On Being Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other (2011)

It’s Friday evening. You had a hectic week. The kids are out, and your partner just poured you a big glass of red wine. Ah, its time to relax and forget about your annoying boss and the year-end budget. You collapse on the couch, kick off your shoes, close your eyes and . . . are jolted alert by the beeping of your cell phone.

Sound familiar?

According to Sherry Turkle, MIT technology and society specialist, the miracle of 21st century technology has created a deeply disruptive paradox in daily life. While our connection to others is unrelenting, we feel more isolated and alone than ever before. Our authentic self – the self that longs to share innermost feelings deeply with others – is buried under a vast network of interconnected personas. The superficiality of these connections distracts us from nurturing ‘real’ intimacy with partners, friends and family. The various ways technology shapes human connection is explored in Turkle’s book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.

While appreciating how technology has brought amazing benefits to Western society as a whole, Turkle’s 15 year’s of research finds that heightened connectivity often brings enhanced feelings of disconnect. Turkle shares the story of a young woman who spoke with her Grandmother by phone on the other side of the world each week. Conversations were short but treasured. When they switched to skype, they spoke twice a week for longer periods of time. The young woman recounts how this change in communication altered her relationship with her Grandmother, when she found herself multi-tasking on the computer rather than being with her Grandmother in that moment. Skype allowed her to maintain the illusion of connection without the reality of intimacy.

And this illusion is reflected in many aspects of our daily life – the texting while at a family dinner scenario, the amazing life that is captured in moment-by-moment selfies, the facebook creeper who shows up at our birthday party uninvited. Each of these situations suggests a misalignment between the depth of our connection to others, and the level of intimacy we actually share with them.

Turkle as a trained psychoanalyst sees a strong connection between this misalignment and personal feelings of anxiety. As expectations to connect and share private moments has increased with the ubiquity of texting for example, individuals experience a greater sense of vulnerability, and fear potential internet shaming by others who have no real awareness of the context of their judgments.

So, as we check our texts while driving or in mid-conversation, flip between several tv shows that we watch simultaneously, look for gently used patio furniture on kijiji that we don’t actually need, and browse through our ical, wondering where we can fit another yoga class in, we realize that all this busy-ness, all this information, shapes the quality of intimacy we share with others. Turkle’s book is a well-researched, good reminder to be mindful of how connectivity may disguise itself as intimacy, and to make room in daily life to value and nurture intimacy.

Sherry Turkle
On Being Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other (2011)
Available from Amazon

Six Tips for Creating Holiday Cheer

Holidays mean different things to each of us. And for some of us, holidays can be both enjoyably life affirming, and stressful challenges. Obligatory office parties, gatherings with family members who appear to believe you are still 12 years old, and the chaos of meeting holiday-related organizing deadlines can put us in survival mode. Perfectionists and those who worry about the judgment of others have it especially tough.

Here are a few suggestions for thriving during the holiday season.

1. Pretend you are 6 years old and focus on what is important to a child. Kids don’t care if everything is perfect. They really just want to spend time with you and know they are loved. Research indicates that even the most materialistic of kids would trade receiving their most coveted toy for more interactive time with the adults around them. Isn’t this what holiday time is supposed to be about? Hanging out with others we want to see more of?

2. Put a budget limit on your expenses – and stick with it. Finances create considerable stress during holiday season. Get a handle on this, feel in control, and devise a plan for making it through the holidays without having to mortgage your house in January. This is particularly challenging for generous folks. The key here is to select a gift that is consistent with your budget, wrap it beautifully, and add to it with small, very inexpensive things like treats you have baked yourself. Don’t bake? Go to Costco.

3. Budget into your expense limit a bit of money for yourself. This way you won’t feel guilty when you buy that great new iPod for yourself (it was on sale) that you really intended to buy for your sister.

4. Ask gift-givers to purchase gift certificates for self-care for you. Then have your massage in January, your pedicure in February, and your facial in March. This stretches out your holiday warmth and helps you recovery from added holiday stresses.

