Alone Together?

Join the DebateJohn Horvat II, the author of Return to Order, regularly updates this site with insights about the cause and solution for our economic crisis. He invites you to share your insights too. Please join the discussion. Mr. Horvat is committed to make a serious effort to answer posts, schedule permitting.

ISSUE BEING DISCUSSED FOR Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Author Sherry Turkle claims that the overuse of communication technology isolates individuals making them “alone together.” Do you think this is true? Are there any ways in which modern social media can help relationships?

12 thoughts on “Alone Together?

  1. I agree, if an individual allows a majority of their social communication to become electronic AND anonymous.  I feel that the anonymity allowed in our current technology exacerbates this issue.   

  2. I was visiting with a good friend after Sunday Mass recently when his young son (maybe 10 years old) walked up. The father introduced him, and I said a kind word. Astonishment. The boy kept on playing with whatever the electronic gadget was that he had in his hands. He didn’t say hello, look up at me or shake hands. Nothing. I’m sure everyone has seen things like this. The boy and I were together, but we might as well have been alone. There was no “society” between us. Turkle’s insight is right on. 

    • In that instance, I believe the failure lies with the parent.  He should have helped bring “society” into the situation by acquiring his son’s attention and instructing him on how to behave in a civil society

      •  This is actually a very good commentary. The bad habits we notice in children with their tech toys is something that could have, should have been corrected by parents. Problem is many parents give these wonderful gadgets early on the keep them busy. They are virtually “babysitters” that occupy a temperamental child. Is it any wonder they they grow up being unable to communicate with others.

  3. Telecommunications is literally to “communicate at a distance.” It encompasses computers, phones, and smoke signals. Airplanes do not cause people to travel but permits them to do so. Telecom does not CAUSE isolation, it permits it.Turkle’s proposition that telecom makes isolated people “alone together” seems accurate. I am communicating with this group of people thanks to telecom. Without this technology, the odds of any of us communicating is unlikely. It has allowed me to make friends with people all over the world and stay in touch with family spread out around the U.S. It has improved distant relationships with those I know “in the flesh” and has introduced me to people that I later got to know in person. Thanks to translators, I communicate with people in multiple languages as well. I am “alone together” with all these people? I suppose so, but am thankful for it.

    However, telecom has it’s dirty side as well. It is possible to make enemies with people as well as friends. Written communication is far more subtle in its written form and therefore easily misunderstood as few of us are educated on how to communicate emotion in written form. We can only anticipate future educators will spend more time on this critical aspect of writing skills.

  4. If you search “Never Look Up” you’ll find a blog of images that will make any cellphone user embarrassed. When we’re on our phones we really do ignore everyone around us. How many opportunities for conversations with the “boring” people near have we sacrificed to check a Facebook status of a “friend” in another country?

  5. I agree that its overuse can isolate people. The key is to be found in balance. Whenever something overtakes your life, it needs to be reined in, and communication technology is no exception. Can it be used for the good? Of course. It’s really a question of temperance, and self restraint.

  6. Yes it is very true!!!!

    Nick Carr is the author of The Shallows and described how, in order to write his book, he forced himself to go through a process where he “disconnected” from his technological umbilical cord (my term), so that he could focus on the project. Once he finished writing an excellent book on the dangers of the internet/technology he found he was unable to continue a life of temperance and subsequently reconnected. Such is the power of our technology, social media included.

    I do think there is a way we can use technology to help relationships. Instead of using the various technological tools and the social media in a way that we fool our selves that we have a “relationship” with others, we need to use them as TOOLS to really have relationships. That means instead of solely being a “friend” with someone on facebook, why not use facebook to arrange a dinner appointment or coffee or tea or a beer with a friend. Instead of relying on an impersonal text –or millions of them– why not stop by for a face to face visit.

    Temperance is a very hard thing to practice when we the person has their nose glued to a glowing screen and are not even able to see those right in front of us. The inability of people to practice this type of temperance is a very good example of the timeliness of Mr. Horvat’s book. We desperately need a Return to Order.   

  7. Today’s culture is so chaotic it is no wonder that some people might use the social media to escape the responsibility of having to be interactive with people in their every day life. In order to escape this they isolate themselves and enter into the world of the “social media.” As a consequence the youth in society are becoming more and more narcissistic. They only live in their little sphere of social communication which is producing a society where each person becomes “an island in this ocean of chaos.”  


    “Inside you will find the source of all American
    political, economic, and cultural power,” were the printed words on a small gift
    wrapped 3 x 3 x ¼ inch package that were handed out to a couple of hundred
    average citizens. The group looked around at each other with a handful nodding
    their head seemingly understanding what was in this package. As the individuals
    unwrapped the small gift they all understood the significance of what they held
    in their hands – a simple mirror.

    vast majority of Americans know the phrase “we the people,” but few truly
    understand its significance. The source for America’s troubles today rest
    squarely on our shoulders. We can decry our cultural, economic, and political changes
    and then support those changes through our actions or inactions. Do we shake
    our heads in disgust at the violence we see around us and then buy our children
    video games such as Grand Theft Auto? Do we complain about the lack of
    respect for authority shown by our youth and then let them listen to music that
    glorifies that? Do we condemn teenage pregnancy and then publically celebrate
    it with baby showers? Do we condemn other politicians and then vote for ones
    who do the same thing? Do we look with contempt at negative ads and then vote
    for those who are supported by such ads? We the people create the culture and
    political environment we live in.

