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Sherry Turkle

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Live Q&A with Sherry Turkle: How has digital technology changed the kind of communications you have with your friends, family & co-workers?

This Live conversation with TED speaker Sherry Turkle will open on April 12th, 2pm EDT.

How has digital technology changed the kind of communications you have with your friends, family & co-workers?

Topics: social media
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Closing Statement from Sherry Turkle

This has been a wonderful experience for me. I get to see how many people view my talk, but not what they are thinking. So hearing what you are thinking was great! And it sounds like a lot of people are struggling to balance conversation with connection and actually becoming better at sensing the difference. I’m optimistic. And I like it that people are actively thinking about how to create real spaces at home and work to pay more attention to each other, to really listen to each other. Thank you.

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  • Apr 12 2012: I would like to poll the group. I have been on Facebook avidly for more than five years. I have seen a consistent trend that many newbies jump in head first, post enthusiastically, interact and exchange for maybe a year. Then, many start to enter a bell curve of participation -- the novelty wears off, the old friends just aren't that interesting, the games are vapid and repetitive... Most lurk or disappear completely.

    Any others notice this trend? Are there data recognizing this bell curve?
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      Apr 12 2012: Douglas, the same thing happened to me......and to many of my friends........and some on here have also eliminated their FB account all together.

      It's like unwrapping toys at Christmas, and after one or two weeks of playing with it the novelty wears off.

      That's why balance is needed, and that is why common sense is too.

      Ms. Turkle presents a very balanced view of technology.

      I used to have a cell phone.....hardly used it. The cell phone company was getting rich off me....I got rid of it 5 years ago, and haven't missed it.

      Great question. I'm afraid many will not be able to reply due to time.........why don't you open a conversation in the Question section and see how many reply there???

      Be Well
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      Apr 12 2012: While I do agree that less people seem to engage avidly, I'd bet those people still use FB to get in touch with certain people or to share pictures or other practical purposes. I feel like they try all the features and then they decide which ones are useful to them.

      For example, FB is my go-to place for sending a message to acquaintances or old friends who I don't directly communicate with regularly.
    • Apr 12 2012: I joined Facebook as somewhere around the 10 millionth user (most of those before me did so before my school was included), so I'm one of the older accounts. You would probably classify me as a lurker. I probably post one thing per week and I am very very picky about those. When you see the news feed populated by the same people every time you check it twice a day, you miss the fact that the majority of your friends use it the same way.

      I've seen people complain about posts getting cricket chirps. But yet, when someone lists a new relationships or a new job, I can see 50-100 likes easily. So people are reading, they are definitely reading. The problem is that you're looking at Facebook as a daily tool. 99% of the value of FB is as a weekly tool. Really, if you think about what you want from an extended network (this is what Facebook is), it's probably monthly updates are more optimal.

      Also, like Jay says, there's a lot of activity through messages, but it's invisible to most of us. The perception that people are abandoning FB comes from unreasonable expectations.
  • Apr 12 2012: I also find that while digital communication helps us hide from the audible and physical side of the conversation, it reveals a different kind of confrontation. When people can see your words they can judge spelling and ability to express yourself legibly. This has a few impacts. I tend to judge people's intelligence on how well they can spell now, and while it might be inspiring to converse with somebody who can speak with beautiful flow, that doesn't always convert in text. It also has brought to the surface a huge problem with spelling that may not have been addressed on such a large scale in the past, but unfortunately when weaknesses are unearthed they are often justified and glamorized to hide them in plain sight. We are allowing these problems to grow on a large scale in the upcoming generation.
    • Apr 12 2012: Great observation. Voice offers a rich tapestry for interpretation and meaning. My wife knows the words "going to bed?" does not necessarily mean going to sleep.
  • Apr 12 2012: I have to agree with Noel. I do see technology as a medium for improved communication. A lot of the comments posted here bring up the idea of a sanctuary separated from the digital age. Do you really feel this is the route we should be taking? You say you're going to place a bucket for people to literally place their tech-gadgets into at the beginning of class because you don't see the utility in "outside information." Yet I wonder whether it is the tool or the person that needs to see change. My father will not allow cell phones out during family meals (unless his phone rings--which is a separate issue) because he feels it impedes on the quality of the experience. As a millennial I strongly feel otherwise. I now focus best being interconnected with all flows of information: news, Twitter, texts, and, yes, engaging face-to-face conversation. Why must we revert back to either: technology or no-technology. It seems to me what needs to be innovated are methods of increasing what most consider quality communication.
    • Apr 12 2012: Andrew, I like being connected as well, but I also practice proper social behaviors in the same way I would if it were a f2f situation. I also have practice "listening skills" and as a result people are more apt to involve themselves into a verbal conversation if they know they will not be interrupted by a phone. Yep. I do believe that people will evolve and appropriate behaviors will come about at some point.
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    Apr 12 2012: I am honored to get a chance to chat with you! Your talk and body of work is the soul of the company I am part of (BusyWoman Productions). We, like you, believe that we can't let technology divide the family into "users" on different devices, in different rooms of the home. We feel the need to use the technology as a tool to reunite us.

