Sherry Turkle Says Technology Is Making Us Lonelier Because We Spend Less Time Alone, Or Something

from the say-what-now? dept

A decade ago psychologist Sherry Turkle was at the forefront of encouraging children to go online so they could better learn to communicate with others. Yet, somewhere over the past decade, she’s shifted almost entirely, and joined the “get off my lawn” generation. Her latest is a screed in the NY Times about how all of this social networking makes us all lonely because kids can no longer talk to humans face to face any more. At least that’s what I think she’s saying. Perhaps it would make more sense if she explained it face to face, because the arguments in the article don’t fully make sense. It talks about how the kids these days in the workplace put on headphones and work instead of talking to each other. Some might call that being focused on work rather than chit chat. And, chances are many of them are still talking to each other via instant messaging, which is often more efficient anyway.

Of course, to Turkle, that kind of communicating doesn’t count. It’s not clear why — other than it’s “different.” And therefore it’s bad. The argument isn’t particularly convincing… and it gets worse at the end. It turns out that actually communicating with people makes us more lonely. We’d apparently all be less lonely if we spent more time alone:

So, in order to feel more, and to feel more like ourselves, we connect. But in our rush to connect, we flee from solitude, our ability to be separate and gather ourselves. Lacking the capacity for solitude, we turn to other people but don’t experience them as they are. It is as though we use them, need them as spare parts to support our increasingly fragile selves.

We think constant connection will make us feel less lonely. The opposite is true. If we are unable to be alone, we are far more likely to be lonely. If we don’t teach our children to be alone, they will know only how to be lonely.

Got it? Apparently, communicating with others makes you lonely. Being actually alone makes you less lonely. Why? Because Sherry Turkle says so. Not sure that’s particularly convincing.

Filed Under: , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Sherry Turkle Says Technology Is Making Us Lonelier Because We Spend Less Time Alone, Or Something”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
aeortiz (profile) says:

Bandwith and Fake Interaction

I think one reason texting, chatting, and even video chat can’t replace physical human interaction is bandwidth.

When we are in the same room with someone else, neither of us can control the non-verbal information that makes up about 80% of communication according to some.

Because we only present a squeaky-clean, groomed version of ourselves in our facebook profiles, or anywhere online, we miss out on most of the data about the people we are interacting with.

The sensation of having a human being near you is also much more comforting, they can hug you (or punch you) if you need/deserve it.

Kevin L (profile) says:

If we are unable to be alone, we are far more likely to [feel] lonely.

You hear similar things quite often: If you don’t leave time for introspection, you’re a less rounded person. I think there’s truth to that. You can’t make your kids introspective, but you can structure “alone” time into their schedules. Of course, listening to music on you iPhone and reading a book on your Kindle is as much alone time as anything previous generations did.

Anonymous Coward says:

We come to understand ourselves through solitude, and become more aware of reality/meaning in the process. If we are continually distracted with linking, commenting, downloading etc. that is a mediated experience of life and a very low quality one. We may connect online, but that connection is superficial and illusory. We feel connected, but are we really? I am sitting alone in a room as I type this. So, am I isolated or connected? It is all about balancing our real experiences versus our digitally mediated ones and being aware of the difference. That’s what she is getting at, I think.

But her ideas must be without merit because she is asking us to question the notion that more and more technology in our lives must always be “innovative,” must always be a good thing. I wonder what Acer thinks? (upper right corner) Do they want us online more or less than we already are? A rather simple-minded critique on your part, Mike.

Anonymous Coward says:

As review and criticism goes, this piece is worthless. It misses–without comment–the valid points (which Turkle makes only too weakly).

It’s easy to trivialize and dismiss what one doesn’t understand. But that doesn’t mean such responses are interesting–except for what they show us about the level of misunderstanding that prevails.

If you don’t even understand in the first place the points you’d feign to criticize, then you should stop and reconsider offering your criticism.

Here, again, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y f-o-r y-o-u:

F-i-r-s-t u-n-d-e-r-s-t-a-n-d,

t-h-e-n c-r–i-t-i-c-i-z-e.

I am outraged says:

Her issue is …. she want’s to be listened to.
That’s what communication means to her….people listening to her. ( you know… listening and acknowledging they are listening to every word )
Some of us like listening more….( but not to needy self absorbed people .. cough…cough )

Face to face communication with people who I have little in common with, apart from geographical location and convenience ?

Yeah… I miss that while I am online. : )

Rachel Keslensky (user link) says:

I actually watched this talk before...

It’s not that I don’t buy into it, but I also think the type of communication we would have would be something LESS than what we have now.

Think about it – I have a job in this technology, I work remotely, and even when hanging out with other hacker folks, I detach, sure — But that was because I was drawing during one of the panels and showing off a little bit. I’m pretty sure my friend who stayed up in the hotel room — or the one who stayed at home — didn’t have the same experience, nor did they attempt to.

I think even texting in close proximity invites a certain level of spontaneity — an important opportunity to pierce the filter when it’s important. Our interactions and our technology we use in making those interactions is as much our showing off as much as it is our attempting to reach out to others. I don’t see any difference in my snapping a shot and uploading to Instagram (and Facebook) versus, say, the oldschool equivalents of using a disposable camera and not even knowing if I’d have enough film for the whole trip, if I’d ruin half the film by dropping the camera, who would actually see the photos…

Technology is making it clearer when I am / am not paying my full attention to a situation, and broadening when I interact with certain people. Maybe it made more sense to complain about technology when the only handheld distractions available were GameBoy machines…

proximity1 says:

Are you kidding me?

You call it ‘living’.

That’s part of the problem. How many people living today have ever tasted a real, fresh, home-garden grown tomato? If you don’t understand that question, you probably have never tasted one and, by the same token, you’re apt to confuse what your daily existence with something else you’ve never tasted, “living” as that occurs “off-line.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Actually I think her point is that if we don’t spend time alone, we lose our ability to value and appreciate social interactions.

