This week my basic comp students at Rutgers are writing about authenticity in response to an essay entitled "Alone Together" by Sherry Turkle, a clinical psychologist and founder of MIT's Initiative on Technology and Self. In this essay, an excerpt of a book of the same name, Turkle examines how technological advancements in new media have enabled alternative means to "messy" human relations. New media—phones, computers, and the virtual connections they establish—offer an easy out from us engaging with each other and our individual complexities and vulnerabilities. Hence, we are "alone together": "We are lonely but fearful of intimacy. Digital connections...may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other. We'd rather text than talk."
She concludes the excerpt, "Technology reshapes the landscape of our emotional lives, but is it offering us the lives we want to lead?... Are we comfortable with virtual environments that propose themselves not as places for recreation but as new worlds to live in? What do we have, now that we have what we say we want—now that we have what technology makes easy?"
Virtual connections have become the Derridian supplement as substitute. Don't get me wrong, I fully acknowledge the irony of me writing this online...on a virtual community website for lesbians. But I do feel terribly alone—and it's not because no one comments on our posts.Virtual connection does not meaure on the same affective register as physical, in-person connection. And yet, as Turkle rightly maintains, while we crave this physical engagement we are also made profoundly anxious by its possibility—thus, we opt for a text or a "gchat" in lieu of a coffee date.
In her interview with Fresh Air's Terry Gross last week (which you can listen to HERE), Turkle discussed how digitial communication has become the virtual breadcrumb in the form of the text message: "What is so seductive about texting, about keeping that phone on, about that little red light on the BlackBerry, is you want to know who wants you," she tells Gross.
And we do...we keep the phone on, the Facebook logged on, the GChat greenlit, all for that morsel. That connection.
Is it worth it?