids now days still have interaction, weather its parents, teachers, drivers or even gardeners. This is just as important when we are older. When you go to your lawyers office, negotiate with a client or even buying cigarettes from a corner store. Its the lack of connection with other people that leads individuals to becoming so socially awkward and vulnerable.

    The questions still stands, what is going to happen in the future? When all these jobs are done by robots and all work is done on phones and tablets. What human interactions is left? And more importantly how is this going to impact society as we know it.

    What draws me to TED is they don't want to solve their problems using the quickest way but rather find the most efficient solution with minimal damage on the long run.
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    Apr 6 2012: Actually i do believe that technology is very very important tool in our daily activities, thus it has to be used in right time for the right things, to do so it completely depends on users. If we think a day without a little device like mobile which would really painful and unacceptable to us, at the same time excessive using of technological devices is not good at all. In some occasion we do spend huge time on technology that could make us bit isolated and lonely but immediate after we do realize that we should have not done that and we should have given more time to prioritize job. therefore it implies that it is totally depend on users how effectively use their time and how much aware about his or her responsibilities. One saddening things i found which is texting in the class while tutor are conducting class. under this situation i do reckon the tutor should keep on eyes and sometimes share interactive information and nice jocks to attract their attention and let them know why you are saying this jocks. Finally i would like to say that technologies impact could be bad and good, it depends on its users. thanks. Probir Kumar Biswas. New Zealand
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    Apr 5 2012: I think you put this beautifully. Technology is a tool that like any tool can be used well or badly. It's up to users to moderate its impact on their lives. Blaming the technology is like those who smashed and burned rock and roll records to try and stop the music.
  • Apr 5 2012: Yeah, i do agree technology connects people with the same passion and desire. Ted is an example of it. however it also creates a void in us, spending many ours using the internet which may also isolate us from the people around us. Imagine Parents who spend endless hours looking for people to connect with and forget that their are children who need their attention. I think there has to be a balance between online communication and connecting with the people around us.
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    Apr 5 2012: For me personally, I find that social networking inspired by and available through technology, has not only brought people back into my life that have been missing for decades but often prompting reunions with these old friends. I have become friends with a great deal of people who were once just acquaintances. A person who presents themselves in a less than truthful manner online will generally do so in person as well.
    It has helped me to find like minded groups and venues for expanding interests and to know that I am not "alone".
    A person who is isolated because of emotional situations would be so any way, but with technology how many find there is help? Like anything in human control it is both blessing and curse.
    It is my understanding that a sociopath is born from a situation as an infant/child. I don't know any infant/children that use technology themselves but I imagine a neglectful parent who is texting, face-booking and watching TV all the time would set up a situation that could contribute to sociopathic behavior in the child, but again those parents would no doubt find other ways to ignore the child anyway. We humans seem to choose to blame anything but our own ultimate responsibility.
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    Apr 5 2012: Yes, after watching the talk, I reaffirm that we are isolated (ironically) by the very technological infrastructures designed to connect us. Phones, laptops, tablets, camera's etc.. fragment us. Heck, a lock isolates friends from dropping by if we're not in. Although it's with technology we CAN connect. You could also have a set of keys cut for a friend to let themselves in, just like you could Facebook/tag/tweet/e-mail or take a picture of a friend and do all of that (previous).

    Also, and what isn't mentioned in the video, we like to use things first. We like to know that we are taking advantage of something that someone else doesn't have yet. We also think of ourselves as self important. I haven't scanned over all the comments here I just want to put my own. I'm choosing not to reply/quote others - only for you to read what I am willing to share with you. We also have a 'non of your business' approach to some events/circumstances in our lives. Also, 'not enough time' too.

    MY POINT IS if technology frees up our time (take Google Glasses) we MUST spend quality time outside of using technology with loved ones and others we want to spend time with. It's great that we'll soon be able to check e-mails and search online through augmented reality glasses BUT ONLY IF we allow ourselves downtime and not more time chained to the technological products that free up our time.

