Are we headed for being alone together?

The future, technology and humanity
image via unsplash.com

In our hyper-connected world, do you feel everyone is so busy being “connected” that we’re not actually “relating”? Despite all of this “connecting” are we actually becoming more isolated?

If so, you’re not the only one.

Sherry Turkle, a professor of psychology at MIT who has spent the past three decades studying how humans interact with technology, is with you. Turkle was once viewed as the pro-computer “cyber-diva” by popular magazine Wired, which reports on the impact of emerging technology on culture, but she’s no longer their cover girl. In her 2011 book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, Turkle warns us to give greater thought to how technology is no longer a tool of efficiency but more an intimate companion that is dominating too much our social and psychological lives.

With our devices as filters, she contends we are editing (or even deleting) the truly human aspects of our interpersonal exchanges which underscore our humanity. We have arrived at a time where life is more the performance of an identity, rather than the truth: an unedited collection of authentic, raw human interactions which display our struggles, vulnerability and suffering in face to face moments. You may choose from an endless supply of experts to help you with “personal online branding,” so that you can connect on the basis of your ideal self.

Beyond the performance of identities, Turkle is concerned with how we outsource important human relationships as artificial intelligence becomes a standard feature of the technologies which define our daily lives. As this artificial intelligence continues to become, well, more intelligent, we are at risk, she warns, of becoming dependent on technology to serve us at “the most vulnerable moments in life.”

A perfect example of this is the recent movie by Spike Jonze, Her, a science fiction romantic drama. Saddened by his impending divorce, the main character, played by Joaquin Phoenix, purchases a talking operating system which he designates to be a female. The more they interact, she is programmed to adapt and evolve to his emotional needs to the point that intimacy blossoms and a deep psychological connection ensues.

While this sounds far too futuristic, these types of “socialable robots” are already on the market, particularly in Japan, where they are often used to provide companionship to children and the elderly. Such robots will most certainly be used in the U.S. to address the shortage of trained professionals for our growing aging population. Having done extensive research on the companionship robots can provide, Turkle fears our dependency on them could lead to changing attitudes about human life and living things. Will the authentic experience of human relationships eventually be devalued as robots are designed to provide us with more customized levels of pretend empathy?

Most of us have come to enjoy the convenience and connection our devices provide without giving much more thought to the bigger questions. When do the advantages of technology begin to threaten our humanity? Are we, as a society, thinking enough about the long-term, unintended consequences as we race to develop the next big thing? What do you think?

p.s. Care to know Turkle’s suggested solution? Getting back to the art of authentic, in-person conversations.

Jacqueline Botting is the founder and a contributing writer to WiseTribe. She’s a proponent of owning less to live more and believes greater contemplative practices in our daily lives and social institutions make our world a better place. Jacqueline returned to FL when her mother had a stroke in 2013.  She is excited to co-create WiseTribe in her home state. Connect with Jacqueline on LinkedInTwitterGoogle + or Facebook.

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