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Reclaiming Conversation:
The Power of Talk in a Digital Age
Sherry Turkle,
Penguin Press, NYC, 2015
436 pages

In my view Reclaiming Conversation is a follow-up from 'Alone Together'. 'AT' developed some highly critical and alarming insights into the use of mobile and social media. RC focusses on these and discusses them in much more detail while aiming to develop strategies of learning to handle seductive media, especially social and mobile media. 'AT' was a crucial part of my seminars. So is RC.

An example i like to use is that twenty years ago on a train journey it might have been considered rude not to engage in a conversation with other passengers. Today the opposite has become true: It might be considered rude trying to have a conversation. What happended? Within one generation a substantial, design-led, change has come over our society. Strangers stopped talking to one another.

From a design perspective this sounds as if the brief had been: "What can we do to stop citizens and voters talking to one another, become estranged from one another, isolate them, so they do not know how to engage in a conversation any more?"
Of course the design brief will have been more of the opposite: How can we allow people to have fun, communicate better, simpler and more intuitively. So what happened?

Here are my notes. Of course i notice what is important to me (at the moment):
p.5 Empathy: Are digital world connections really failing? What does that mean? Why?
p. 7 History of computing: The Unpredictable in predictable ways.
p.8 What happens in conversations, questions, meaning and listening? Turkle is excellent in making the complex clear, the implicit explicit.
p. 10 We can listen when we are secure in ourselves. (Note to self: Secure base leadership)
Solitude leading to empathy.
p. 13 Fostering conversation. Responsibilities of mentorship.
p. 14 Thoreau's chairs.
p. 16 Long-term thinking: Climate change and conversation. Thirty years.
p. 40-60 Solitude vs. loneliness (core data!)
p. 73 FB: Gambling machine ends alone. Flow. "The process of checking (FB, email, Twitter) draws us into a process of checking."
p. 74 Flow leads to new learning and a stronger sense of self. The 'success' of devices whose goal it is to keep people/users connected.
p. 75 'disconnection anxiety'
p. 86 Solitude defines a time with a managed crowd. Being in control.
p. 89 Devices and authority (mood-ring vs. iTracker) we develop a view of ourselves of what we can measure.
p. 90 CORE DATA: Algorithmic self: From mechanistic to what we can measure.
p. 91 Constructing narratives from numbers.
Narratives require follow-up conversation. Bring about change 1-2-3!!!
p. 107 Jenny Radesky: Distraction of carers.
p. 116-117 Modeling empathy.
p. 125 Perceiving disruptions as connections!

p. 131 Online presence are dream spaces, evocative objects.

p. 145 FOMO Fear of missing out.
p. 147 "A good friend should keep you off your phone while you are together."
p. 148 Phone-phobia
p. 151 Susan Sontag 1979: "Everything exists to be a photograph."
p. 152 'Friendship Technologies'

p. 169 Google Glass: Different motivations. But to be honest it works! We talk, we live more consciously! Multi-perspectives. Empathy machines? (Dourish?) (A fallacy. Showing a recording from your perspective does not show your experience, your sensitivities.)

p. 169? "Export of experience"
p. 170 Daniel Siegel: Eye contact (core data)
p. 179 When we talk about community we talk about a feeling!

p. 200 Better selves:
Punctuation: Tone of voice + Body posture (How do we convey those w text? Emojis?)
p. 201 Online world = a place of growth

p. 202 Feelings of control (in SMS) are just feelings.
Goldilocks effect: Not too close, not too far away.

p. 211 BOOK: Sacks: Uncle Tungsten
p. 215 Multitasking myth: Wifi disabling software.

p. 217 Katherine Hayles: Hyperattention
p. 219 In Class Pause, boredom, reflect!
Attention pluralism should be your education!
Goal: Deep attention + hyperattention!
BUT HA feels good - so practice DA!

p. 220 You can't build on ideas or connect them to build new ones.
p. 221 Maryanne Wolf (Tufts) attention + neuro-plasticity!
p. 224 "We don't always know what we need to know."
So create your own reading list!
p. 225 Note taking on laptop vs. notes taken by hand!!!
Transcribing vs cultivating listening and thinking.

p. 230 MOOCS + Presence: Teamwork, ethics, the ability to regulate anxiety. Learning is connected to an inspiring teacher.

p. 237 reading + personal experience
p 240 Intelligence + thoughtfulness in classroom + democracy.
p 242 Class: Thinking boredom + embarrassment! Michael Sandel!

p 244 Collaboration: (Idea: A glossary)
Intellectual serendipity: daydream ideas (Ask higher semesters for essential topics/themes for the first semesters.
p 248: No email mentoring!

p 250 Lawyers - language - listening - strategy - sociability - productivity (Very insightful story how young lawyers never learn the culture of law which is closely based on conversation and trust.)
p 255 Meetings are performances of what meetings used to be!

p 257 Multitasking makes vigilant, alert, we can only follow short, rudimentary arguments. And: People using tech distract other people! So no media in class!

p 259 Teach clients attention for problem excludes multitasking in meetings. Socially inept: No empathy, no other perspectives.

p 263 Breathing the same air matters. Only here new ideas emerge.

p 266 If you don't make time for conversation you do not learn conversation.

p 269 Marissa Meyer: Together fosters productivity and creativity.

p 273 Breakfast Wednesday: 20% less meetings! Waiting in line makes people talk. Studied by Ben Weber/Google 3-4 Minutes. Perfect table size 10-12 people. Design for a conversation culture.

p 281 Design principles for apps etc. Not duration - but time well spent.
Dialogue in medicine. Young doctors appreciate that software forces them to turn away from patients. Abraham Vergese: iPatient.

