hAvatar will e-travel
We were so exhausted Sunday night that we just collapsed in front of the TV, flipping the channels for something mindless yet not insipid. All the stuff I had DVRd was just too heavy. Then I realized I had a Bill Moyer’s episode taping, so we watched that.
There was a long segment with Richard Wolf, the economist – frankly it put me to sleep, maybe that was my way of avoiding hearing bad news. But the second half of the show was a quiet conversation (one reason I like Moyers and Charlie Rose – no yelling, no commercial interruptions, just a plain backdrop and two intelligent people discussing whatever topic) with Sherry Turkle, a professor at MIT.
Turkle is someone I should read, but don’t. She studied the same subjects I did, more or less, and is what I would consider a social psychoanalyst (as opposed to a social psychologist). Radcliffe, Harvard, MIT – smart lady. But her specialty is electronic media and its effects in children and adolescents. That is not a topic to which I am especially drawn.
Still, her latest book shows the course of her thinking on this topic that I found instructive. At first, apparently, she had thought the computer and all its satellite and progeny devices offered people the ability to experiment with and thereby expand their personality array, literally widen their imaginative and intellectual horizons. Now she thinks the medium has become the personality and that this trend threatens the full development of mental, emotional and creative skills in all of us, but especially those under the age of 18.
Coincidentally, this morning I tried to get on to Facebook to leave a get well message for a friend who just got home from the hospital. I was more than annoyed when I found I could not leave a message or even a ‘like’. Apparently FB’s system was down and just like everyone else, I was interested in getting in there and back out quickly while I did five other things and I had no time to waste.
Then I happened to be watching MSNBC’s The Cycle while I made a snack and saw Abby Huntsman talking to Matt Segal of Our Time, discussing the ACA website glitches and the fact that millennials are actually quite interested in signing up for health care, especially since, according to the Pew Research Center, 30% of them work from home and 15% are out of work altogether. They are not resistant to the idea of affordable health care, but they sure aren’t used to having a website go down and stay down as long as the Federal website for the ACA has been on the fritz. They are used to immediacy. We all are now.
All of these things were swirling around in my head as I realized that I am constantly multi-tasking, especially with technology. I have my phone, my tablet, my laptop and my desktop going all the time as I move from room to room, sandwiching in e-mails, comments on various social media, my work and looking up information or reading articles online. I have my iPod with me when I am doing yard work. I am virtually never not plugged in. I guess I am the epitome of Ms. Turkle’s over-connected, superficial media user. On my own, head in my devices, in cyber touch but at a distance.
Luckily I am not 7 to 17 years old. That is the age group that concerns her. Turkle has advised parents to have media-free zones for the whole family: the car, the kitchen and the dining room. She said research shows that children who grow up to be productive, educated, emotionally stable adults are found to have had a family meal, together each night when they were young. Not looking down at their phones or listening to their tunes, but engaging face to face with people around the table. Consistently, every single night.
On the one hand, the imagination that we can indulge by having avatars out on the e-waves, exchanging ideas with other avatars is a great stimulus for the right brain. But the isolation it creates and the quick, short hit of adrenaline we supposedly get when we are e-mailed, texted, or called via these electronic devices leads to an almost addictive need for e-sugar. We get high on the short burst of attention and appear to need more and more of it.
Meanwhile, supposedly, if we are multi-tasking we are likely to degrade performance on each individual item. This has tipped the quantity/quality balance and our performance is suffering as well as our ability to sustain attention and retain information.
I am trying to decide myself what I want to do with my time. I read books now on my Kindle Fire, I check emails on my phone, I do some of my photography processing on my airbook, and I have at least 30 tabs open in three windows on my desk-top giant screen at any one time.
Am I getting more creative, more careful because I can edit my words, less productive because I am splitting my time between so many tasks both at and away from my devices? Is this helping or hurting my cognition over the long-term? Am I developing a more superficial concept of relationships because it is so much easier to dip in and out when people are on my screen instead of in my face?
These are things that Ms. Turkle wants me to consider. Meanwhile, she has written a string of books and has changed her own mind on all of this in just the last two years (based on research). Maybe instead of reading her books, I should just monitor her tweets and my avatar can e-mail her avatar to save us both time. Even she must recognize that her ideas are reinventing faster than even she can keep up with in something as antiquated as hardcopy!
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