    Our political ideology is
    fractured. Whether it is more fractured or less compared to other eras is
    irrelevant. It is fractured today. Syndicated columnist Cynthia Tucker’s recent
    article “Republicans’ fiscal restraint is mostly in their heads” illustrates
    the point. She says that Republicans and their base believe in “cutting
    spending for programs that benefit the poor, the darker-skinned, the sciences.
    They want to stop the flow of government funds to the arts. They want to fire
    bureaucrats who prevent businesses from harming their customers with poisons
    and bad products.” That is utterly absurd and disingenuous. Most Republicans believe
    in the outcomes she does, but not the same way of achieving them.

    On the other side conservatives
    argue that liberals are the problem. They say liberals want to have a just and
    equitable society as liberals see it.
    That involves fixing inherent flaws liberals
    see in our economic and political systems, which must include income
    redistribution programs and laws to overcome what liberals see as innate racial and economic barriers that exist in
    our society. Conservatives seemingly argue that the liberal solutions entail a
    loss of personal liberty, an abandonment of our constitutional principles, and result
    in more crime, poverty, and despair. Cynthia Tucker and George Will simply have
    two different views of what America is, was, and ought to be.

    long as “we the people” no longer agree on the ultimate meaning of our
    constitution, the system of government our founders were trying to establish,
    and the moral foundation that supports all of our laws and institutions, we
    will continue to vote into office politicians who have deeply opposite views of
    how to achieve the same outcome – justice, prosperity, and opportunity for all.
    Furthermore, so long as “we the people” continue to lose a common moral compass
    or moral foundation we will elect leaders who act according their moral beliefs rather than an
    “accepted” societal moral belief. The individual’s morals after all are what
    matter, according to many.

    I have worked with
    middle school students for the past 20 years. I have worked primarily with
    students who have emotional challenges. Over the past 9 years I have worked in
    an affluent suburb with highly educated parents in a well-respected school
    district. Before that I worked in my states largest school district, and my
    home town, an old mill town. I also spent two years teaching at a residential
    school for emotionally disturbed teens. Educational leadership and teachers are
    part of the problem, but primarily you can look at the home and parents and see
    the real source of the problem. I have had students from poor and uneducated
    parents (mostly single moms) and from wealthy educated parents. The vast
    majority (approximately 98%) of the students over the years (close to 200) are
    from broken homes. All come from dysfunctional family structures. There is no
    discipline in these homes and the moral foundations that they operate under are
    so much different than they were in the 1960’s and earlier. We can all lament
    our culture, but if we don’t start changing our behavior we the people truly
    are the source of the problem.

    Yes, there most
    definitely are governmental issues and policy changes we must make, but
    “we the people” must begin making changes within ourselves first. I
    have come face to face with that as my children, ages 15, 13, 13, and 12, are
    being drawn into this corrupt culture. My wife and I have had to begin
    monitoring their music more as we discovered some of the songs they were
    listening to were extremely immoral under old American standards. We have to
    monitor their screen time and we began to realize how many trashy television
    shows exist and how many we (my wife and I) actually watched. That has changed.
    My children don’t have any video games except sports related games, but the students
    I have worked with are playing some of the most disturbing games on the market
    today. Games their parents, both educated and uneducated, have purchased for
    them. I have had students dealing with real addictions to some of these games,
    even some “innocent” games like Minecraft. It is time for us all to
    wake up and begin to turn off the electronics – if not completely (I still love
    my sports) – at least drastically reduce the amount and strictly monitor the
    programming. Without our money being spent on the advertisers who support the
    trash that is out there or by us directly purchasing the songs, games, and
    movies that market will dry up. Our culture will begin to return to order.

                “We the people” have
    important decisions to make. Do we want people with outright contempt for
    Christian values to those completely indifferent to them shaping our culture
    through changing our social institutions, traditions, art, music,
    entertainment, government, economics, and religion? We need to decide if we
    want to live by what our constitution was intended to mean by the founders
    (originalism) or if our constitution is to be interpreted in light of past court
    decisions, world decisions, and other more modern understandings of the “real”
    meaning of the constitution. One side believes we change the constitution by
    amendment and the other believes we can change it through judicial fiat. All of
    these differences in our view of America and our problems are seen in the
    outlook we have toward our future. According to a recent Gallop poll “Americans
    are split when asked if the country’s best years are ahead of us or behind us,
    with views on the future quite differentiated across party lines. Republicans
    are much more pessimistic about the future of the country than are Democrats.” That
    same poll shows independents are also pessimistic about America’s future. The
    ultimate solution to all of our problems can be found by doing some soul
    searching and then taking action. We need to determine our views on the
    constitution and our moral principles. Let each of us begin by looking in the

  9. I saw a group of teenagers touring the majestic Biltmore Estate in North Carolina.  As they walked through the massive mansion, their fingers and eyes were riveted to smart phones or similar gadgets.  The instant text message  consumed all their attention.  Are these gadgets making us dumber, incapable of seeing a greater reality? 

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