5. Let go of expectations. The only perfect family holiday I have ever observed was in 1910 at the Walton’s homestead. (Don’t remember the show? Watch for the Christmas special.) Your family dynamics don’t make you miserable – you make yourself miserable by hanging onto what you want your family to be like. Not getting on with your brother? Pretend he is someone else’s brother and watch how quickly your frustration dissipates.

6. Delegate the tasks, and then DON’T do other people’s tasks. Again, this is tricky for those of us who are perfectionists, or just highly competent people. If everything is always being dropped in your lap, ask yourself, “How do I behave in ways which suggest to others that dumping things on me is ok?” Chances are, and here’s the bad news, you are giving people the impression that doing everything is ok. If you are competent in everything, how will the space be created for others to know that you need them? Fulfilling relationships requires giving and receiving.

Big Change, Little Effort

Ok. First things first. Are you a sceptic? Don’t believe that small, focused changes made consistently over a longer period of time can bring enormous change? If eating 1 extra pad of butter each day for a year can lead to a 10 pound weight increase, and walking an extra block each day for a month can significantly increase our cardio health, then committing to 1 small, daily, life-enhancing action can bring about greater peace of mind, empowerment, financial benefits, health gains, and a vast variety of other things – depending on where you focus your energy. Try this:

  1. Set a Goal to change something small – try switching from white bread to multi-grain, or go to bed 5 minutes earlier each night. Whatever you choose, make it small and easily do-able each day.
  2. Connect the Goal to something bigger – for example, by switching to multi-grain, you are enhancing your overall health. Getting to bed 5 minutes earlier might not seem like much, but 5 minutes of extra sleep may be a great place to start if you are sleep deprived, or perhaps, you will be able to get up 5 minutes earlier and walk to the subway, or finally get that garbage to the curb on time. Again, these are small actions that contribute to your overall life satisfaction.
  3. Try breaking your giant task down into tiny steps. Have something HUGE to do? Like cook Thanksgiving dinner for 15? Chop the carrots and put them in the freezer on Monday, dice the turnip on Tuesday, peel and cut the yams on Wednesday. You get the picture. Small goals consistently undertaken get the job down easily and quickly.

Small goals work for a few reasons:

  • First, it is easier to find 10 minutes a day to dedicate to your goal, then 1 or so each week.
  • Second, big goals can feel overwhelming.
  • Third, small tasks can often be delegated to others. Yup that’s right – maybe you don’t even have to dice the turnip!

Combating ‘End of the Summer Bummer Vibes’

I really don’t want to be the one to break the news to you – but fall is approaching!!! I know, you are sitting on your dock, rollerblading around town, or having a beer with friends on a patio, and the last thing you want to think about is the fall.

Why is this? Usually it is because getting back to your hectic fall schedule brings STRESS and the realization that all the fun things you had in mind for the summer never happened.

I have good news for you though – It is not too late to fit in a few of those fun things if you take a few minutes to PLAN.

  1. Start by making a list of 3 things that you really wanted to do this summer. Going to Wonderland? Taking a day trip outside town? Going wine tasting with friends? Choose things that promise a lot of fun with little preparation.
  2. Take out your calendar, agenda book, or whatever you use to keep track of your life.
  3. Select a day and write your adventure into your book. Use pen.
  4. Consider who is the best person to do this activity with, and call them up immediately. Invite them to go with you.

This all sounds so simple doesn’t it? So why is it we don’t make plans and then carry them out, especially when they would bring such reward? Research indicates that women tend to privilege the day to day tasks, or the needs of others over their own. So, they will accompany their mother to the dentist, or vacuum the living room instead of doing something for themselves. Scheduling time for yourself first creates a structure where the many tasks and duties that serve others take shape around the things that are important to you. This keeps the focus on you, while accommodating others too.

Don’t have an agenda book? Don’t worry. We will cover this in the next few months. In the meantime, put a sticky note on your bathroom mirror that reminds you of the day and time of your planned adventure to help strengthen your commitment to yourself.