Between intensive training for a bike challenge, traveling to and from France, and transitioning to New Hampshire, I'm afraid last month's Reading Circle fell by the wayside.
Yesterday I belatedly posted the recording of my introduction to the two articles on the theme of "Persons, Friendship & Technology."
- Sherry Turkle's short and easy to read essay "The Flight from Conversation"
- and Roger Scruton's longer but worthwhile "Hiding Behind the Screen"
One thought, central to both pieces, is that unlike real friendships, virtual friendships are risk-free. They enable us to connect with others while hiding ourselves and keeping others at a safe, managable distance. We are not exposed and vulnerable, the way we are in face-to-face encounters. Not much trust is required and no deep betrayal is possible. And if we are no longer interested in a connection, or if it becomes problematic in some way, we can simply "unfriend" the other or delete our account. Virtual connections have few real consequences, and involve very little responsibility.
All this may be fine up to a point. But when virtual relationships begin to predominate in our lives, when they no longer serve but begin to replace real friendships, they become a threat to our wellbeing. Persons will be impoverished and become weakened in their selfhood. They will lack the robust self-standing that enables us to bear reality, including the reality of genuine friendships. Here is a passage from Turkle expressing the point:
in our rush to connect, we flee from solitude, our ability to be separate and gather ourselves. Lacking the capacity for solitude, we turn to other people but don’t experience them as they are. It is as though we use them, need them as spare parts to support our increasingly fragile selves.
I find Scruton and Turkle very convincing when it comes to the dangers posed by these new communication technologies. But what about the postives? Is it not true that these new ways of connecting with other people answer a genuine need? Is it not true that for all sorts of reasons (especially the invention of the car) people are more isolated from one another than ever before? That the opportunities for face-to-face encounters are very few, and the internet a partial but nonetheless welcome remedy for the situation?
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this or any other aspect related to the topic. Member feed is open for those who may have more to say than can easily fit within the space allowed for comments.