"I tell two stories in ‘Alone Together’: today’s story of the network, with its promise to give us more control over human relationships, and tomorrow’s story of sociable robots, which promise relationships where we will be in control, even if that means not being in relationships at all."
After conducting hundreds of interviews over the past fifteen years, Sherry Turkle writes in Alone Together of the benefits of technologies, and how these advancements are here to stay. She delves into the ongoing dilemma that we are all facing: how much we are willing and able to allow robots, social media, digitization and technology to become mainstream in our lives. How does this affect our relationships with our families, friends and careers?
We know there are robots that vacuum our homes, clean our pools, and are capable of so much more. We are creating robots that are almost human, and at the very least can be substituted for pets. Robots now have human-like qualities and are being introduced as companions, for example, in senior-care homes for the elderly.
This book may cause you to stop and think about your personal face-to-face relationships. Will we let technology lead us, or will we be the “guiding masters?” We must learn to concentrate on building human, face-to-face relationships if we are to avoid an ever increasing world of isolation and loneliness.
Online Technology and the Illusion of Companionship—Marriage to Robots?
"I suggested that the very fact we were discussing marriage to robots at all was a comment on human disappointments–that in matters of love and sex, we must be failing each other. I did not see marriage to a machine as a welcome evolution in human relationships."
Our cultural expectations of technology are shifting to accept that future intimacy with machines is not only a substitute for finding a person to love, but possibly even preferable! Many people are beginning to feel that by sharing an intimate relationship with a machine, we avoid all the messiness and frustratingly complex relationships in the world of people.
We are now seeing a world in which technology—robots—are capable of doing almost any task that a human can. One of the great fears for future generations is that we are already living in a world of instant gratification. We can have anything we want and we can have it now. Technology has given us that gift.
However, what once gave us a sense of purpose and fulfillment in our jobs was knowing that we had worked hard, and that we had done a good job. We benefit in one way from the advancement of technology, but at what cost? Rather than just accept these changes I think we need to make a conscious effort to keep the human and personal aspect in our lives, both in our personal relationships and our workplaces.
"Twenty-five years ago the Japanese calculated that demography was working against them—there would not be enough young Japanese to take care of their aging population. They decided that instead of having foreigners take care of the elderly, they would build robots to do the job."
In many ways the creation of robots to do the jobs that people have always done can be seen as a solution. Perhaps there are not enough people and resources to do the jobs that robots are capable of doing. Some robots are designed to dispense medication to the elderly, reach items on high shelves and help keep people safe. This is all good.
However, I return to the “feelings” part of robots versus people. Our capacity for empathy and the ability to place ourselves in the shoes of someone else is what makes us human. Have we really arrived at the point in time where we will now outsource friendship and companionship?
The ability to Skype or FaceTime is a convenient way to engage with loved ones who are far away or scattered across different time zones. But, the feeling is canned and superficial: the connection not always clear, and we are staring at a screen, not a person.
Social media has made us feel more connected than ever—and we don’t even need to leave the house. Take the time to make a face-to-face connection. Schedule a coffee with your best friend, turn off your phone and make dinner for your family, or spend a few minutes chatting with a stranger in line at the grocery store—though machines are taking over some caring roles in our society, I believe that face-to-face connection is still worth pursuing.
"Within a decade, what had seemed alien was close to becoming everyone’s way of life, as compact smartphones replaced the cyborg’s more elaborate accoutrements."
People love new technologies because they allow us to be connected at all times. Parents and children feel more secure, knowing that they are reachable at all times. These advancements have changed everything and made vast improvements in business, education, and medicine. We have a world of information, constantly, right at our fingertips. We are experiencing a level of connectivity like never before, and that has changed how we date, travel, and basically communicate with one another.
While all of these technologies allow us an unimaginable amount of freedom, and a feeling of connectedness, we are losing the traditional art of communication.
In order to thrive in this new world—in our homes, our workplaces, our relationships—we will need to make daily efforts to unplug. We may need to pick up the phone and call someone and have a real conversation. Rather than emailing your colleague, or getting your “bot” to deliver a memo, get up out of your chair and walk over to that person’s desk.Shut off your cell phone before entering a meeting room. Engage the person to your left or your right in conversation.
“We have to find a way to live with seductive technology and make it work to our purposes.”
We must train ourselves to turn off our devices when we interact face-to-face with another human being. Computers and cell phones cannot replace the building of real life relationships. Without relationships, and a live and personal connection to another human being, I feel we will become more isolated than ever before, despite having the world at our fingertips. I think we need to treat technology with respect but remember how we use it, how often, and when. It is still a choice–a choice that we can and should be making ourselves.
Teenagers and the younger generation communicate via text messaging, or something similar. We, as adults and parents accept that. At least, we are permitted to keep in touch, we tell ourselves.
I am a great believer in the art of letter writing. A letter is a tangible thing. It is something to be held in one’s hand and re-read over and over again if we so choose. We live in a world of Snapchat, where a photo only lasts a few moments—and then it’s gone.
There is great pleasure in remembering and we do that by reading old letters, or turning pages in a scrapbook where photographs have been lovingly collected.
We all want to leave our mark on the world in which we live. As Sherry muses, “If technology remembers for us, will we remember less?”