Conversation is Turkle’s organizing principle because so much of what constitutes humanity is threatened when we replace it with electronic communication. Conversation presupposes solitude, for example, because it’s in solitude that we learn to think for ourselves and develop a stable sense of self, which is essential for taking other people as they are. (If we’re unable to be separated from our smartphones, Turkle says, we consume other people “in bits and pieces; it is as though we use them as spare parts to support our fragile selves.”) Through the conversational attention of parents, children acquire a sense of enduring connectedness and a habit of talking about their feelings, rather than simply acting on them. (Turkle believes that regular family conversations help “inoculate” children against bullying.) When you speak to people in person, you’re forced to recognize their full human reality, which is where empathy begins. (A recent study shows a steep decline in empathy, as measured by standard psychological tests, among college students of the smartphone generation.) And conversation carries the risk of boredom, the condition that smartphones have taught us most to fear, which is also the condition in which patience and imagination are developed.
Lest we all forget, Jonathan Franzen is the most special snowflake of all time, the Last Real Male Writer of Serious Things. He doesn’t need social media to connect with potential readers, or with anyone really (because no one can measure up to his greatness), therefore NOBODY really needs social media.
“Twitter stands for everything I oppose,” he continued. “It’s hard to cite facts or create an argument in 140 characters … It’s like if Kafka had decided to make a video semaphoring The Metamorphosis. Or it’s like writing a novel without the letter ‘P’… It’s the ultimate irresponsible medium. People I care about are readers … particularly serious readers and writers, these are my people.
“And we do not like to yak about ourselves,” Franzen added (yakking about himself).
Giving THAT GUY the talking stick when it comes to digital connectedness is like letting the CEO of Lee Enterprises give a speech on the future of journalism. You can do it, sure. You can also shave your balls with a butcher knife. I’m not judging but I am so totally judging.
From Franzen’s incredibly long-winded review, which basically boils down to OH THANK GOD SOMEONE AGREES WITH ME THAT PEOPLE WHO ARE ME ARE AWESOME:
The young person who cannot or will not be alone, converse with family, go out with friends, attend a lecture or perform a job without monitoring her smartphone is an emblem of our economy’s leechlike attachment to our very bodies. Digital technology is capitalism in hyperdrive, injecting its logic of consumption and promotion, of monetization and efficiency, into every waking minute. … It’s tempting to correlate the rise of “digital democracy” with steeply rising levels of income inequality; to see more than just an irony. But maybe the erosion of humane values is a price that most people are willing to pay for the “costless” convenience of Google, the comforts of Facebook and the reliable company of iPhones.
It’s a good thing we have deep thinkers like Jonathan Franzen to deplore capitalism and the powerful need we have to feed our goddamn kids, and blame us for wanting the “comfort” and “convenience” of a boss who expects e-mail to be read at 9 p.m. and memos answered promptly from the other side of the globe.
I swear, I’m so done listening to rich people tell me how it’s bad to be a mindless drone sheep consumer, and we’re just on the cusp of “how dare you want a cheap waffle iron” season, too.