"Perhaps we are all just willing conversationalists waiting inside. We’ve just forgotten how to get started. Maybe all we need is a little push." -Larry Borsato
Dr. Sherry Turkle, who is officially my new favorite Social Scientist, runs the very interesting Science, Technology, and Society program at MIT. An expert on mobile technology, social networking, and sociable robotics, Dr. Turkle focuses her academic pursuits on the way societies interact with technology on a day-to-day basis.
In an April 2012 TED Talk, she discussed the Goldilocks Effect (too much, too little, just right) in terms of personal connections and relationships, wherein we keep our friends and family neither too close, nor too far away, but instead within just the right amount of both physical and emotional distance.
"In the silence of connection, people are comforted by being in touch with a lot of people — carefully kept at bay."
Dr. Turkle suggests that our reliance upon technology allows us to maintain a standard amount of distance between ourselves and others, thereby achieving that Just Right status. However, she also recognizes that technology works as a deterrent, turning us away from social interaction and human communication in favor of social networking and online connectivity.
Think of your own moments of solitude: how long does it take before you reach for your smartphone or laptop or television remote in order to avoid the oppressive quiet of sitting alone?
Dr. Turkle believes (and I'm fully on board with this, have been for quite awhile) that if we do not teach ourselves how to be alone – how to exist without another person next to us, or a device in our hands, or an Internet connection nearby – we will always be alone, no matter how connected we may feel.
She wants us to ask ourselves this question: How can we really understand and know who we are as individuals if we're never on our own?
Despite what we, as social creatures, may believe solitude isn't the problem - it's the solution. Disconnecting isn't a bad thing; spending time with just yourself and your thoughts isn't a bad thing. We should all be doing it far more frequently than we probably do now. And if we're live tweeting our alone time, discussing it on Facebook, and crowning ourselves mayors of our living rooms on FourSquare...well, then, does it really count as alone time?
How about you, dear reader? Do you disconnect? Does silence scare you? Are your thumbs arthritic from all the texting you do? Let us know in the comments!