I just finished Reclaiming Conversation, by Sherry Turkle. Turkle worries that the rise of technology has weakened our ability to develop as individuals, to interact with others, and to participate in society, whether at work, at home, in politics, or in love. Today, we tend to turn to technology for everything, but it makes me wonder: does technology support self improvement?
Among other things, Turkle suggests that the always-available nature of social media and cell phones means we have an easy way to avoid dealing with the hard things in life. When we avoid the hard things, however, we don’t grow.
I’m struck by this, and think there is truth to it. Technology is a powerful tool, and applications like the quantified self movement have much potential to help us measure and improve ourselves. But there is danger, too. Sometimes, we grow through accepting and overcoming difficult things – the bitter. Meditation is hard, for example: there are no shortcuts. Only through acknowledging and working through that difficulty do we get better at it.
Siren call of entertainment
Does knowing that there is an endless world of entertainment available at our side in the form of a cell phone make meditation harder? I suspect it does, as do the patterns of behaviour we form when we constantly search for the next TikTok or Instagram post, shaping our very brain patterns to crave instant gratification.
Turkle goes further: she suggests that the anxiety that is increasingly observed among young people is because they are never forced to reflect or look inside themselves, because they always have a phone to focus on instead. Absent that time spent looking inward, they struggle to build a strong sense of self or self-narrative, which means they have little to fall back on in times of stress.
It’s an interesting idea. The fact that most of the people involved in building these technologies don’t let their kids use them has always unsettled me. The answer is surely not to stop all technology use, but to be intentional about it. To use it as a tool, not a crutch. But doing that is harder than saying it. I certainly find it hard to settle in to deep work, a profound book, or a meditation session, and I wonder how much of that has to do with how much technology I use in the rest of my time.
Do you use technology to support self improvement, NT? Do you worry it also interferes with your journey?