    Technology has been bitter sweet in my home. The good is that I now get a quick hello and check-in from all my family members through-out the day, as opposed to waiting until they are back from home or work 12 hours later. The bad is that everyone has a device to keep their attention busy in the evenings instead of us all coming together... like around a radio drama show in the days of old.

    We need to make a conscious effort to not get distracted and to find each other again. To be reminded of our family values and who we are as a team. Let's find a solution to using technology to better our families.
    Thank you so much for your research and books!
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      Apr 12 2012: Dear Tammy . . . How nice to hear from you. And how nice to hear that my work is helpful. I love the way you describe the two sides of where we are. We hear from each other more, we have constant check ins. But instead of a family hearth, we are, as I've put it, "alone together." It's hard to assess the trade off. Right now, I'm feeling the loss of the hearth more than I need to know where everyone in my life is all the time.
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        Apr 12 2012: I think I feel that loss too, especially when I am trying to teach my children to follow our family values as opposed to the media's values. I am working hard at making a technology hearth that will attract my kids and husband so that we can all be together...and not alone :)

        Have you found that families can learn to relate using a form of technology?
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    Apr 12 2012: Hi Melissa . . . I think that the key is carving out what I call "sacred spaces" for conversation (and for solitude). I like to think about the kitchen, the dining room, and the car and reclaiming for conversation. No texting at dinner for example. By making just a few simple rules we can find each other. I think this is more realistic than thinking in terms of a need to "unplug."
    • Apr 12 2012: Regarding digital technology and dinner sessions - sometimes I see a family in a restaurant in which the family members no longer interact with one another but rather interact with their gadgets (smartphones, tablets) so family connections can possibly be affected in a negative way. However, family members who are far away from each other - this is where digital technology improves the quality of communication. People get to see what their family members were doing through videochat (e.g. FaceTime, Google Video Chat, etc.).
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    Apr 12 2012: Hi, I'm excited to be here! I'm interested in whether people agree that there is a movement from conversation to connection . . .
    • Apr 12 2012: yes, digital connection really helps a lot in establishing connections with people in the fastest way possible. it has changed the quality or form of communication in so many aspects. one example is when people greet their friends on their birthdays, most people just greet them through a message on the person's Facebook page. In my country, I believe that people prefer greetings through Facebook than spending on mobile phone calls/texts.
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        Apr 12 2012: And there is a certain superficiality about it (e.g. if you disable it = no birthday greetings, if you change it = people congratulate you on a different day), so it's turning more into a reaction instead of an action, or something, say, "emotionally valuable". I got 100+ birthday greetings last year on my Facebook and this year when I disabled it, around 5 (from my family). :)
      • Apr 12 2012: I agree. Social media helps keep alive connections with people that you care about but only see casually as in when you meet in passing. These relationships can be maintained through the same casual meeting on social media,
  • Apr 12 2012: It depends on who you communicate with. For friends and co-workers it's getting way easy and punctuate in everything you want to communicate even include making an apology; not with family though especially the family is your parents; they prefer you call and they like to feel your voice especially when you don't see them often. Actually if you don't have time to make a call says something about the relationship you are in.
  • Apr 12 2012: I recently heard that Google has introduced an app that is a traditional Morse Code entry system for smartphones. The dits and dahs can be entered with great speed... but, seriously -- will we wake up one morning and discover actually talking (F2F or telephonically) is the fastest and most expressive form of communications? Inflection, tone, pauses -- all can communicate feeling, support, inclusiveness, disdain...
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      Apr 12 2012: Oooh, but that sounds like fun! Boys and girls who already wanted to practice their morse skills would have a very effective way to do so! Morse is really useful for lots of things, like for secretly talking to your best friend next to you even though both were just told to stay quiet. :D
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    Apr 12 2012: I think that technology has created more of a barrier along generational lines than along interpersonal lines. My friends and I speak the language of memes. We speak the language of the internet.
    Is that bad or good?
    I have yet to make a judgement.
    My friends and I may know the meaning of YOLO, OMG, and smh; but simply because we understand this language does not mean that we are incapable of speaking with correct grammar. In fact, most people I talk to are likely to unapologetically reprimand a person if they were to end a sentence with a preposition.
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      Apr 12 2012: Dear Clare . . . Dear Samuel . . . You guys should talk!