Kind of a poor article though… I mean the one here on Techdirt. If you don’t understand the original article you are talking about, how can you criticize it? And if you are only criticizing it for not being clear, well who cares about some poorly written article with poorly expressed ideas anyway?

Machin Shin (profile) says:

Are you kidding me?

You realize that the whole fresh tomato thing does not really mean anything. That is like me asking someone if they have experienced the joy of becoming a level 120 wizard and if they haven’t then they are not really living. Eating a tomato has just as much relevance as being a high level wizard.

Point is that life styles change. Each generation does things their own way. This is because there is no right or wrong way to live. There are just a lot of idiots who seem to think their way is the only “right” way and they want to force it on the rest of us.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Are you kidding me?

That’s part of the problem. How many people living today have ever tasted a real, fresh, home-garden grown tomato? If you don’t understand that question, you probably have never tasted one and, by the same token, you’re apt to confuse what your daily existence with something else you’ve never tasted, “living” as that occurs “off-line.”

So? How many people living today have ever tasted a real, fresh-killed wooly mammoth, blood still warm? Maybe that was “real” life, and everything since is but a pale imitation. People change; societies change; it’s not implicitly or automatically a bad thing. We lose stuff, yes, but we gain stuff as well, and you can’t just glance at the situation and determine the net change – as if such a thing were even quantifiable to begin with.

proximity1 says:


Here, for you, is a reference to a text by a very insightful thinker who really did grasp well the genuine points to which Turkle alludes–

(beware of the early translations, however; as the author himself wrote, “In English and Spanish, you have to wait until the third (published) translations to see what I say.”)

Author: Guy Debord

Title: (original: La soci?t? du spectacle) The Society of the Spectacle).

The insights he offers have only grown sharper in the decades since he wrote the book. We need those insights more and more even as we move further from a fighting chance to grasp them.

Trails (profile) says:


You realize you actually said nothing of substance?

Literally nothing.

“This article sucks. It missed some points.”

Such as? Please, oh fount of wisdom and insight, enlighten us intellectual plebs.

“This shows through failure to address [something] that Mike didn’t understand”

Still nothing, just whining that the article missed some incredible point. No indication of what that is.

“Mike shouldn’t criticize the article because he didn’t understand it.”

What points did he miss?

Criticizing can either be, as you’ve done, substanceless whinging or an actual engagement on points.

Here, I’ll start you off:

“Mike, Sherry Tuckle made the following points which you missed:”


“Mike, your criticism of Tuckle’s article is wrong because…”

That should set you on the right path. You’re welcome.

Aaron T (profile) says:

The whole thing about headphones in the workplace is an odd comment indeed. One thing I’ve noticed is that the younger generation (I’m mid-30’s) likes is the low cube walls or cube-less designs that you hear about at companies like Facebook where you have no privacy, but extremely easy face-to-face communication with your peers.

Personally, I can’t do it- too much distraction, especially with movement in my peripheral vision and my productivity goes to hell.

Anonymous Coward says:

Most of the comments on techdirt are very well done, but the combination of “that’s what I think she’s saying” and then drawing conclusions on what she said bothered me.

I read most of the article and with a little bit of thought it is not that hard to find meaning in those two little paragraphs.

As much as I love the digital world, it is still important to leave it behind at times, and learning how to communicate “face to face” cannot be learned online.

Reminds me of the comment “I was going to write a short note but I didn’t have the time so I just called”

Michael says:

I understand her argument. She isn’t saying that internet communication is inherently a bad thing. Rather, she’s (trying to) explain how some people seek to interact with people on social networks and whatnot in order to feel included, yet still wind up feeling lonely due to the lack of human factor which technology cannot emulate. Technology is fine for distributing information and relaying messages back and forth but is in no way a substitute for real-life human interaction.

Anonymous Coward says:

2 types of communication which matter....

Active and passive. The rest (if it’s in person, via phone, or internet) matters little.

Active: talking in-person, calling, e-mailing, texting, IM’ing, etc.

Passive: posting a picture, article, tweet, status update, etc. and others coming along and “liking” them. Now if someone directly replies to you, then you’re actually communicating directly with each other and that’s active.

The only problem I see (and this has NOTHING to do with a generational gap, it has to do with just how people are tending to communicate) is people are tending more towards passive communication and less and less towards active communication.

Proximity1 says:

Are you kidding me?

These replies (except for ‘I have’…(below)) are what’s known as ‘sour grapes’. (You could look that up.)

How very fitting in this context.

The thing is, you see (Not!): as a society, we had a good shot at saving the genuine tomato. And, in general, it’s been squandered. The Wppley-mamouth, modern society couldn’t save–though it managed to save the buffalo. We should be proud of that, too.

Maybe the old-fashioned garden tomato will be salvaged. But that’s isn’t how things look right now. To argue that we no more need nor should miss the tomato than we should need or miss the Wooley-mamouth is typical of the impovershed thinking that characterizes our times.

Your comments put you right in the crowd that so spectacularly “doesn’t get it” –and doesn’t even care that it doesn’t.


Anonymous Coward says:


I do not believe she is presenting an “argument”, but instead expressing a personal opinion that for all the benefits accorded by new means of communication, there is lost in many of these exchanges person-to-person conversations of the voice-to-ear and back again. What is lost are facial expressions, tone of voice, word emphasis, real-time exchanges that are more nuanced in person than on a screen, etc.

While I do use e-mail, snail mail, and some on the more recent means of communication, I have never found a more informative and beneficial substitute for person-to-person meetings. These are, of course, not always practical, but are my first choice whenever cirsumstances permit.

PaulT (profile) says:

Are you kidding me?

“How many people living today have ever tasted a real, fresh, home-garden grown tomato?”

A great many, including those of us who earn their living and spend fair chunks of their leisure time online. I certainly have, grown by my own hands, whose brothers I cooked with the chillies and herbs I also grew myself.

