‘Technology cannot compensate for wisdom’

Sherry Turkle
Sherry Turkle, 64, Founder & Director, The MIT Initiative On Technology & Self
Photo: Sarang Sena

The single vector in talk about technology is that it moves us forward. Can we change that to a feedback loop?
We’re like young lovers who are anxious that too much talking will spoil the romance. We’re smitten, ready to give in to what technology wants. It’s a position that does not allow for enough human agency. People put a value on conversation because we know that it brings out a capacity for attachment, love, pleasure. Do we then stop talking because our iPhone doesn’t encourage it?

So how far and no further?
Every robotocist begins a speech with how we need elder-care bots, nanny-bots, because we don’t have people for these jobs. In the US, where we have 8 percent unemployment, the robots cost millions of dollars to produce and break all the time. And yet, if you provided decent compensation, benefits and good working conditions, jobs like nursing and teaching would get filled. It’s a social choice.

Do you think this romance with technology will sour?
There is some evidence — businesses are gauging that employees on e-mail all the time are overstressed and underproductive. Companies are triaging, insisting that workers take the day off to get disconnected. People are not meant to work this way. We’re noticing that multitasking, which we thought was the best thing, degrades performance.

What I was studying in those early days was that you had this time online and then you got up and lived your life. Now, you have this co-presence, where you’re always multitasking. It’s a more integrated experience, where you control your profile and build your social visibility and capital. My concern is that it takes you away from the people you love. I know people who are on Second Life and continue to describe it as a textured, rich environment. But back then, you really had to develop it. Now, the interface is presented to you and all you have to do is click and buy.

Kids were programming their own games. One of the chapters of my book was calledChild Programmers: The First Generation. There wasn’t a second generation! It never unfolded into a world of new beginnings. The innovation just stopped. We didn’t become a nation of programmers, we’ve become less computer literate.

Is technology compensating for the decline?
Technology cannot compensate for wisdom. It cannot counterweigh the attention you give to a problem when you have nothing else on your mind.Maybe we should begin asking technology to do less, rather than more for us.

Aditi Saxton is Features Editor, Tehelka.


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