Reclaiming Conversation book cover and Sherry Turkle headshot

How to have better conversations

“We expect more from technology and less from each other.”

So argues Sherry Turkle, an academic and author, in her 2015 book “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age.” Turkle is a professor of the social studies of science and technology at MIT. This book is part of a portfolio of hers that examines the impact of technology on human communication and relationships. Turkle argues the increased use of technology in everyday life has changed the way we communicate, and that this shift has had a negative impact on our ability to engage in deep, meaningful conversations. In the ensuing seven years this storyline has only grown.

Turkle argues that our constant use of technology, such as smartphones and social media, is eroding our ability to have meaningful conversations and empathize with others. She suggests that we need to reclaim conversation as a means of fostering deeper connections and understanding. The book also explores how technology is affecting the way we interact with ourselves, and how it can be used to foster self-reflection and self-discovery. Overall, the book is a call to action to put down our devices and engage in more meaningful face-to-face conversations.

Below I share notes from the book.

Turkle gives specific advice on how to have more high-quality conversations. Some of her suggestions include:

  • Putting away distractions, such as smartphones and laptops, during conversations
  • Creating dedicated time and space for conversation, such as having regular dinner table conversations or scheduling phone-free time with friends and family
  • Practicing active listening, which involves paying close attention to what the other person is saying and responding with empathy
  • Engaging in conversations that have a “depth of feeling,” rather than small talk
  • Being open to vulnerability and self-disclosure in conversations, which can help build deeper connections
  • Encouraging children to have conversations and limit their screen time, in order to help them develop strong communication skills

My general notes:

  • “We are forever elsewhere”
  • Thoreau had three chairs: solitude, company and society
  • “We expect more from technology and less from each other”
  • Technology like our phones are easier than boredom or direct conversation
  • “In the company of screens, we learn to be alone”
  • “Technology has become the architect of our intimacies”
  • “Conversation is where we learn the give and take of communication. It’s where we experience the joy of being heard and the frustration of not being understood. It’s where we learn to be interested in what others have to say, and where we learn to take turns.”
  • “We can’t have a conversation when we’re multitasking. We can’t learn the give and take of conversation when we’re always taking.”
  • “We are tempted to think of conversation as a leisure activity, something we do when we have nothing else to do. But conversation is not a luxury. It is a crucial tool for learning, as well as for creating and maintaining relationships.”
  • “We have to learn how to use technology in a way that works for us. We need to be in charge of technology, not the other way around.”
  • “When people are together but not fully present, we feel something is missing. We sense the absence of something, even if we don’t know what it is.”
  • “We need to reclaim conversation, not just for the sake of conversation, but for the many other things that conversation makes possible.”
  • “The flight from conversation” by Sherry Turkle, which appeared in the New York Times Opinionator in 2012.
  • “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other” by Sherry Turkle, a 2011 book in which Turkle presents her research on the impact of technology on human communication and relationships.
  • “Networked: The New Social Operating System” by Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman, a 2012 book that explores the impact of technology on social interaction.
  • “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains” by Nicholas Carr, a 2010 book that examines the effects of the internet on cognitive processes.
  • “The Social Construction of Technological Systems: New Directions in the Sociology and History of Technology” edited by Wiebe E. Bijker, Thomas P. Hughes, and Trevor Pinch.
  • “Technics and Time, 1: The Fault of Epimetheus” by Bernard Stiegler.
  • “The Human Condition” by Hannah Arendt.
  • “The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit” by Sherry Turkle.
  • “The Internet Imaginaire” by Pierre Levy.
  • “The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge” by Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann.
  • “The Network Society: A Cross-Cultural Perspective” by Manuel Castells.
  • “The Social Psychology of Telecommunication” by John R. R. Christie.
  • “The Network Society” by Jan van Dijk

Turkle’s book is referenced in several other books around civility and conversation, including Monica Guzman’s I Never Thought of It That Way; “The Lost Art of Conversation: A Mindful Way to Connect with Others and Enrich Everyday Life” by Celeste Headlee and “The Social Dilemma” by Jeff Orlowski. Turkle’s earlier 2011 book “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other” is also highly relevant.

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