I also know a lot of people who don’t ever use the internet, or rarely do so, and have never cooked themselves a decent home meal, stepped outside of the country they happen to have born in or seen a great work of art that wasn’t on a TV show.

Who are you to judge which of us is “better”, especially using one data point as specious as a tomato?

PaulT (profile) says:

Bandwith and Fake Interaction

You may be missing his point… If your Facebook is full of squeaky clean profiles, you must know some very boring and/or paranoid people. Most people are pretty honest in my experience about a number of things. Doubly so for sites that project the possibility of anonymity.

Plus, as a matter of interest, how geographically diverse is your group of friends/family/acquaintances? I only ask, because most people who speak like this tend to only have a small group of friends, or only know people within a narrow geographical region. Those of us with lots of friends and family spread across the globe tend not to dismiss easy global communication so easily.

Anonymous Coward says:

Are you kidding me?

I have a garden. I hate tomatoes. These days I do the majority of my socialization online.

I majored in outdoor rehabilitative experiences (hoods in the woods programs was mostly what I actually worked in) I have spent years of my adult life without a computer/internet access. I have spent weeks alone in the woods. I have spent months in the wilderness with people.

Your argument is worthless. You have never climbed Everest so you have never lived. You have never walked in the woods with just a knife and survived for weeks, so you have never survived. You have never fasted so you don’t know hunger.

Its all subjective bullshit. It a bullshit holier than thou attitude to think the way to live life is the true way of living and other people are wrong because of their ignorance to your great and important life.

If people are fulfilled and content living their life without harming others around them then their life is valid and just as substantive as yours.

Of course you get out of having to think about this and explain your reasoning by being vague and saying “you don’t get it” congratulations. People don’t get the shit you make up to make you feel more important than them.

Anonymous Coward says:


I don’t spoon-feed unless you’re in your high-chair, with you bib on, kid.

So, try this: think— critically. It may be a challenge but with effort you may see progress.

There’s some real merit in Turkle’s piece but, as I see it, that merit is overwhelmed by her too-timid orientation. Guy Debord’s text is the polar opposite; he took on the “society of the spectacle” in a brilliant exposition made over forty years ago. With his text, there’s blood on the floor when he’s done. With Ms Turkle, we’re perhaps startled and maybe some readers react with, “Gee! Oh, my!” But what to do?

A good place to start would be with the recognition that, at the very least, the topic itself is of immense importance to societies everywhere. It deserves better than it gets–in her article and in the trivial and ill-considered comments by people who’ve thought very little about it and read simply nothing at all.

Then, after starting with that, one could read :

Technopoly by Neil Postman,

The Sociological Imagination by C. Wright Mills

The Lonely Crowd by David Riesman

The Waning of Humaneness by Konrad Lorenz

Voltaire’s Bastards by John Ralston Saul

The Village Labourer by J.L. Hammond and Barbara Hammond

The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy by Jacob Burckhardt

and, in reading them, one could notice how various key threads of insight run through them– complementing and enlightening the reader’s comprehension with each advance in the reading.

Can you read? Can you think critically? If so, your work is cut out for you. If you can’t, then asking me to explain it all in details is no substitute for what you can’t do for yourself.

I am outraged says:

Are you kidding me?

either or
no other option
I don’t get that

my life (irl)is full of people and I spend lot’s of time online. I also grow my own strawberries in a windowbox in my apartment. ( no room for a tomato plant )

Mind blown yet ?

If I had the money , didn’t have the family responsibility , I would travel the world and see all the internet cafe’s , maybe sample some of that high speed South Korean broadband.
But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t also go to Amsterdam and sample the well known delights there.

Admit it… your one sided mind is now blown

DataShade (profile) says:

She’s confusing happiness for contentment.

She’s confusing loneliness for narcissism – that is, people say they feel lonely when, really, what they feel is self-doubt; the doubt goes away when a ‘friend’ reaffirms their chosen identity (“the band’s going to make it” “you’ll be a great mom someday” “your parent/boss/art teacher is just jealous of your talent”), and becomes an addictive replacement for self-actualization.

So people spend all day staring at a computer or a smartphone like it was the Magic Mirror from Sleeping Beauty. If they got out of their echo-chamber and dealt with strangers and real life – or, in a Buddhist-meditation sense, made themselves alone and just sat – they might detox a little.

ChrisB (profile) says:

Are you kidding me?

> genetically-unsound tomatoes are better

Penn and Teller tested this in one of their Bullsh!t episodes. The hippies couldn’t tell organic from non.

Organic is a scam, and if everyone adopted it, a huge percentage of the population would starve to death. It is easy to eat “organic” when you are a rich suburbanite driving your SUV to the local community food store. It’s like saying everyone should get rid of their evil gas fireplace and use a wood-burning stove. These pie-in-the sky ideas aren’t scalable.

varagix says:

Are you kidding me?

That’s a fairly short-sighted and elitist view you have there. “Maybe the old-fashioned garden tomato will be salvaged. But that’s isn’t how things look right now.” Spoken like a pot who regularly calls the kettle black. Society as a whole is changing, and thats not a bad thing. And to think that many good things of the past are going to go the way of the wooly mammoth because of that is pretentious.

I’m as much a ‘netizen’ as any one else you condecend towards, but get what? I’m not a basement dwelling cityslicker. I live in a rural community in the mid-west. Every day I get online is also a day I go outside, look at the trees, enjoy my family’s guarden, help take care of our animals (not a farm, btw; we just have lots and lots of animals), etc. I spend time with my friends both online and irl.

Some people don’t do that, and thats fine. There’s nothing wrong with living a different way and enjoying different things.

Being different does not make anyone less of a human being than anyone else.

