Smartphones Hurt Our Face-to-Face Relationships: Sherry Turkle

MIT professor and bestselling author Sherry Turkle on how our tech habits are breaking down our relationships.

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Smartphones offer us promises that seem good at the time—you’ll never have to be alone, you can put your attention wherever your want it to be, you’ll never have to be bored. It all sounds fulfilling, but they’re incompatible with being in a sustained relationship or community, says Sherry Turkle. But it’s not the phones, it’s the way we’re using them: by not allowing ourselves to be bored.

Turkle is an M.I.T. professor and author of Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. Today, she spoke with Anna Maria Tremonti on The Current, hosted by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Tremonti asked what happens when never have to be bored.

From Turkle:

Boredom is your imagination calling to you. It’s important to go inside, it’s important to cultivate your inner life. When you experience boredom, your brain isn’t bored at all. The brain is laying down those parts of the brain associated with a stable autobiographical memory. So it isn’t good for us to flee from any moment of boredom by going to a phone, yet that’s what’s happening.

Solitude is the key to a successful relationship

Turkle argues we need solitude (i.e. not to be constantly distracted) in order to come to other people and form relationships. Otherwise, you end up looking to other people for your sense of who you are and you’re not able to get a sense of who they really are—you end up not feeling heard, and you’re not able to savour the other person.

Turkle says we don’t have to throw out our phones, but we do have to negotiate a more mindful relationship to them. “They’re not accessories, they’re powerful mind tools that can really affect how we think. We should treat them that way.”

You can listen to the full 30-minute interview on The Current or click the player below.