      I personally get confused with too many acronyms, they don't speak to me. I like the flow of language. I don't presume that people who use acronyms don't know grammar, just that they prefer this new economy of connection talk when they are online.
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        Apr 12 2012: They honestly annoy me. It reminds me too much of 1984, but unfortunately I seem to be an exception.
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    Apr 12 2012: This conversation is one that I have with my son as he is growing up. He has no phone, iPod with earbuds, and plays outside. He is 11. We are in the car a lot going from activity to activity, and we listen to an iPod for music through the car speakers. We have chosen the songs together, some we both like, some only one of us likes. I wanted him to not need something to occupy himself with in the car. It must be working because in the car, we'd just finished talking about a topic and he tells me, "OK, now I'm going to start thinking about things that I'm not ready to talk about yet, so I need to be thinking my thoughts." LOL - I hope he can keep that up! I do not text or phone much when I'm with him, driving, etc. I want him not to start that, either. I do not look at my phone during talks or other situations where I need to pay attention. I don't want that to be the norm. Maybe it's working...
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      Apr 12 2012: Julie . . . this sounds promising!!!! And your son sounds awesome.
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        Apr 12 2012: Thank you - he never ceases to amaze me, just like all of our children amaze us! By the way, he took notes on your TED talk that spawned this conversation! I do wonder if he will fit in with his peers since he doesn't know the "new way" to communicate/connect! Yet another interesting question since he's not following "the new rules" of connecting! We shall see. Thank you for a great conversation on a topic that apparently has been bothering me, which is probably why I didn't allow him to get "wired" with an iPod, GameBoy, etc. and continue to keep it that way (for as long as I can).
  • Apr 12 2012: Hi Sherry:
    I was thrilled to see your talk. I am excited by the power that these devices hold for family members to understand and be understood - but how do we make it quality not quantity? How best do we create a space that teens will want to tap into alongside of parents?
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      Apr 12 2012: Dear Charlene, I think the focus should be on the relationship with the teen not the site. I watch Downton Abbey with my daughter. I don't think the point of these compulsive viewing sessions is our passion for early 20th century Britain. I think we want to share something we can talk about. The online world has many, many things for teens and parents to share if their relationships is right. I count Downton Abbey, which we watch on the computer as an "online space."
  • Apr 12 2012: Hi Sherry, I have just watched your talk, I do believe there is a definitive movement away from face to face conversation to just a connection, I too am one of those people who have embraced technology and now I would rather text and email rather than converse. As an architectural student writing a masters’ dissertation at the moment and I am particularly interested in how digital technologies are having an impact on architecture and our built environment. I am interested to understand how this is affecting society, how it’s changing our interactions, I feel it offers many a deeper perception of freedom. I love the idea of sacred spaces you talk about, before listening to your view I believed our public spaces within cities should embrace digital technologies to be “fully connected” but now I am left wondering if we actually require sacred spaces within cities to encourage face to face conversations?
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      Apr 12 2012: Dear Kieran . . . I actually wrote a book on your topic. Check out Simulation and its Discontents! I write a bit about the results in Alone Together. Architects and simulation is one of my favorite themes.
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      Apr 12 2012: Kieran, lots of people live balanced lives......make an effort to have more face to face.....please!
  • Apr 12 2012: Hi all, joining in a bit late. Speaking of how we communicate differently online, I find the format of this talk is a bit of a barrier. Many voices but no real oversight of who is in the conversation and where it is going... Can someone summarize?
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    Apr 12 2012: I have grown up with computers all around and see them more as a way to facilitate conversation than as a barrier. For example, it's currently spring break and I have been talking to friends in other counties and other states. We can have a conversation together, even when we are separated by distance.
    I know of people that have gone overboard on texting, but that is hardly the case with those that I know.

