I borrowed Sherry Turkle’s latest book from the library last month and got about 2/3 of it read before I had to return it yesterday. It’s arguing that digital communication technologies inhibit the creativity that can only come from face-to-face, analog communication. It’s a long unpacking of Douglas Rushkoff’s insight that digital media are biased toward connecting people across great distances but biased against connecting people who are sharing the same space.
So I’m keeping my phone off the table at meetings and meals. Yesterday I sat in a project meeting for over two hours with five other people working, and I took my phone out only to check calendar dates relevant to our project.
I was more engaged in that meeting than I’m typically able to be. Of course, the urge to check or send an email occurred to me. Of course I considered tweeting something prescient someone had said. Of course Facebook and Messenger made frequent appearances in my consciousness.
But (mostly) I told them all “No,” and the benefit was clear to me. Creative possibilities got proposed, mulled over carefully, expanded, revised, adopted, and planned. It was interesting and it was fun. Those two hours of focused engagement fueled the rest of my day.
My laptop and phone are not the enemy of my work. Turkle is making a case, though, that in-person conversation is a stronger ally of our work by far, and that defaulting to electronic tools for communication is diminishing both our work and our enjoyment of doing it.
Not everybody’s buying it. Jonathan Franzen:
When she notes that Steve Jobs forbade tablets and smartphones at the dinner table and encouraged his family to talk about books and history, or when she cites Mozart, Kafka and Picasso on the value of undistracted solitude, she’s describing the habits of highly effective people.
After yesterday, though, I’m saying score one for Turkle.