“When we think about putting children in the care of robots, we forget that what children really need to learn is that adults are there for them in a stable and consistent way.”
– Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age
This is almost a throwaway line by Turkle, buried in the final pages of the book, but for me it holds the key to “reclaiming conversation.”
Turkle poses many problems throughout the book, but not too many solutions. She points out the growing dependence on technology and the increasing tendency to confide in machines rather than other people, but provides no real plan to buck those trends. The exception is this one, simple line.
Parents need to be held accountable when it comes to teaching their kids how to handle technology appropriately. If you are going to give your 4-year-old an iPad, you had best ensure it does not impede the child’s development in any way.
Some of the anecdotes from Turkle’s book are a bit perplexing. Thomas’ story, for example, demonstrated how his dependence on video games to guide his real-life decision-making. Inspired by a video game character that returned stolen property, Thomas did the same after his friend gave him a stolen collector’s card.
Would Thomas really have kept the card had it not been for playing that video game? If so, that raises serious concerns about parenting. Though Turkle did not mention anything about Thomas’ parents, the fact that his conscious turned to the actions of a pixelated nonentity rather than morals instituted during his upbringing seems to indicate that something is wrong there. As a voracious video game player throughout my childhood, I don’t believe I ever once relied on a game to decide an ethical dilemma.
So, how will this generation of parents enable children with technology? While the concept of “digital natives” may be clearly hyperbolic, it’s clear that this generation is the first to grow up being so technologically dependent. Logically, it follows that parents would be more willing to equip their children with tech because it is so engrained in the parents’ lives.
But that may not be the case. As Turkle makes clear, millennials are not oblivious to the fact that technology affects their social lives. Many of the teens and young adults Turkle spoke to expressed discontent with their face-to-face interactions with friends, knowing that cell phones were the cause of the distraction. Perhaps these experiences will inspire parents to stress the merits of face-to-face human interaction and teach their children how to put their phones aside during these moments.
The parents, however, are not with their children all the time. As the value of technology to society increases by the day, a didactic component of ‘technological literacy’ becomes more and more necessary. Schools could implement courses that teach kids not just how to use technology, but how to manage it in a responsible way. This course is NOT like computer class in grade school (which, in my experience, consisted mostly of trying to type quickly and playing solitaire). School’s can teach kids basic things like how to limit your cell phone usage in certain situations.
To summarize, this trend is not irreversible; if anything, I think it will likely plateau, if it hasn’t already. As I said in last weeks post, I do not believe machine interaction can ever replace human interaction. There is something to be said about the empathy that is present when speaking to a “fallible” human being, as opposed to an “infallible” machine.