I don’t think that Sherry Turkle would be very pleased with Joe Queenan‘s column in the Wall Street Journal, entitled “The Ringing Insult of a Turned Off Phone” (March 11-12, p. C11).
Turkle, whose book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (Penguin Press, 2015), was the subject of one of my presentations at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas, argued that the presence of a cell phone on a table disrupts conversation. This is not because anyone is talking on it. Rather, it is that someone may call or text, and the potential for that to happen negatively impacts interpersonal communication. If you missed my synopsis, you can purchase the recording and handout at 15MinuteBusinessBooks.com.
Queenan’s column questions why anyone carries around a turned-off cell phone. In a funny analogy, he asks, “do they turn off their belts in the morning and then act surprised that they can’t get their pants to stay up the rest of the day….do they miss their dinner because they forgot to charge their fork?”
Further, “I have no problem with people turning off their phones at funerals. But there is actually a thing on cellphones called the silent mode. And yes, you can also put your phone on vibrate. If you know that someone is coming to meet you for lunch and might get stuck in traffic or be forced to bail entirely, what would possess you turn off your phone? Why not turn off your brain while you’re at it?”
These are two different perspectives on the purpose and impact of cell phones. Queenan, however, seems to hold cell phones to a higher standard than the old-fashioned landline. There are plenty of times someone called a landline and got busy signals or voice-mails, instead of a live person ready to talk. The impact is the same. The caller did not get to talk to the receiver.
But, think about this. Why you want to hold cell phones to a higher standard, especially with the threat to the quality and quantity of conversation, as Turkle discusses? What’s wrong with focusing on the person you are with F2F, and having a pleasant or worthwhile conversation?
Here is a new word in the dictionary – “phubbing.” It means maintaining eye contact while texting.
I read this on page 4 in Sherry Turkle’s RECLAIMING CONVERSATION that I present this Friday at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas at the Park City Club.
So, are you are a “phubber?” And, are you any good at it?
Cathy Davidson loves, loves, loves everything digital. “She likes anything that departs from the customary way of doing things, especially the customary way of educating children.” Her new book is Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn. She leads an interdisciplinary program at Duke.
But Annie Murphy Paul pretty much rejects everything about her view and approach in her Slate.com article: Who’s Afraid of Digital Natives? – Let’s not get intimidated by kids and their Internet savvy. She especially rejects Davidson’s fascination with the idea that the digital age is teaching us how to multitask. Here are brief excerpts from the article:
Her position ignores the inflexible and near-universal limits on our working memory, which allow us to hold only a few items of information in our consciousness at a time, or the work of researchers like Clifford Nass of Stanford University. “Human cognition is ill-suited both for attending to multiple input streams and for simultaneously performing multiple tasks,” Nass has written. In other words, people are inherently lousy at multitasking. Contrary to the notion that those who’ve grown up multitasking a lot have learned to do it well, Nass’s research has found that heavy multitaskers are actually less effective at filtering out irrelevant information and at shifting their attention among tasks than others.
…focusing one’s attention, gathering and synthesizing evidence, and constructing a coherent argument are skills as necessary as they were before—in fact, more necessary than ever, given the swamp of baseless assertion and outright falsehood that is much of the Web. Some day not too far in the future, the digital natives may find themselves turning down the music, shutting off the flickering screen, silencing the buzzing phone and sitting down to do just one thing at a time.
You should get in the alone zone. Long stretches of alone time are when you’re most productive. When you don’t have to mind-shift between various tasks, you get a boatload done.
During alone time, give up instant messages, phone calls, e-mail, and meetings. Just shut up and get to work. You’ll be surprised how much more you get done.
Here’s what I know. When I close my e-mail program, close Safari, put on just the right kind of soft/truly quiet background music, open a book, and dig in, with no interruptions, I seem to “get” the book better.
Here’s what I have come to think – at least about myself. I really can’t do two things at once. I just can’t.