    One word: Discipline!
  • Apr 5 2012: There is a critical detail missing from the dichotomy in this question. If I have a youtube video that I want to share, I could tell someone in person or "send" it to them, yes, but the social contract associated with sending it is actually very different from the other option. Realistically, when is the last time any of us opened up our email to send a video directly to a friend? This has to do with the digital social contract we've evolved. If it's such a great email, after all, why don't I send it to multiple friends? And here's where the problems start...

    We are beyond email and instant messaging for the most part, which are the original direct interaction tools. A big part of the reason we don't use these in the same way anymore is due to early abuse that happened due to a small marginal effort to (for instance) add another address from our address books to the address line of an email. Because of the mountain of over-shared content, we had to evolve mechanisms to deal with this, and write it into our social contract as well. Today, I can share something by making it available to 400 friends on Facebook, but it will only be seen by those willing to login and read their news feed - in other words, only people who are looking for shared stuff.

    This is impersonal, it's not shared with "them", it's just made available. As opposed to technology being in its infancy, I think that our digital social contracts are in their infancy. Reciprocity is the key, but that is accomplished through a complicated equation involving the burden of effort and game theory. So let's talk about effort. I saw this story on Facebook, and the funny thing is that the story there had 60 comments, as opposed to 20 comments here. Why? It's the all-too-common story of people taking the path of least resistance, and by that, I mean avoiding 2 extra clicks and maybe making an account.

    Meaningful online relationships are possible, but we aren't prepared for them.
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    Apr 5 2012: Yes, if that is it's interpretation, and yes because it isolates people. Ultimately the user is the person who will feel lonely no matter what you give them, if indeed they accept it or want to 'move with it'. You could give them a car (still technological) and they may think "Great, I have no one to share it with and no where to go" or they may not be able to drive nor wish to.

    Consider Alienation by Karl Marx - "I am subordinating myself in poverty to assemble this product that inevitably makes you [the owner of the means of production] richer". Does a Facebook user subordinate themselves by using an account [a small part of the product] helping to create and make someone richer [Mark Zuckerberg]?. No, of course not, I am able to freely express myself so long as I cause no harm.

    However, and slightly off topic, the irony is that lots of people don't want 'Facebook Timeline' yet they are forced to adopt it. It's an unavoidable upgrade. We're 'sold' the idea that we can challenge anything through Facebook/Social networking sites, and many people do/have, but you try to challenge auto updates and out survey SAID Nar-heaaa! (lol)

    Back on topic, the wireless wind up radio, created for the individual(s) to listen to news without electricity/batteries was marvelous. Of course it didn't make people feel lonely - that wasn't it's intention nor interpretation. The Kindle however, in my opinion, could be intended and interpreted as a 'lonely' piece of technology. It's made for one user at a time, unlike the wind up radio, and has account details for you to download your favourite e-books. However, if the individual CHOOSES to 'share' then the Kindle can be seen as an inclusive product. They can log in an recommend books, share them, speak with 'like minded' people and inevitably 'leave out' other people who feel left out.

