If you’ve ever watched a group of people glued to their smartphones and wondered how these devices are shaping our relationships, Sherry Turkle’s research is for you.
The MIT professor, known for her insightful books and TED talks, studies Americans’ relationship with technology and how it spills over into our interactions with our partners, kids, and friends.
A recent Pew Internet survey found that 9 in 10 Americans had used their cell phones during the most recent social gathering they attended, even though the vast majority of us (82%) consider it annoying or distracting for others to do so in conversation.
Photo by Peter Urban
Actually talking with other people, free from interruptions, can help mitigate some of the damage done by distracting smartphones and tablets, writes Turkle in her new book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. “The pathway to empathy is something you learn through conversation. It’s not as if we need to invent incredible new technology,” she said. “We learn empathy through the process of conversation.”
Turkle recently spoke with CT assistant editor Morgan Lee about the constant interruption of digital notifications, how we became so uncomfortable with boredom, and why we should stop using our smartphones as alarm clocks.

What makes screen-based technology different from other technologies we have adopted?
What’s special about this technology is that it’s small: small enough to be always on and always on you…. You can interrupt a conversation with somebody at any time. We’re in a conversation at lunch, and I put my phone on the table so I can be with you and also with all the people who come to me on my phone.
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