Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we take a break from our regularly scheduled programming to share an article of interest – an opinion piece from The New York Times. The writer is none other than our favorite MIT professor, Sherry Turkle. Remember her from our recent series on relationships in the Digital Age? See more here.

In her most recent article, Turkle continues to deconstruct the psychological and social implications of virtual comunication, this time focusing on the effect of the “selfie” revolution on our relationships with ourselves and with others. It is noteworthy that “selfie” was recently named the 2013 Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionaries. You can read the full announcement here

Turkle wonders if we can be distracted from our relationship with technology long enough to truly turn towards each other. She explains that, although we constantly put those around us on pause to catch up on the stream of notifications inundating us from cyberspace, “We don’t experience interruptions as disruptions anymore. But they make it hard to settle into serious conversations with ourselves and with other people because emotionally, we keep ourselves available to be taken away from everything.”

Turkle comes up against a lot of criticism, dismissed by some as a proliferator of extreme, apocalyptic prophecies with a personal vendetta against (and limited understanding of) virtual communication. But Turkle isn’t set on globally condemning modern technology. Like most, she celebrates the power of technology to connect people across time and space. But she questions our ability to make and maintain deep, meaningful, and emotionally fulfilling connections in the presence of our devices. She suggests that the endless distraction that they create poses a threat to our very ability to simply and fully enjoy each other’s company. 

The truth is that the completely optimistic outlook with which Turkle began her research decades ago – the belief that technology would give us tools to grow closer to ourselves and to each other – evolved with the evolution of these tools. 

The stories that Turkle has collected and now shares with her readers provide answers to questions that few feel comfortable asking in public. Many people connect with her message, relieved to discover that they are not alone in experiencing stress as a result of the tech revolution. That others share their frustration with and anxiety about virtual communication. That they are in good company when struggling with the disconnecting effects of connectivity in the Digital Age. 

The article we share today ends with a poignant call to action:

A 14-year-old girl tells me how she gets her device-smitten father to engage with her during dinner: “Dad, stop Googling. I don’t care about the right answer. I want to talk to you.” A 14-year-old boy reflects: “Don’t people know that sometimes you can just look out the window of a car and see the world go by and it is wonderful. You can think. People don’t know that.” The selfie, like all technology, causes us to reflect on our human values. This is a good thing because it challenges us to figure out what they really are.

Think about your own use of technology. Do you notice yourself or your loved ones falling into patterns that prevent you from fully connecting? Do you find yourself disconnected in intimate situations  in bed with your partner, on a lunch date with a friend, at the dinner table with your family? As the holidays approach (and even after they depart!) we encourage you, à la Turkle, to take advantage of opportunities to be fully present and turn towards bids for emotional connection. To set aside your cell phones, pagers, and laptops and deeply connect with the ones you love.

More in The Archives
Selfies, Sherry Turkle, and Turning Towards
Ellie Lisitsa

Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.