Torg (profile) says:


When that book was written, media was strictly hierarchical, and there was a legitimate argument that such things as television and radio were replacing human interaction despite its inferiority. That’s not what’s happening now. Internet-based interactions are human interaction in a different medium, and those involved aren’t content with merely having their lives fed to them by a monolithic corporation. What Debord was advocating decades ago amounted to cooperative and remix culture; I think he’d approve of what the Internet has become since he died.

Berenerd (profile) says:

Are you kidding me?

I had a fresh tomato this morning with my breakfast. Would my life be the same if I had not the tomato? Yup! See my life is made up of many things and yes, a good deal of things are on line. I have made lifetime friends thanks to these social sites. I have a friend who took me in when I lost my job and had no where to live because I had not enough to pay my rent. I had another one who let me borrow his car when mine died so I could hunt for a job. if not for our online lives, we would be less of what we are today. We would be less informed and be reliant on News that can be overly bias and feeds us nothing but propaganda. We would have a government that would have an easier time hiding these laws they keep trying to push to make rich people richer and so on. The online world is how this generation is growing up. The online generation is learning to be more accepting because as large as the planet is, a Kid in Bostong, MA can connect with a kid in Costa Rica and understand that this kid is no different, so why should i hate him because of the color of his skin or the accent in his voice? Seriously, I will be the first online generation-er to say this…GET OFF MY CYBERLAWN!!!

Tara Li says:

Sherry Turkle

She actually does have a point, though I don’t know how well it is explained in this particular article. However, she did a TED talk on exactly this topic, where she is able to explain what she means a bit more fully.

I don’t think she’s completely right – but I don’t think she’s completely wrong, either.

I am outraged says:


ok… I will prove the content wrong.

Communication on the web is different , NOT worse or non existent

You are a moron.
You pretend to read books.
You make no sense.
You assume a greater power of thought.
You probably smell of cat urine.
Now go say that to someone IRL. ( I wouldn’t )

There is something genuinely enlightening and unique , with “multiple way” anonymous conversations and other online communication FORMS.

Something that can not be found reading a “”one way”” book or even in a “multiple way” board room discussion.

Different is just different.

Anonymous Coward says:


When asked about my opinion on the matter I list books by smart people who have opinions on the matter. I do not want to form or express my own thoughts or opinions just condescend you and list books. This way I can maintain my superiority over you with out actually having to explain or express a single lucid thought.

Can you actual put any of these wonderful ideas into your own words? Do you actual understand these old and how to apply there themes and ideas into a modern context? I doubt it it. But you know they exist so you are better than everyone, so much better that you don’t even have express a single thought or idea because explaining yourself to these people is beneath you.

Anonymous Coward says:


” ill-considered comments by people who’ve thought very little about it and read simply nothing at all.”

As opposed to you who has supposedly read so much but has thought about it so very very little that you can’t even express your own thoughts on the matter or say anything about the books other than “one could notice how various key threads of insight run through them– complementing and enlightening the reader’s comprehension with each advance in the reading. “

You might as well say “these books have connected themes and threads, i dont know what they are but i am sure the exist.”

but again I know its easier to condescend than to form and defend statements.

Anonymous Coward says:


He doesn’t understand the books or their points. He has just read them. If you right a book then he will someday tell other people that they are idiots for not reading you but he still won’t be able to actual state your ideas and why they are relevant and important. Don’t confuse him by applying a modern context to a 4 decade old book.

Anonymous Coward says:


So, I’m asking you (seriously, now):

are your comments based on your actual reading of Debord’s text?

Suppose, for the sake of argument, you’d read not the whole thing but, up to his #105 (*)–that’s fine. At least you’re commenting from real familiarity rather than just blank ignorance of what he actually wrote and argued.

If the latter is the case, that, no, in fact you haven’t read more than a single page of The Society of the Spectacle, then what, except your sheer conjecture, are your comments based on?


— (*) the text is presented in a series of numbered “theses”–most of them having from two to less than a hundred lines. In each, he’s trying to lay out a developed argument step by step; and I grant you, his thoughts aren’t the easiest things I’ve ever tried to understand. But nearly always, when I’ve been stumped by something at first reading, I’ve returned to it later–sometimes with the aid of other reading to throw light on it–and discovered that a very good point was being made and I simply hadn’t recognized what he meant.

I am outraged says:

Sherry Turkle

Agree…But she is taking a side , where no side needs to be taken.
What is the opposite…. we should never communicate face to face ?
She ONLY see’s the extremes and ignores the middle ground.

There is a side she completely ignores.

What about people who lock themselves away and read a book ?
people who never leave the house ?
people who sit , drink and talk shit all day ?

She want’s corporate bookings maybe

Anonymous Coward says:


I don’t just know those books ‘exist’. I’ve read (with one exception *) them.–

* which I’m reading.

“So what?”, one may ask. So this: I bring something to this discussion which is informed by the knowledge (pro and con) drawn from those authors–the insights of many of whom are not only brilliant but absolutely central to the issues being argued about here. Now, I don’t think bringing that background reading and the awareness it offers to the discussion is something to apologize for—but some of the critics’ comments here seem to imply that it is.

And, yes, I can speak for myself. I began above by doing that.

Torg (profile) says:


>If the latter is the case, that, no, in fact you haven’t read more than a single page of The Society of the Spectacle, then what, except your sheer conjecture, are your comments based on?


So no, I didn’t read all or it, but I did research the points made and views expressed within it and, more generally, by him, and they don’t sound like they’d apply to the modern Internet.

Do you have any points to be made beyond “read this and you’ll definitely agree with what I say and summaries don’t count”? Maybe a point of your own, such as explaining why arguments against the media of his time would be applicable to more modern communication methods?

Torg (profile) says:


>I bring something to this discussion which is informed by the knowledge (pro and con) drawn from those authors

Actually, you’re not. You’ve said the article is wrong, and provided a reading list from which to get the knowledge of those authors. You haven’t contributed anything of your own beyond a basic refutation.

