Software

Is technology at work taking the humanity out of our personal relationships?

Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together talks about how workplace IT leads us to treat friends and family like emails.

...condensing our relationships themselves.

Mobile technology blurs boundaries

The advent of mobile technology has been a significant driver of the breakdown of boundaries between work and home, according to Turkle.

The fact that people are always online and always contactable has, she said, "changed the game" by bringing the online world into every part of people's lives.

"I thought it would work out that you would have your time with technology and your time with people," said Turkle, speaking about the positive outlook she took on technology's role in culture over 15 years ago in her previous book Life on the Screen.

However, "it's not like that", she says - a situation she attributes to the constant connectivity afforded through mobile devices.

"You're always able to bail out of your time with people because the technology is simultaneous, and that's what has changed."

Turkle believes people no longer feel they have to choose between interacting with a person in front of them and their online network as it has become socially acceptable for people to interrupt face-to-face conversations to answer an email, text or phone call.

"Mobile technology has made each of us 'pauseable'," Turkle writes.

smartphone in hand

Using a mobile device means we can be physically present in one location but have our attention elsewhere
Photo: Shutterstock

She believes a parent or a partner only has to glance down at their phone to become "lost to another place, often without realising that they have taken leave".

"We don't realise the attention we give our devices," she told silicon.com. "When you're reading your emails, you are simply not available in the same way - you're in a different world."

By being in two places at once, thanks to mobile technology, individuals may be physically present but emotionally not there.

When a person is distracted by their mobile, they are unable to provide the emotional support they might need to give to their friends or family, says Turkle, who cited the example of parents not giving enough attention to their children.

"It is the children who are telling me their parents are reading them Harry Potter in one hand and scrolling through their BlackBerry messages with the other. These are children complaining about their parents," she told silicon.com.

According to Turkle, the 'always on' mentality that mobile technology facilitates also has negative consequences for the person attached to the mobile device, as it has become increasingly difficult...

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