p. 283 We can work better together when we can also work alone. Distracted = unproductive.
Interruption: In 3 Min intervals, 23 Min to be back on track (takes me up to one hour)

p 287 Sociability increases productivity and creativity.
p 288 Commodity vs relationship: Tech makes us the same. (Webstores, etc.)

p 294 The desktop confirms ownership and identity
Broken mirror.

p 297 Strong ties: People you know and trust
Weak ties: Friends of friends.

p 301 Its easier to face an emergency than to have conversations. In crisis mode we defer conversations. Our politics need conversations about being a self and a citizen in the world of Big Data!.

p 305 Privacy: Evgeny Morozov. The experience of online communication is ouf of sync with reality. You are under surveillance all the time. Foucault: Panopticon.

p 306 Apple and Goog know where you shop in the real world. What the web shows you is a reflection of what you have shown it!

p 308 Core Data: Marx and Sara Marie Watson. We are talking through machines to algorithms whose rules we do not understand.
p 317 Core conclusions!

p 319 Every technology makes us question our values. Agency instead of being a victim.

p 326 Shared solitude grounds us.

Make the distant future hot & vivid. Art ... scenarios.

p 346 Book: The SALT marshmellow test researcher!
We expect more from tech and less from each other. (NYT article: Angela Duckworth on the marshmellow-test. Against measuring grit. Categorising kids into slots. Consistency: What is going on when kids start high but then go down? How can lessons from mind and behaviour program inform learning and higher-ed programs?! Teach kids how their brain works! Have brain education on how we think, feel and regulate ourselves. // Kahnemann does not talk about the limbic system and pre-frontal cortex. System 1 messes us up. Clinical psychology teaches us to enjoy and regulate Sys 1. From age 2: Be a model, keep promises (incl. threats), reliable continuity, strategies for access and rewards.)
p 360 Children that misbehave have not been told stories.
p 362 Its not a moment to reject tech, but to find ourselves.

Notes sections ranging from p. 365-416 are thorough, profound, copious and richly commented. Wonderful style of research.

Life on the Screen:
Identity in the Age of the Internet,
Sherry Turkle,
New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995
347 pages

A fabulous book, full of insight, surprising thoughts, great conclusions and deductions (or should we rather call them speculations?). Whatever, I recommend it strongly.

She writes (though in the context of gaming):
"What is real? [...] What are we willing to count as real? What do our models allow us to see as real? To what degree are we willing to take simulations for reality? How do we keep a sense that theres is a reality distinct from simulation? Would that sense be itslelf an illusion?"

Jochen Claussen-Finks, one of my mentors, and to whom i owe much, used to say "It is only the dying gesture that shows its true designation." (Quoting i-don't know whom: Norbert Elias? Mircea Eliade?). I am often reminded of that quote; usually in very diverse contexts. I used to believe, that the romantic stories of E.T.A. Hoffmann where the child of different times - but actually these where already modern days. His dark and mysterious tales where written when the electric light was being invented - and not in dark and mediaviel times. So his enlivend forests, spooky shadows and mysterious darknesses are a farewell song, perhaps an unconscious one, a swan song, to the dis-appearance of the days when fear was everywhere in magical objects. Sherry Turkle is describing the same in ways how childern perceive computers and construct them into their worldview as a psychological phenomena.

Peter Walters reminded me that Turkle also has some strong critical position: "The culture of simulation may help us achieve a vision of a multiple but integrated identity whose flexibility, resilience, and capacity for joy comes from having access to our many selves. But if we have lost reality in the process, we shall have struck a poor bargain. In Wim Wenders's film Until the End of the World, a scientist develops a device that translates the electrochemical activity of the brain into digital images. He gives this technology to his family and closest friends, who are now able to hold small battery-driven monitors and watch their dreams. At first, they are charmed. They see their treasured fantasies, their secret selves. They see the images they otherwise would forget, the scenes they otherwise would repress. As with the personae one can play in a MUD, watching dreams on a screen opens up new aspects of the self.

"However, the story soon turns dark. The images seduce. They are richer and more compelling than the real life around them. Wenders's characters fall in love with their dreams, become addicted to them. People wander about with blankets over their heads the better to see the monitors from which they cannot bear to be parted. They are imprisoned by the screens, imprisoned by the keys to their past that the screens seem to hold.

"We, too, are vulnerable to using our screens in these ways. People can get lost in virtual worlds." (pp 268-269)

And here she quotes the critical views of one user on a discussion group on the WELL (1993):

"For example, virtuality seems to me to represent the culmination of a several-thousand-year-old trend in Western culture to separate the mind from the body, thought from physicality, man from nature. This trend lies behind the environmental problems we're facing right now, IMO. Virtuality seems to portend an even greater disregard for the physical environment which nevertheless still does sustains us, and I don't think that's good at all.

"Virtuality also implies to me a privileging of the global at the expense of the local. Yes, it's great to be able to get to know people from all over the planet, without regard for their geographic location. I really do think that's good. But it seems to me that in the process of creating virtual "neighbourhoods" we are withdrawing from our own very real localities. To me this is a continuation of a seven-decades-long trend in American society toward the withdrawal of the upper and middle classes from the public sphere i.e. the streets and parks of our cities and towns. At the same time the on-line community is growing, real communities are collapsing. Most people don't even know their neighbours ... this is not good for democracy or the people of this country as a whole...

"Nor do I think that this medium, while it is great as a *supplement* to f2f [face-to-face] interactions, would be very healthy, or emotionally satisfying way to conduct *most* of our interactions - which seems to be a goal of at least some of the more rabid VR [virtual reality] advocates. I mean, I don't want to see my friends over a real-time video system, I want to be with them personally.

"Virtual sex? How repugnant - even the most intimate of human experiences now mediated through a machine? Not for me, thanks. The ultimate in alienation... "
(pp 315,316)

last update: 9/29/02017 13:48

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