The Other Side Of Our Digital Selves

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You need to wrestle (deeply) with what you are about to see.

Since I attended this past year’s TED conference, I can’t get the dinner conversation I had with Sherry Turkle out of my mind. With each passing day, as I get further and further involved in technology and digital media (especially because I am neck-deep in writing my second book, CTRL ALT DEL), I straddle between marveling at this amazing new world and how it has changed business forever, while at the same time, seeing so many people use technology in a way that is (without question) enslaving them. Turkle is a professor at MIT and the author of the fascinating book, Alone Together – Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other. It’s the kind of book that I caution new media thinkers about reading, because it can be as depressing as it is enlightening when you begin to deeply think about our lives and our digital selves.

Digital makes life better.

That was always my assumption. Technology is awesome and it’s hard not to marvel at the iPhone and the incredible computational power we have in the palm of our hands (and how it connects us all). Turkle suggests another perspective: do we really think that digital will help us lead better lives in our protein forms? Shortly after attending the TED conference and discussing these topics with Turkle (which happened the night before her TED talk), I found myself at a party in Montreal for a new product launch. I got to the event a little early and instead of mingling, I retreated to a couch in the corner and the safety of my iPhone. There was nothing pressing in terms of emails or tweets for me to tend to, but it was much more like a security blanket than anything else. I took warmth in my connectivity to it and how it shielded me from being social in public (something I’m self-admittedly not all that great/comfortable with). At that moment, I realized that the iPhone was a better companion than a human being. That sounds very tragic. That’s not me or who I am, but that is how I felt. I’m not sure I would have ever realized or acknowledged those feelings had I not met and spent time with Sherry Turkle. As much as I love technology and new media, it’s important to think about the consequences as well.

In this amazing TED Talk, Turkle asks a very important question: "is technology taking us to a place that we do not want to go to?"


  1. Mitch, consider this. Imagine you could download an app on your phone called “Breezy Meadow.” This would be a virtual reality app. Plug in your headphone, stare and the screen, and you could swear that you’re sitting in a meadow. You feel the breeze. You smell the grass. You actually hear individual birds, the sound of a cardinal to your left, a bluebird in a branch above. Maybe, to make it even more realistic, you hear a jet in the distance. This app, selling for 99 cents, would be a rage because it so unbelievably REAL. I’d download it. But the funny part is that while the app blows us away, we sometimes forget to marvel at the reality around us, which is even more real.

  2. Good points.. my wife has been saying similar things for years – that technology is taking us further from personal contact, and closer to be alone, despite being more connected than ever.

  3. Critically important. I wonder if we’ve lost sight of something valuable here. What if the part of the process of business is the part you lose when you chase “more and faster”? What if the point of a friendship is lost in the getting of thousands of friends?
    Lots to think about here.

  4. I don’t believe that digital living is really that much of a world ending, no more friends having type deal. I think that while digital connections might be detrimental to our health in terms of over-use, I don’t think that Facebook makes my physical connections any less numerous or satisfying. I find it to be quite the opposite. My social circle widens every day, allowing me to speak to other people I may only see infrequently. And true friends alway have a space on my couch, but when it comes to sharing jokes, songs or art works, Facebook has an immediacy to it. I am constantly with my friends, never more than a click apart. And people will always find excuses to be shy. If not a smart phone, then a book, newspaper, diary or shadows.

  5. I disagree with nearly everything Sherry had to say, I think the digital technologies allow for deeper connections and more sustainable relationships with friends.
    At SXSW this year I met with nearly 500 people and I am deepening those connections with my digital platforms, I am based in Australia and most of the folks I met were in the US, without the technology to assist me I wouldn’t be able to build upon the foundation I started at the conference.
    The technology can be a crutch for those less comfortable with real life social situations ( as you highlighted Mitch), but these people were on MIRC in the 90’s or Ham radios in the 60’s.
    People don’t change that much.

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