    "Great I have a Kindle but no one to share it with [or no one who likes what I like]" Again the individual
  • Apr 5 2012: Technology can fill a gap that missing in your life, so if the gap is friendship it can help. If the gap is connecting with people that have the same or similar interest as you it can help.
    I have many friends that I can put into different categories, some are work based, some I like to party with and some are old friends that I like to catch up with on line via Facebook or on the phone and via text. Very few of these friends I have are interested in talking to me about TED so this online community fills that gap for me.
    I feel that technology can and does alleaviate the feeling of loneliness (at least for a while), but a clear distinction needs to be drawn between feeling lonely and being alone as the two are not nessarly connected. Also the good thing about technology is that you only ingage when you feel like it, we have the option to disconnect from others from awhile. I do this, whether it is to give me a chance to connect with myself, give me a break from all the noise or an opportunity to reflect. I feel this is important.
    My face to face friends (most of whom are also my online friends) are great they bring me out of my shell, they ingage me and are not interested in all the things I am. They boraden my horizons and my interest and allow me to practice my compassion in ways that I can't do online. They are a different part of my tribe and a very valuable part, but they can't fill all the gaps nor should they. Technology helps us find or expand our tribe so we can feel more forfilled.
    Welcome to my tribe, you can come and go as you please, join in or drop out, the choice is yours ;-)
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      Apr 5 2012: Yes, the technologies are just one more opportunity to make choices.
  • Apr 5 2012: We have emotions and lonely needs so that we remain a pack, apparently. We use socialization as a defense and a way to evolve. If we require physical, emotional, and personal contact less frequently in person, and still find a way to survive, perhaps even improve lifestyles thru digital economy, we may simply become more mechanistic. The loneliness and need may evolve into a mental need to read emails (kind of like one who claims to be "addicted" to Facebook). The channel of communication is colder and perhaps warmth may not be as necessary in our species. But losing that link to others may be devastating since it is your new way to connect in relationships We may be isolating ourselves but our need for togetherness may also decrease as our culture and system of interaction changes. This however does not evolve the problem that procreation is decreased or even halted and adaptively may not benefit the species.
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    Apr 5 2012: This was a refreshing look at what we computer geeks called techno-lust. It is a very slippery slope we are on indeed and it permeates the fabric of our society even deeper than Dr. Turkle suggests. The threat is not only social but also political and environmental.

    Our efforts at peeling the onion as it were reveals that a major component of this phenomena is the disconnection we have all achieved. By connecting technologically we risk disconnecting with life. How many of us know how our ipads actually work or where and how they are made? How many of us even know how plastic is made or copper is mined? How many understand the basics of radio communication and electricity?

    Technology has always had grand opportunities for equalizing the playing field and bridging prejudices. But, as Dr. Turkle eloquently points out, it has also offered us a virtual reality that will only intensify our disconnection. Already we have electronic implants to keep track of prisoners and children. We have the technology to display video screens on contact lenses and are not far away from patching directly into the optic nerve.

    It has been said that we are running 21st century software on hardware that hasn't been updated in 10,000 years. If technology is the software we must insure that our our brain, and by extension our understanding, keeps abreast or risk crashing our the OS of our civilization.
    • Apr 5 2012: I know the answers to the questions you posed, such as how ipads are made, because of technology. I have access to a wealth of information and education I otherwise may not have gained.
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        Apr 8 2012: Indeed Jessica, as I have. And therein lies the beauty of technology. I love the fact that I can travel from the bottom of the ocean to a quasar and learn about both through the technology of our day. It has also been said that there is no going back. As we climbed the ladder of progress it seems we have kicked out the rungs under us. TED is a great community to help us find solutions through technological advancements and allow us to learn about our world and all the technologies that we have collectively developed. My comments ponder the the community that lies beyond TED. The community that finds it hard to keep up or has never developed an interest for the knowledge of science. Do we have a responsibility to bring them along somehow? Or do we just accept what I see as Logan's prediction that technology will merge with and assimilate humanity much like homo sapiens merged with and assimilated the neanderthal? Who is the tool and who is the carpenter? It is a debate worth having, I think.
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      Apr 5 2012: It isn't necessarily true that our hardware hasn't been updated in 10,000 years:

      The brain is a constantly evolving thing. Shrinking and getting larger. In addition, I also saw it posited that our logical, number-crunching centers have grown more refined whereas our emotional, pattern-based centers have slowly been giving out from under us. This article sums it up quite nicely:

      That said, what if technology *is* the next step towards extending our understanding? What if we could use technology to augment those parts of our brain that may not be evolutionarily stable? Patching into the optic nerve--? Try patching into the brain. Like this study done to see if they can recreate what people are imagining merely by letting them watch a movie and having a machine decipher what those neural signals mean:

      No, sir. As technology advances, the line between "technology" and "humanity" will only become more blurred as the terms become synonymous with each other.