Dr. Sherry Turkle has focused the last 30 years of her research on the psychology of human relationships with technology. She speaks of the “tethered self” – how people are bound to their communication devices and how we form a new sociality in this tech connectedness. The limitations of our traveling tech-bound bodies, she maintains, has evolved into commonplace disruptions in real time communications, e.g., checking emails or sending texts while having a live, in-person encounter a.k.a., a real-time social experience. These disruptions speak of a valuing of our online selves over human-to-human interaction, a desire to maintain our online, multiple, often virtual selves as a way to sustain our membership in groups and our consciously constructed cyber identities.
Turkle also assert that this constant tethering of ourselves to our communication devices results in a subsequent continuous partial attention that affects the quality of mindfulness and thought we give the people and the tasks in our real lives. Our constant catering of, and rapid response measures to, texts, emails and calls shape this partial attention. This constancy of our rapid response measures, while providing a sense of social constancy, impedes our ability to sit and think uninterrupted, to focus the mind fully on the here and now and the people that inhabit our living space with us.
In America, there has been a long history of debate as to the value of technology and machines, and what dangers may befall a nation founded on democratic principles where the ill-equipped minds of men and women are overrun by the artificial intelligence of the machine. It is not the purpose of this short reflection to weigh in on the inherent future good or evil of artificial intelligence. However, the technology that serves me as a tool to expand my very self, to use to develop and sustain relationships over space and time, to use as a way to fill the emotional void that often accompanies modern living — it is to that technology I give thanks.
As scores before me have waxed poetic on Thoreau’s living deliberately in the woods, I have, for the past year or so, tried to emulate that social austerity. I have made myself live by myself (as best as my circumstances can allow it), I have made time to sit and think (and write) uninterrupted, I have tried to keep pace with the beat of my own drummer, however measured or far away the rhythm takes me. And while I have learned to be grateful for the quiet, for the peace, for the solitude, I have also been grateful for the cardiopulmonary resuscitation via the whispered timbre ding of my tethered instant messenger.