"Reclaiming Conversation"

When I started reading “Reclaiming Conversation, The Power of Talk in a Digital Age,” I was alarmed and dismayed. By the book’s end, I was hopeful and optimistic.

It’s author, Sherry Turkle, explores the effects of the digital culture at large, then explores the family, friendships, the work place, schools and colleges and the public forum. She is speaking about those in our society who are of middle school age up to about 30.

Living in a digital age presents several alarming problems for society. Among them are social and emotional learning delays, lack of empathic skills, difficulty in forming friendships because of fear of vulnerability and intimacy, and the lack of knowledge of body and facial clues in conversing.

Other problems include shortened attention spans, a lack of solitude, little time to develop new ideas, thoughts or opinions and an inability to articulate new thoughts. People aren’t sure how to converse and don’t understand why face-to-face communication is a necessity. Younger people view privacy in a different light than those who are a little older and wiser.

There is enormous pressure on young people to have an “edited life.” Everything they post needs to be pleasing to others. There is little spontaneous conversation because they are editing, scrolling, surfing and posting. Face-to-face conversations with peers are scary to young people, but these same young people who are editing their lives are literally begging for their parents’ attention, but their parents are on their gadgets too.

Turkle addresses families who do not have difficult conversations with each other – finding it is easier to fight via text. Friends “help” each other by texting and sending emojis. They don’t understand the difference between being there in person for someone and being there for someone online.

Attention spans are shorter and shorter. In education it is difficult for young people to understand the need to memorize information because they feel they can access instant answers on their devices. People have trouble developing a thesis or idea. At work, they are multitasking on the phone, the laptop and the screen, with ear buds in instead of socializing with their peers.

Turkle does offer a hopeful and resourceful section in her book. She stresses there are device-free camps for children where they can regain conversational skills. More and more colleges and work environments are hosting device free classes and meetings. Mentors and coaches in the work arena are stepping up to teach the why and the how of conversation. The medical community has scribes who enter the patient’s information, so the doctor can speak with the patient.

Turkle concludes with several “guideposts”: remember the power of your phone. If it is out, it is a distraction. Slow down. Protect your creativity. Put the device aside. Not everything needs an immediate response. Create spaces for conversations. Think of unit tasking as the next big thing. Multitasking is not always a good thing. Talk to people with whom you have a different opinion.

Obey the 7-minute rule – allow 7 minutes to see how a conversation is going – do not engage your device during this time. Do we need all those apps? Choose the right tool for the job. Breaking up with someone should not be done via text. Face-to-face is the honorable thing to do. Don’t avoid difficult discussions. Remember what you know about life. Avoid all or nothing thinking.

While “Reclaiming Conversation” is important book, well written and researched, some of the chapters could have been shortened. It’s message to older folks is to help the young generation; help them by mentoring, coaching and educating them, by simply talking with them, and by setting good examples. We adults need to look at how our devices impact our lives too. And then begin anew in correcting our bad habits and begin conversations.