« I’d rather text than talk » has been recorded many times by Sherry Turkle, a specialist in sociology and psychology. In her last book, Reclaiming Conversation, The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (2015), the MIT professor compares conversation vs communication. In a way, she uncovers an alarming question: will we all become sociopaths? Wikihow defines sociopathy as: « disregard for the feelings of others, a lack of remorse or shame, manipulative behavior, unchecked egocentricity, and the ability to lie in order to achieve one’s goals. »
Turkle has been studying the younger generation, but she also carefully observed senior generations, and noticed a common trend towards avoiding direct contacts, as technology invades people’s intimacy. When do we take time for real communication, including open conversations?
She noticed that students often prefer writing emails to their teachers rather than « bothering » them during office hours. When people are asked why not bothering others, most of the time there’s nothing directly due to the receiver. However, only the most daring ones, who take the risk of having actual conversations, will get the biggest piece of cake. I’ve also been noticing that same evolution with my students, less and less willing to commit themselves in cold calls and old school talks. Are they too polite? Too lazy?
What’s wrong with talking? A – Well it’s much less comfortable than staying online. B – It takes more time, and it’s almost impossible to keep total control. On the contrary, while connected online, you can always retouch something. Even on a chat you can delete your last message. It’s as if spontaneity was considered unwanted and way too risky nowadays!
Sherry Turkle stated that technology, embodied by smartphones and tablets, has been distracting us from talk: what really makes us humans, not machines! « We are the empathy app! » But beware, according to a recent study among college students in the US, empathy dropped by 40% in the last 20 years.