Talking Without Conversing

MIT psychologist Sherry Turkle worries that digital communication is no substitute for the real thing:

The conclusion she’s arrived at while researching her new book is not, technically, that we’re not talking to each other. We’re talking all the time, in person as well as in texts, in e-mails, over the phone, on Facebook and Twitter. The world is more talkative now, in many ways, than it’s ever been. The problem, Turkle argues, is that all of this talk can come at the expense of conversation. We’re talking at each other rather than with each other.

Conversations, as they tend to play out in person, are messy—full of pauses and interruptions and topic changes and assorted awkwardness. But the messiness is what allows for true exchange. … The logic of conversation as it plays out across the Internet, however—the into-the-ether observations and the never-ending feeds and the many, many selfies—is fundamentally different, favoring showmanship over exchange, flows over ebbs. The Internet is always on. And it’s always judging you, watching you, goading you. “That’s not conversation,” Turkle says.

On a similar note, cartoonist Matthew Thurber explains how the constant showmanship of social media turned him off. He says he quit Twitter after becoming “completely furious at the way people are packaging their identities”:

A lot of people are able to use social media more casually than I can and feel less conflicted about it. You go to an art-marketing class, and they tell you that you have to constantly remind people of your existence. Even if you’re not directly telling them to buy your thing, you should be promoting yourself ambiently. This is a picture of my studio, or This is something I’m reading, or This is somebody I bumped into at a party. It’s interesting when you see literary celebrities doing that, like Salman Rushdie or Margaret Atwood or Joyce Carol Oates. They’re constantly on Twitter, and it makes me wonder if they’re actually really lonely or bored.