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The effects of cellphone use on human interaction and thinking

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Bookmark What happens when we become too dependent on our mobile phones? According to MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle, author of the new book Reclaiming Conversationwe lose our ability to have deeper, more spontaneous conversations with others, changing the nature of our social interactions in alarming ways. Sherry Turkle Turkle has spent the last 20 years studying the impacts of technology on how we behave alone and in groups. In her previous book, the bestselling Alone Togethershe articulated her fears that technology was making us feel more and more isolated, even as it promised to make us more connected.

Since that book came out in 2012, technology has become even more ubiquitous and entwined with our modern existence. Advertisement X A three-course professional certificate series that teaches you the what, why, and how of increasing happiness at work.

Here is an edited version of our conversation. Your new book warns that cell phones and other portable communication technology are killing the art of conversation.

Why did you want to focus on conversation, specifically? Because conversation is the most human and humanizing thing that we do. How are cell phones and other technologies hurting us? Eighty-nine percent of Americans say that during their last social interaction, they took out a phone, and 82 percent said that it deteriorated the conversation they were in. If you put a cell phone into a social interaction, it does two things: So, even something as simple as going to lunch and putting a cell phone on the table decreases the emotional importance of what people are willing to talk about, and it decreases the connection that the two people feel toward one another.

Cell phones make us promises that are like gifts from a benevolent genie—that we will never have to be alone, that we will never be bored, that we can put our attention wherever we want it to be, and that we can multitask, which is perhaps the most seductive of all.

We can still change. We can use our phones in ways that are better for our kids, our families, our work, and ourselves.

Americans’ Views on Mobile Etiquette

One thing that struck me in your book was that many people who you interviewed talked about the benefits of handling conflict or difficult emotional issues online. They said they could be more careful with their responses and help decrease interpersonal tensions.

That seems like a good thing. It was a big surprise when I did the research for my book to learn how many people want to dial down fighting or dealing with difficult emotional issues with a partner or with their children by doing it online. People need to share their emotions—I feel very strongly about this. Some studies seem to show that increased social media use actually increases social interaction offline.

Chapter 4: Phone use in social gatherings

I wonder how this squares with your thesis? Another person who might be helped by social media is someone who uses it for taking baby steps toward meeting people for face-to-face conversations.

Smartphones may be changing the way we think

You also write about how conversation affects the workplace environment. Why support conversation at work?

  • It was a big surprise when I did the research for my book to learn how many people want to dial down fighting or dealing with difficult emotional issues with a partner or with their children by doing it online;
  • The survey probed these issues in several ways.

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