Rapid Responses and the Paradox of Time-Saving Technology: Have You “Untethered”?

This from her technology manifesto, Alone Together, social psychologist Sherry Turkle points to our longing […]

Ethan Richardson / 11.9.12

This from her technology manifesto, Alone Together, social psychologist Sherry Turkle points to our longing to simplify complex lives in an utterly counterproductive way–by “saving” time, we get into the game of time-saving, by nature a losing game because it is a game of measures. Turkle thinks this brings us to an impasse: we have developed attachments that armor the very vulnerabilities that need healing. In other words, we tether to untether. So, as you read this on-line, before your ‘off-line’ weekend, as you saw the worst in your Facebook feeds after last month’s election, can you relate?

We are overwhelmed across generations. Teenagers complain that parents don’t look up from their phones at dinner and that they bring their phones to school sporting events. Hannah, sixteen, is a solemn, quiet high school junior. She tells me that for years she has tried to get her mother’s attention when her mother comes to fetch her after school or after dance lessons. Hannah says, “The car will start; she’ll be driving still looking down, looking at her messages, but still no hello.” We will hear others tell similar stories.

Parents say they are ashamed of such behavior but quickly get around to explaining, if not justifying it. They say they are more stressed than ever as they try to keep up with e-mail and messages. They always feel behind. They cannot take a vacation without bringing the office with them; their office is on their cell phone. They complain that their employers require them to be continually online but then admit that their devotion to their communications devices exceeds all professional expectations.

…In a tethered world, too much is possible, yet few can resist measuring success against a metric of what they could accomplish if they were always available…The self shaped in a world of rapid response measures success by calls made, e-mails answered, texts replied to, contacts reached. This self is calibrated on the basis of what technology proposes, by what it makes easy. But in the technology-induced pressure for volume and velocity, we confront a paradox. We insist that our world is increasingly complex, yet we have created a communications culture that has decreased the time available for us to sit and think uninterrupted. As we communicate in ways that ask for almost instantaneous responses, we don’t allow sufficient space to consider complicated problems.