There’s nothing wrong with providing references, but they need to support your argument, not be your entire argument.

mischab1 says:

Are you kidding me?

Your kidding about the tomato right? I have so many different varieties of heirloom tomatoes that I can’t plant them all in any given year.

Besides, not everybody lives somewhere that they can easily grow tomatoes even if they wanted to. Back in Kansas the only thing you have to do to get great tomatoes is to make sure you water them as much as possible. In the northwest you barely get a long enough summer to get a ripe tomato. In the northwest, if you water it too much, or don’t add calcium, iron, and other important stuff to your soil, you will get the most bland non-yummy tomatoes imaginable.

Besides, for those who aren’t willing to spend hours every week tending a garden in the summer, you can get good quality tomatoes from farmer’s markets or CSA’s.

Forget the tomato. How many people living today have ever tasted real, fresh, home-garden grown okra?! I haven’t had any since I left Kansas 15+ years ago. 🙁

Anonymous Coward says:


Here you go. You want details –or a discussion here that includes them?

Then you need, at a minimum to bring something of interest to the discussion–which I do from my reading of Debord.

You could join that discussion but not if you’re determined to remain ignorant of the points he made.

His text is here–and the translation isn’t really awful, either!– for those who have enough interest and ambition to actually inform themselves on this:

Anonymous Coward says:


What he said. All you have brought to this thread is your condescending attitude.

“And, yes, I can speak for myself. I began above by doing that.” You began this thread by insulting everyone and saying we don’t understand the point or even the topic at hand. You didn’t express your understanding of the point or why you think we are missing the point. Saying we don’t get it and insulting us is not speaking for yourself and expressing your own ideas.

Unless you are refering to your post at the top of the page in which you say that, “those who do not know what a fresh tomato tastes like are missing out (they are not) just as those who don’t know their connected live is meaningless because the haven’t lived an unconnected life (which again is a steaming pile of condescending crap). And anyone who disagrees with me doesn’t get my point and can not discuss it with me.” Which is a usless pile of hogwash you refuse to defend or explain.

Anonymous Coward says:


I admire your candor; I’ll give you that. Notice that, unlike the usual, you actually read and responded honestly to the objection I’d made–namely, that your retort wasn’t really based on any informed view of Debord.

And, true, his text is just one of many; but it’s of immense value and you could discover that by trying it for yourself.

I’ve posted a link to an on-line translation of the book. I don’t personally like reading on-line texts and even less full length books on line. But–and this is very much at the heart of the arguments I’m making, we are now faced with publics who cannot much be moved to do more than read things that make the minimum of demands on their time, attention and thinking. That’s something that we can see from our current perspective that Debord was cognizant of as one of the terrible features of the society of spectacle.

We could discuss this very important set of issues here, yes. But the real, more urgent question (for us, not for Debord) is, “Can we discuss it in a way that is other than trivial?” His presentation of the society of the spectacle suggests that such a hope is (and was even in his own time) less and less likely to be fulfilled.

My personal view is that as long as there are people who will read and think–against the grain of the society of the spectacle in which we are bound to live, that there is hope for a positive answer to the question, “Can our’s be more than a trivial, superficial, discussion of the issues?” But the odds are stacked against that hope and it’s obvious from the comments that dominate this thread why that is.

When it comes to an actual familiarity with issues and a knowledge drawn from wide and thoughtful reading, it just doesn’t exist in discussion fora such as are typical here. That in itself would be one of the most compelling points in Debord’s favor and he’d point it out— “But you haven’t read and don’t know my book–at all!” In fact, in the preface he wrote to a 1979 italian edition (which he praised for its faithfullness to his original) he said pretty much just that, in effect.

You could read him. No one can or will stop you if you choose to do so. The other fact you and I cannot escape is that by far most people will not read Debord. He knew that and he knew that it had very, very much to do with the fact that we lived then, as we live today, in what he took pains to explain as the society of the spectacle.

artp (profile) says:

Some things that we lose in digital communication

I didn’t realize that this would be such a hot topic for so many people. It isn’t an either/or situation, it is both/and. There is a time and a place for everything.

I am not endowed with manual dexterity, so I find it hard to carry on a conversation via texting. But for me it is wonderfully handy for those short exchanges that can make things happen.

I read the article. It helps to understand what the topic of discussion is. Her points are well made, but may be incomprehensible to someone who isn’t familiar with them, just like discussing the finer points of the interactions of the whang bar and string-bending is lost on me because of my lack of manual dexterity.

Face to face conversation is irreplaceable. There are nuances of nonverbal communication that just don’t go over the wire. I have a hard time with the telephone (pre-cell) just because of this. I miss out on half the conversation because I can’t see the person. Perhaps you get along just fine without this. It may be an unused talent for you. It is still out there if you ever want to try it.

The article mentions a new skill: maintaining eye contact while texting. What we give up when we learn this skill is the ability to give someone 100% of our attention, to make that person the focus of our mind, and to listen with our whole being. That isn’t something that we need to do all the time, but if we have given it up entirely, then we are poorer as a culture because of it.

The other thing that we lose with texting is timing. When speaking to someone, I have to listen while they speak. I can’t read their words after I am done speaking. There is a give and take that, to me, is the core of the skill of communication. Some people never learn it, even before texting came along.

Finally, she is absolutely right about the need for solitude so that I can be in community. Until I can stand my own company, why should you put up with me? Do you know anybody like that? Where she is wrong is that this has been going on long before technology made it easy – technology just upped the ante by several orders of magnitude.

Spiritual writers have a lot to say on this topic. It is difficult to stay in solitude, and most of us automatically put up a wall of busy-ness to prevent solitude. This wall is difficult to break down, and it has been reinforced through our life. Unless I am in contact with that small source of silence within me, I will never reach my potential. Your experience may say otherwise, but the potential may still be there.

