Our fantasies of substitution (with tech) have cost us…

Sherry Turkle is a professor at MIT and “studies how technology is shaping our modern relationships: with others, with ourselves, with it.” I found her talk to be (very) important, timely and a bit frightening (as I internalize her thoughts as to my personal behavior.)  Lori @ Donna & Diablo describes this talk as “chilling” – I’m with Lori.

I would encourage you to watch the entire video. Prof. Turkle is terrific. I pulled some key excerpts below.

“Our fantasies of substitution have cost us. Now we all need to focus on the many, many ways that technology can lead us back to our real lives, our own bodies, our own communities, our own politics, our own planet. They need us. Let’s talk about how we can use digital technology, the technology of our dreams, to make this life the life we can love.”

“…I’ve studied technologies of mobile communications and I’ve interviewed hundreds and hundreds of people, young and old, about their plugged in lives.  And what I’ve found is that our little devices are so psychologically powerful that they don’t only change what we do, they change who we are…”

“…People text or do email during corporate board meetings.  They text and shop and go on Facebook during classes…Parents text and do email at breakfast and dinner while their children complain about not having their parents’ full attention…And we even text at funerals…We remove ourselves from our grief or from our revery and we go into our phones.”

“…I think we’re setting ourselves up for trouble – trouble in how we related to each other, but also trouble in how we relate to ourselves and our capacity for self-reflection.  We’re getting used to a new way of being alone together.  People want to be with each other, but also elsewhere – connected to all the different place they want to be.  People what to customize their lives…Some people think that’s a good thing.  But you can end up hiding from each other, even as we’re all constantly connected to each other.”

“A 50 year old business man lamented to me that he feels he doesn’t have colleagues anymore at work…he doesn’t stop by to talk to anybody, he doesn’t call…he doesn’t want to interrupt his colleagues because “they’re too busy on their email.’ But then he stops himself and he says, “ You know, I’m not telling you the truth.  I’m the one who doesn’t want to be interrupted…I’d rather just do things on my Blackberry…”

“An 18-year old boy who uses texting for almost everything says to me wistfully, “Someday, someday, but certainly not now, I’d like to learn how to have a conversation.”

“Texting, email, posting, all these things let us present the self as we want to be.  We get to edit, and that means we get to delete, and that means we get to retouch, the face, the voice, the flesh, the body – not too little, not too much, just right.”

“Human relationships are rich and they’re messy and they’re demanding.  And we clean them up with technology.  And when we do, one of the things that can happen is that we sacrifice conversations for mere connection.  We short-change ourselves.  And over time, we seem to forget this, or we seem to stop caring.”

Over and over I hear, “I would rather text that talk.”  And what I’m seeing is that people get so used to being short-changed out of real conversation, so used to getting by with less, that they’ve become almost willing to dispense with people altogether…That feeling that no one is listening to me is very important in our relationships with technology.  That’s why it’s so appealing to have a Facebook page or a Twitter feed – – so many automatic listeners.  And the feeling that no one is listening to me make us want to spend time with machines that seems to care about us.

“And I believe it’s because technology appeals to us most where we are most vulnerable.  And we are vulnerable.  We’re lonely, but we’re afraid of intimacy…We turn to technology to help us feel connected in ways we can comfortably control.  But we’re not so comfortable.  We are not so much in control

“The days, those phones in our pockets are changing our minds and hearts because they offer us three gratifying fantasies.  One, that we can put our attention wherever we want it to be; 2) that we will always be heard and (3) we will never have to be alone.

“…We connect more and more. But in the process, we set ourselves up to be isolated…How do you get from connection to isolation.  You end up isolated if you don’t cultivate the capacity for solitude, the ability to be separate, to gather yourself.”

“I see some first steps.  Start thinking of solitude as a good thing.  Make room for it.”

“Create sacred spaces at home – the kitchen, the dining room – and reclaim them for conversation.  Do the same thing at work.”


  1. Inspiring! especially the say: “An 18-year old boy who uses texting for almost everything says to me wistfully, “Someday, someday, but certainly not now, I’d like to learn how to have a conversation.” invention may poor our oral skill, eye contact….


  2. We are a species that gravitates to extremes – if we’re onto something good, we’ll take it farther than necessary. Conversely, our relationship with things that aren’t that great reflect equal tenacity. We don’t pull ourselves back from the edge until the very last minute (and probably with casualties along the way). When will we ever learn?


  3. I find this piece so chilling, tragic and true. I oftentimes feel that we are losing the art of conversation. These days I find that I enjoy *nothing* more than sitting down with good friends and TALKING…about politics, books, travel, something silly that’s happened in the course of our day, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that we’re having a live exchange in real time. Seeing another’s expression, hearing the inflection, the tone, the resonance of the voice, the pain or the joy beneath the words, THIS is communication.


  4. This is so true! For most people, the more people you are connected to, the less you are connected to those closest to you.


  5. she’s an awesome speaker. seriously considering buying her book


  6. Thanks for sharing this. I think. True to form, I found myself posting it before she even reached her conclusion; proof positive I needed to hear this message…

    For years, I have thought about the inverse relationship between the communication tools we have and our ability to communicate; it’s like the more we have, the less able we are to use them. Sherry Turkle said it much more eloquently, though…


  7. I just love the way she points us to solitude rather than loneliness! I am most blessed to have real-life connections with good people and also to enjoy a home with special places for solitude, including out of doors.



  1. […] Our fantasies of substitution (with tech) have cost us… – Lead.Learn.Live.To illustrate her point, I find myself posting it before I’ve even heard her conclusion! “Let him who has ears to hear”… 44.532117 -87.490109 Rate this: Please share this!Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in Lessons by Todd Lohenry. Bookmark the permalink. […]


  2. […] last week David Kanigan shared a clip of Sherri Turkle’s TED Talk on his blog.  Sherri gave an excellent presentation on how technology is allowing all of us to […]


  3. […] Kanigan’s blog; a few weeks ago, he introduced me to the thinking of Sherry Turkle on the dangers of substituting technology for human interaction. Yes, there was a message in that post for me but I also think about the real friendships I have […]


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