    Personally, the greatest advantage I see with technology is incredible access to new opinions and information, such as TED talks, which has the potential to raise the tone of conversation in my generation. This isn't always the case, bu I think that it is rarely acknowledged when it is happening.
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      Apr 12 2012: Claire . . . I agree with everything you say. What is key is to honor the good but not be afraid to confront what has gone amiss. I think what too often happens is that people are afraid to confront what has not gone right. In my talk I say "We are smitten with technology, and like young lovers, we are afraid that too much talking will spoil the romance." I stand by this.
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    Apr 12 2012: Hi Sherry, loved your talk and your book is next in queue :)

    I definitely think you're approaching a real issue, but I am curious as to your final comments in your talk: "Now we all need to focus on the many, many ways technology can lead us back to our real lives, our own bodies..." etc.

    I found it curious that you are advocating the use of technology for these solutions. I am studying and designing systems aimed at helping people learn to psychologically self-regulate using principles from mindfulness meditation, and I often get the push back along these lines: "why do we need technology to help us de-stress? shouldn't we be pushing for LESS use of technology, since it seems to be causing this problem in the first place?"

    I was struck by your final comments as I imagined you must face this type of argument as well. I have my own responses, but I am curious to hear how you would articulate a response to that argument. For simplicity, here's what I imagine these people saying to you:

    "But Sherry! If these connected technologies are allowing us to over-control our interactions and removing our natural human connectedness, why do you advocate the continued use of technology to solve the problem? Isn't everything we need to feel connection already a part of us?"
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      Apr 12 2012: Dear Jay . . . Good thought! Technology is a tool. Why not use it since we have it and since it can be used to do awesome things in the real? I don't discriminate against it as a tool, for example, to organize politically for causes I believe in. If technology can help us organize to save the oceans from toxic plastics (just something I happen to care deeply about) I applaud this and want to use it!

      But there are other ways of organizing as well. And nothing is more compelling than conversation! That is, persuading someone with your passion!
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        Apr 12 2012: Yes, I agree. Just because most uses have been for productivity, efficiency, etc., doesn't mean that we can't design technology for better connectedness, peace of mind, and other positive psychological effects. I usually argue something along those lines, too. If I can use technology to help someone have their first meditative experience along with its corollary benefits, I'm simply using the same tool to psychological effect.

        FOLLOW-UP: Is there some danger that technology is naturally prone to develop in pursuit of efficiency/productivity at the expense of human psychological well-being, or do you reject that? Do you think we can branch a direction of technological design that aims at positive psychology without being eventually polluted by information overload?
  • Apr 12 2012: Through social media and technology, I have kept in touch with family that is not near me. I found my half sister on Facebook after not talking to her for 5 years. A friend of mine lives in another country and we don't " talk" but we have kept in touch and watched our families grow on facebook. The recent earthquake by Thailand had my friend on Facebook connecting to her sister who was there and told to go to higher ground.