If you are interested in some writers who have more to say about silence, check out Thomas Merton, Bernard of Clairvaux, Teresa of Avila, Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Richard Rohr, Henry Nouwen and Ron Rohlheiser. I get a lot out of Thich Nhat Hanh on the Buddhist view, and the entire Zen tradition, too.

Silence is an important missing piece of today’s culture. Try it sometime and see what you think. It can be uncomfortable at first, but persistence pays dividends.

Or you can continue on as you are. I have no need to change you.

Anonymous Coward says:


PS, on reading Guy Debord via an on-line text—

Having just turned to the on-line text and started to read it, what strikes me immediately is how hard it is to focus on, concentrate on, the ideas behind those words. I read–and am continuing to read–the original french text from a bound paperback book edition and the difference strikes me.

It’s simply a difficult challenge to keep my attention focused—and the Aqua blue background doesn’t help.

Because of the format–mainly short theses, numbered and presented in a kind of list-like form–one is tempted to read the text quickly, and the temptation is much stronger when one is reading a screen. With the paper book in hand, you have an immediate and physical awareness of the general length and substance of the book. Looking at the text on-line, you don’t have any sense of its length and thus, you can’t take from your sense of the length of the text any appreciation of the fact that it demands more than merely a superficial glance. –Eventhough by 20th century standards, this isn’t at all a “long book”. However, that standard has been chopped down so much that, indeed, many people who read little of anything would look at the book –210 pages in the pocket-size paperback french edition–and say that it is a “long book”.

The point is, the online version is hard to focus on and to read with attention. We’re simply not used to reading things on a computer screen that way. With a book, you feel its heft, you know immediately the time its reading will ask of you. These are things that contemporary “readers” look upon with an aversion because it’s so foreign to their digital habits of length, time, effort, concentration and focus. Books demand these, the internet, the pixelated screen, places everything on the same basic level—light, quick, unreflective. Such an approach–the very core stuff of the society of spectacle–is deadly to the careful reading that Debord’s book, not to mention thousands of others more demanding, require if they’re to be taken seriously. But in the society of spectacle, taking things seriously is an odd out-of-sync way to think, behave, interact.

Anonymous Coward says:


Food for thought (if you care to feed that), from Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle



The spectacle is the ruling order?s nonstop discourse about itself, its never-ending monologue of self-praise, its self-portrait at the stage of totalitarian domination of all aspects of life. The fetishistic appearance of pure objectivity in spectacular relations conceals their true character as relations between people and between classes: a second Nature, with its own inescapable laws, seems to dominate our environment. But the spectacle is not the inevitable consequence of some supposedly natural technological development. On the contrary, the society of the spectacle is a form that chooses its own technological content.If the spectacle, considered in the limited sense of the ?mass media? that are its most glaring superficial manifestation, seems to be invading society in the form of a mere technical apparatus, it should be understood that this apparatus is in no way neutral and that it has been developed in accordance with the spectacle?s internal dynamics. If the social needs of the age in which such technologies are developed can be met only through their mediation, if the administration of this society and all contact between people has become totally dependent on these means of instantaneous communication, it is because this ?communication? is essentially unilateral. The concentration of these media thus amounts to concentrating in the hands of the administrators of the existing system the means that enable them to carry on this particular form of administration. The social separation reflected in the spectacle is inseparable from the modern state ? the product of the social division of labor that is both the chief instrument of class rule and the concentrated expression of all social divisions.


Separation is the alpha and omega of the spectacle. The institutionalization of the social division of labor in the form of class divisions had given rise to an earlier, religious form of contemplation: the mythical order with which every power has always camouflaged itself. Religion justified the cosmic and ontological order that corresponded to the interests of the masters, expounding and embellishing everything their societies could not deliver. In this sense, all separate power has been spectacular. But this earlier universal devotion to a fixed religious imagery was only a shared acknowledgment of loss, an imaginary compensation for the poverty of a concrete social activity that was still generally experienced as a unitary condition. In contrast, the modern spectacle depicts what society could deliver, but in so doing it rigidly separates what is possible from what is permitted. The spectacle keeps people in a state of unconsciousness as they pass through practical changes in their conditions of existence. Like a factitious god, it engenders itself and makes its own rules. It reveals itself for what it is: an autonomously developing separate power, based on the increasing productivity resulting from an increasingly refined division of labor into parcelized gestures dictated by the independent movement of machines, and working for an ever-expanding market. In the course of this development, all community and all critical awareness have disintegrated; and the forces that were able to grow by separating from each other have not yet been reunited.

John Fenderson (profile) says:


All you have brought to this thread is your condescending attitude.

Exactly. And I’m speaking as one who is largely aligned with what the AC was trying to say, although I’m a lot less black-and-white about it all.

But saying it in such an insulting manner is counterproductive, and teaches us a lot more about the character of the AC than about the topic at hand. For instance, the AC clearly misunderstands the online portion of the subject at least as much as the those he is attempting to “educate”.

Torg (profile) says:


Yes, that looks very much to me like he’s lamenting the hierarchical nature of media at the time, in which the people at the top dictated to those below them what could be seen and what would be desired. That’s not how things are working now. There may be superficial similarities to modern times in things such as attention span, but the causes and situations are very much different.

kitsune361 (user link) says:

I remember first hearing about Sherry Turkle on an obscure humor blog (before they were called such things) called It was a tongue-in-cheek article called “Global Village Idiots” about her book on the wonders of the internet.

It called into question, quite poignantly, her high minded points about the potential of the internet… mainly because the internet is made up of ordinary people. Having read that at least a decade (maybe two) ago, I find it humorous to see her point-of-view come full circle.

That said, she has a point, but it’s more of a “too much of a good thing.” It’s amazing the learning and communication power at our fingertips, but if we sacrifice our ability to cope with the real world of real people & real things, are we any better off with that power and knowledge?

