All the places you shouldn't use a smartphone

teenagers using phones in class
CC BY 2.0 Esther Vargas

Psychologist Sherry Turkle wants people to create strict physical boundaries for phone usage, in the interest of saving real conversation.

I remember the first time I laid eyes on an iPhone. It was 2007 and I was out for dinner with friends at Café Diplomatico in Toronto. All eyes were on one guy’s newest toy, a first-generation iPhone. We took turns swiping through his photos and marveling at the touch screen. Little did we know how ubiquitous this technology would become, that it would catch on faster than any other technology ever has, with the majority of Americans owning a smartphone within six years.

Now smartphones are everywhere. But this marvelous invention that was supposed to bring us closer together has had the opposite effect. Psychologist and MIT professor Sherry Turkle believes it is destroying the art of conversation and that this is a serious cause for concern.

Turkle points out that, initially, the novelty of smartphones did bring people together; they huddled around to admire the device, exactly as I did with my friends in Toronto. But things have changed. Fast Company quotes Turkle from the 2015 documentary Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine:

“As time has gone on, there’s been less of that and more of what I call the ‘alone together’ phenomenon. It has turned out to be an isolating technology. It’s a dream machine and you become fascinated by the world you can find on these screens.”

As a university professor, Turkle sees students who are increasingly reluctant to meet with her in person, despite her extended office hours and growing fame. Instead, they send emails at all hours of the day and night – a practice that mirrors the general trend in texting, rather than calling.

Why? Because people are uncomfortable engaging in face-to-face conversation. They fear the lulls, the occasional boredom, the lack of control over what might be said accidentally, the messy awkwardness. And yet, this is what makes conversation so beautiful and important for humans to have. This is how we discover interesting tidbits about each other, develop empathy, feel happiness and connection, and learn to read important facial signals.

The Atlantic writes about Turkle’s research:

“We’re talking all the time, in person as well as in texts, in e-mails, over the phone, on Facebook and Twitter. The world is more talkative now, in many ways, than it’s ever been. The problem is that all of this talk can come at the expense of conversation. We’re talking at each other rather than with each other.” (emphasis mine)

Turkle recommends setting clear boundaries around device usage. At the recent Aspen Ideas Festival, she gave a list of spaces at home where people should not use their phones. From The Atlantic:

• The kitchen
• The dining room
• When you’re shopping for food
• Class: “You take better notes by hand.”
• Your bedroom
• Your children’s bedroom
• The car, as driver and as passenger. Remember: in-car chatter is “the conversations children remember for the rest of their lives.”
• The playground
• Your children’s swim meets and ball games
• When you’re picking your child up for school

In other words, wherever you can engage in face-to-face conversation with others, you should make an effort to do so.

I’m curious to know where and how readers strive to limit device usage, if at all. Please share your tactics in the comments below.

All the places you shouldn't use a smartphone
Psychologist Sherry Turkle wants people to create strict physical boundaries for phone usage, in the interest of saving real conversation.

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