    With all things there is a good and a bad.
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      Apr 12 2012: Dear Karen . . . Absolutely. These stories are so moving. That's why I get so frustrated when people want to pigeonhole me and say, "Oh, she is anti-technology." I'm absolutely not. I just feel committed to using it for things that bring us together and support our human purposes. Every technology challenges us to confront our human purposes. And digital technology is no different.
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    Apr 12 2012: Hi Sherry, Thank you for your talk.

    As a university course instructor whose students all bring and use laptops in class, I'm always challenged by the tensions between what laptops and cells in class contribute to and takes away from our f2f conversations in class. The other day, to remedy, I was showing a video of a poetry reading - and discussing the quality of listening that we give as poetry readings - attempting to demonstrate what it looks like to really listen to another person with our full attention. But... I couldn't help but notice that during my talk, some students were still on their laptops (long sigh).

    How do you carve out sacred spaces for f2f conversation in your own teaching? Or, have others had good success in this that they could share?

    Thanks for your work!
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      Apr 12 2012: Dear Audra . . . You and I share a lot! I move back and forth on this issue. Next semester I am putting a basket at the door of my classroom and asking for laptops and phones to be put there. I am finding the entire issue too stressful. I have decided that there is really nothing in my class that requires "extra information" from the online world. I have also decided that if students don't take "notes" and just participate in the conversation, I'm alright with that as well. I would rather type up highlights of what I want then to know in terms of key concepts and have them available to be in a community. We wired these classrooms and now I think we repent at leisure!

      Other faculty in other subjects of course may have different views . . .
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        Apr 12 2012: Ha! Glad to know I'm not alone in this. I've gotten attached myself to a little tool for Mac called "Freedom," which allows the user to disable their wireless access for a set number of minutes. Literally, you type in the number of minutes of "Freedom" that you want. It does wonders for my writing... giving me alone time with the page... Maybe it would also do wonders for undergraduates as they are learning to manage what's competing for their attention in class?!

        On the other hand, if I'd turned on Freedom today, I would've missed your talk, and this conversation... and probably this too will do wonders for me today! Teachers and students alike, we're all still figuring it out!
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          Apr 12 2012: Audra . . . I can't tell you how many people I know are talking about "Freedom." It speaks to the times. I guess I am suggesting a version of Freedom for the classroom!
    • Apr 12 2012: My husband teaches computer science at a university and he is constantly faced with these issues you mentioned. He's had to design the class in such a way as a "you snooze, you lose" sort of a format. It's been interesting to see how clever the students are getting at using technology to cheat and he's on top of it. He's had to be one step ahead of them every quarter. Makes more work for him, but he's been effective.
    • Apr 12 2012: I have a policy that if their cell phone rings durning class, or they acknowledge they owe me a Pepsi. I collect about 12 a semester. If they are caught on Facebook or other social site, and its not the topic or the period same thing..but they also need to start sending me things I need on Cityville or the game de'jour. Our classroom has computers in it, so the laptop is not as important...but nothing beats going around the room saying "close ALL your TABS now".. "Now"... ;)
  • Apr 12 2012: I think digital technology has completely changed the way we communicate in both positive and negative ways. The most positive is that it allows friends to stay in touch from all corners of the globe with ease. One of the more negative ways I can think of is the often complete removal of context in a conversation. We often "fill in the blanks" with text messages and get completely different meanings out of the words. I had a friend tell me she had a friendship fall apart because of a misinterpretation of a comment.
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    Apr 12 2012: Hi Sherry! I have to wonder, since most new communication technologies have been met with concerns, is it possible that we'll look back on the era of face-to-face communication as inferior, a sort of 21st century Pony Express? What do we lose by moving into digital communications?
  • Apr 12 2012: I find the largest effect is text messaging and voicemail. We have now the power to avoid one another and avoid conversation. The hallmark of this is the the single letter message intended to acknowledge a message: "K"
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      Apr 12 2012: Dear Tony,

      I agree about "K." That is the ultimate in conversation becoming mere connection! So much is lost in that "K."
    • Apr 12 2012: Add emoticons/smileys too. People sometimes make a big deal out of misinterpretations of smileys.
  • Apr 12 2012: Hi Sherry, I loved your talk, and judging by how many people I saw texting their way through dinner at a restaurant last night, I think it's important to stop and think about what effects these new ways of communicating are going to have on the rest of our lives.