Anonymous Coward says:

The alienation of modern living

Civilization has evolved to the point where rather than a group of people we are now a collection of individuals. The division of labor has grown so much that we rarely even have to interact with another human being in the course of our everyday lives. Choosing the path of least resistance we have removed people from society.

You can interact with others online, but there is no feedback or body language. There is no immediacy. If someone gets angry there is no confrontation. No release.

Anonymous Coward says:


God you are an insatiable suck-up Marcus. Does every implied criticism of your master need a double-barreled response from you? Fact is Turkle implies what we all know: most of you are socially awkward losers living in your mother’s basements who have eschewed personal interaction in favor digital communication due to decades of social rejection. Obviously, Masnick is particularly stung by this.

Daniel Delli-Colli (profile) says:

I think what she is trying to articulate is that if we don’t know how to be alone from time to time, we are going to be a pretty fucked up bunch of folk. You see it already on the bus, the sidewalk, metro whatever. People are constantly engaged in their phones, “communicating” with their friends as opposed to having an interesting conversation with a stranger on the bus. Hell, just yesterday some lady told me all sorts of personal things about her life and her issues with her daughter. It was interesting that someone would open up to a complete stranger.

Her argument, seen through my own interpretation, makes plenty o’ sense.

Anonymous Coward says:

From experience and talking only for myself I can say taht Sherry Turkle is full of shit.

I felt more lonely when I didn’t had the internet, actually the internet made me more social and allowed me to experiment and realize many of my social shortfalls which I tried to correct.

The internet allows me to connect whith more people and exchange ideas and to prove that point I recall a story about an autistic boy that doesn’t talk to anyone, but he types on his keyboard and exchange ideas with others, he found company in the internet.

To be lonely is to feel lonely, the internet is a communication tool and if it doesn’t help you is not because of it that you are feeling so lonely is because for some reason you are not able to connect to anyone and you wouldn’t be able to do so using others methods either until you correct the underlying problem and that is your own mind, your own perceptions.

Anonymous Coward says:


The fact is for me that Guy Debor looks like a crackpot.

He is all wrong starting from the assumption that trying to live by appearances is not a real experience, it is just as real as any experience you will ever have, you will fall into all the pitfalls of “real life” in there too, the basics don’t change, he was wrong then and it is wrong today.

One great example is the movie Idiocracy (2006).

The movie is full of assumptions about the future and how the dumb spread faster than the smart people, but if people were smart wouldn’t they realize it is was more important to procreate than to care about economic conditions? wouldn’t they have realized that with actual knowledge you have a better safety net that allows you to produce the things you need on your own and that economy is just a dreampipe?

Of course not, it is entertainment, it is as dumb and retarded as the object of the criticism and so is Debor, he fails spectacularly to understand the basics and try to show something that is not there, reality is whatever you make off of it, at some point people are unable to live by appearances or spectacles and they fall into real situations, what he seems to be objecting to really is because he is unable to clearly see what others are doing and can’t experience what others experience he somehow lost something, he is poorer because of it, but it is not others, is only himself and his inability to see past the “spectacle” that hampers his interactions.

Anonymous Coward says:


You’re great at being an ass online (which isn’t complementary since anyone with a keyboard can do it), but you are terrible at debate. This is a discussion thread. We discuss. In the process of discussion we present our views and back up our beliefs. You, however, have done none of this. Pointing to a list of books and saying ‘think critically’ does nothing to bolster your argument. Perhaps we are thinking critically and we come to different conclusions than you do? What then?

Anonymous Coward says:


YOu bring nothing to the discussion because you do not discuss. You act as though you are a professor passing out reading assignments from a position of authority, which you have not yet managed to achieve with us. This is not a classroom, this is a discussion. Present your argument and reasons for it, or piss off. The adults are talking, now.

Anonymous Coward says:


Never even heard of him, thanks, but I do offer something I feel is much more important than quotations and ‘I agree with this author’ posts: My own critical thought. We can base our opinions on our own experiences. We do not need others to lead us by the nose to whatever they feel is important. Remember this, it is an important point, and one they usually make a big deal of in university.

Now, to my thoughts: I tend to agree with her based on my own experiences with these things. Why? Because I feel that people need to be able to disconnect, as well, but if we are constantly bombarded with other people’s babble, then we never get used to the quiet of truly being alone. The mind just cannot cope as well with solitude if it does not experience it from time to time.

That’s the thing about real critical thinking. You don’t need citations to back it up. Otherwise it’s not thinking.

Anonymous Coward (user link) says:

I saw her speach on YouTube.

The video explains it better: For example, in one part of it she has a picture of her daughter hanging out with her friends who are pretty much ignoring each other while they use their cell phones.

Anyway, she’s not saying, “OMG, no one should ever use the internet!!11” just noting that the balance is a bit skewed too far towards machine-based interactions, to the point it takes away from human-based interactions. It’s a reasonable observation.

There’s a definite difference between interacting with someone face to face and interacting with a TV screen (excuse me, monitor) as a proxy for direct interaction.

Please realize that there are legitimate things to criticize about the internet, and that not everyone who says anything negative about it is some meanie trying to take away our toys. I mean, just take a look at this anti-WoW PSA 😉

PaulT (profile) says:

Bandwith and Fake Interaction

Hmmm… OK. Personally I have around 180 real “friends” (that is family, current real-life friends and people I’ve personally known but am no longer in direct contact with physically (usually because either I or they have moved elsewhere). Maybe you should try communicating with people you have a real-life connection to?

“I don’t share my life with them nor they with me, only a babble of status updates.”

It just strikes me as weird that you’d even use Facebook if it’s all just a “babble” to you. Most people I know on there are very candid about sharing their lives – especially those with kids – and it’s much easier to share life stories, pics, etc. among friends and family than contacting each individually. I keep in touch with what’s going on with my friends & family in the US, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand far more easily than by other methods, while at the same time organising after work drinks with people who work 2 blocks down.

Oh well, each to their own, I suppose. Just don’t pretend that most people are being lazy, using it instead of physical interaction as you originally implied. Not only is that not always possible, but I’ve had numerous physical meetings with old friends & family that came about as a direct result of Facebook interaction.

Anonymous Coward says:

There seem to be an awful lot of assumptions in her article. She assumes that people who are comfortable being alone will automatically engage in self reflection (which is a rather stupid assumption), that conversation is somehow more valuable when its in person (experience has shown me that’s not always the case), and that there’s some sort of hard line between “connection” and “conversation” (and anyone who’s been in a relationship should know that’s just beyond ridiculous) to name a few. Oh, and I love the part about how “conversation” slows things down, teaches us patience… Really? That’s where you learned patience from? Quite honestly, if the “conversation” requires that much patience, that means its boring, unimaginative, and you’d rather be somewhere else. All the conversations I’ve had with friends covering the entire spectrum of topics from politics, humor, relationships, psychology, fantasy, biology, evolution, religion, etc. did the exact opposite of teach me patience. I found their points of view interesting, insightful, sometimes stupid, humorous, and I couldn’t wait to talk to them again. If anything, it taught me impatience… enter: technology and now I can hear their points of view whenever I want even though most of them, quite literally, live thousands of miles away.

This is just my opinion, but anyone who automatically starts thinking about themselves when they’re alone probably has some sort of narcissistic disorder. You can call it “self reflection” all you want but doesn’t sound normal to me. As for the whole “face to face” thing, that’s great if your friends are all supermodels (most of mine are kind of ugly and you know…dudes) but it seems to me that learning to read between the lines is equally as valuable as reading body language. Learning to discern why someone used a certain choice of words and that what they don’t say is equally important as what they do is a critical thinking skill that seems quite valuable in any shape or form. And as anyone who’s ever had a relationship should know, words are not always necessary to communicate. I don’t think the way Turkle defines “conversation” is as important as she thinks it is. You can have an entire conversation without saying a word. Take my friend’s ex-gf for example. She could’ve told me she didn’t like me but instead she came up to me and slapped me. Not a playful slap, a really hard one, right across the face. I think that speaks volumes.

Miso Susanowa (user link) says:


I’m just wondering (nicely) how many people commenting here are familiar with Turkle or her work. She was one of the original net sociology theorists and put out some stunning material.

Much of that early theoretical work & thinking on the impact the net would have on wide social adoption is still relevant, especially because of its predictive nature and the current situation.

I did read the article, and I agree Turkle is soft-padding; this might have been what the NY Times wanted, or an editor’s butchery or simply because many people seem to need this stuff spoonfed to them currently.

Her point is still valid and remains one of the crucial studies of the impact of the internet on societal structures. Someone quoted above about F2F “bandwidth” being approximately 80% non-verbal; in some cases it’s an even higher percentage.

If someone is color-blind, it’s going to be hard for them to get much out of a Pollock because they simply cannot see what that painter saw and as most other people see it. If you spend 80% of your “social time” on the net, you should be aware of the bandwidth you might be missing, might not even be aware of, because you accept that this environment and your interactions “are equal to” physically sharing time & space with a close human being.

Consider it (only consider it; I’m not evangelising, only studying)like the difference between reading the Cliff Notes of a great novel and then reading the actual novel.

aeortiz (profile) says:

Bandwith and Fake Interaction

I do most of my interaction on Facebook with 10 or so friends, and we do see each other in person at least every few days or so. After Google+ and Facebook introduced circles and friend lists, I put those people on a “close friends” group, and share the private stuff only with them.

When I didn’t have Facebook I was nagged silly with emails from people inviting me to join. After I joined 5 years ago, I get 1-2 friend requests almost every day.

I used to be very popular (I was in a megachurch worship team in Honduras) and knew 600-800 people by name there. Besides that, I’ve made several hundred acquaintances in each city I’ve lived. Them make up the bulk of my fb friends.

I saw Shelly Turkle’s most recent TED talk, which explains her attitude much better than the article does…she used to be the type who shared everything online, and advocated others to do so. She still does, but questions herself as to why.

Anonymous Coward says:

Are you kidding me?

I’m as geeky as they come, but I grow some of my own food in my backyard, saves on the veggies that are more expensive than meat at the supermarket. It’s not a huge thing, but if I had more land I’d do it.

Taking back your power of growing food is one hell of an empowering experience. And yeah, I’ve had a dozen decent tomatoes this summer when I first started it, even if my soil is dry, i’ve had a a compost area in the far-left corner of my property behind a tree so you couldn’t see it, been making compost for 4 years and man did stuff grow easily as opposed as when I tried to do it first.

But yeah, I speak to most of my friends online now because well, some moved because what they studied (3 of em software engineering) wasn’t available in the 3 colleges in our small 250 000 people northern canada city), I’ve had to move too to actually work in my field (chemistry tech) because in my hometown, they got a pile that goes to the ceiling of CV’s to work at the aluminum factories (Rio Tinto-Alcan), even for chemists yeah. So I had to exile myself from all friends and family in my hometown and I live even farther now in the province than my friends who leaved to study elsewhere (which must be a dozen), 3 of whom were in my old band who actually had 2 releases on a small label.

All this to say, is if you don’t have family yet at around 30, you’re bound to be communicating using tiny plastic screens.

Anonymous Coward says:

Bandwith and Fake Interaction

>Still thinking “conspiracy theory” is an effective >pejorative term not invented by the CIA to discredit people >who didn’t buy the FBI’s magic bullet at the Warren >commission

Even people I know who were super enthusiastic about facebook barely post anything at all anymore, they either installed Pidgin or Facebook Chat, although I try to have them use Pidgin and install pidgin-otr so we can chat in encrypted mode. The kinda stuff that only works if everybody does it.

There’s platforms to develop your own social network site like Tent which could be much better and less intrusive than Facebook, haven’t seen anybody make any use of it though.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...