    I'd be interested to hear any ideas you have on how exactly we can maintain a good balance between in-person and online communication in our everyday lives… obviously the new technology is beneficial in many ways, and we won't want to get rid of it entirely, but we don't want to lose our "real" human connections, either!
    • Apr 12 2012: For the older generation it is perplexing to have people sitting at a table across for each other but directing all of their attention to texting rather than talking F2F. But are these not human connections in some way as well? I think societal definitions of what constitute rudeness are being overturned, but there are no new norms established yet.
  • Apr 12 2012: If I had to be more specific: what are the main psychological effects of gadgets in classrooms? How does this effect the environment/culture inside a classroom.
  • Apr 12 2012: Thank you for being here to talk prof. Turkle.
  • Apr 12 2012: With the sudden boom in technology and I do mean sudden; in the span of human exsitance digital technology only accounts for a tiny percentage of humen interaction with it. Technology is still an infant when compared to somthing like the wheel.

    I'm certain people are spending more time with there technology then with others (I don't keep my best friend in my front pant pocket) however, tech has made all of my friends more accessible. We might be spending less "face time" with them, yet we are able to stay connected through technology without phyicaly being with them. I'm able to stay connected with my friends from high school easily; 20 years ago it required a great effort.

    I'm 25 so my interaction with others without technology is...limited.

    Thanks for the post, I've enjoyed reading everyones responses.
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    Apr 12 2012: Dear Sherry.

    How will this affect isolated groups of people (like Amish) when confronting the modern man with the life and experience of his social media?
  • Apr 12 2012: Hi Sherry, Wondering: How would you rate the promises and risks of technology in school classrooms!
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    Apr 12 2012: Ms. Turkle!! What a priviledge!!

    Thank you for your talk and for this conversation.

    Technology is great.....but like everything else, we have to keep it in it's place.

    As parents we are responsible to lead by example.

    My children do not have cell phones, neither do I. Don't need them. I do love the internet, because it is full of ideas, and I, as well as my family use it for learning, communicating with those far away, planning trips, etc.....

    I am a professional, and my friends and co-workers are in awe that I get away with not having a cell phone. But I do. And I don't mind it one bit.

    Maybe in the future my circumstances will change, we'll see.

    In the meantime, I think people with very little manners or consideration for others, will continue to look down while being spoken to live and in person. As parents, we can educate our children. We don't have to do what others do.

    A little common sense sometimes is in order.........common sense is not so common anymore..

    Anyways, great talk..........I noticed that the title was in the form of a question.....because the jury is still out I imagine.

    Be Well Ms. Turkle......say hello to your daughter from my daughter and I.....and PLEASE, don't text her.....LOL
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      Apr 12 2012: Dear Mary,

      Actually, I have a cell phone. I think that the point is embrace and be vigilant. So I see cell phones in your future and I am not afraid!

      Like you say, common sense and keeping your eye on what is important: your relationships.
  • Apr 12 2012: The new era brought about by the developing of the computer has dramatically change communications for me and my family. Since my family is overseas and great distance exists to make communication costly. Enter the computer and software like SKYPE and you can talk every day with a friend or relative. With Facebook you can share recipes picture, video conferencing, sharing a story or article. It has made my life easier. Of course I left out the smartphone which has accelerated the use of this new technology.
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    Apr 12 2012: My verbal self can be quite a bit different than my textual self, and I'm sure others feel the same way. In that sense, digital technology allows for an exploration of and a sharing of a larger orbit of the self than would be otherwise possible. One wonders how our understanding of historical people might be altered if they'd had the digital resources that we now enjoy.
  • Apr 12 2012: New technologies created vocabulary deficient, socially handicapped and poor handwriting zombies.