With New Media, We are "Alone Together"

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With New Media, We are "Alone Together"

This week my basic comp students at Rutgers are writing about authenticity in response to an essay entitled "Alone Together" by Sherry Turkle, a clinical psychologist and founder of MIT's Initiative on Technology and Self. In this essay, an excerpt of a book of the same name, Turkle examines how technological advancements in new media have enabled alternative means to "messy" human relations. New media—phones, computers, and the virtual connections they establish—offer an easy out from us engaging with each other and our individual complexities and vulnerabilities. Hence, we are "alone together": "We are lonely but fearful of intimacy. Digital connections...may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other. We'd rather text than talk."

She concludes the excerpt, "Technology reshapes the landscape of our emotional lives, but is it offering us the lives we want to lead?... Are we comfortable with virtual environments that propose themselves not as places for recreation but as new worlds to live in? What do we have, now that we have what we say we want—now that we have what technology makes easy?"

Virtual connections have become the Derridian supplement as substitute. Don't get me wrong, I fully acknowledge the irony of me writing this online...on a virtual community website for lesbians. But I do feel terribly alone—and it's not because no one comments on our posts.Virtual connection does not meaure on the same affective register as physical, in-person connection. And yet, as Turkle rightly maintains, while we crave this physical engagement we are also made profoundly anxious by its possibility—thus, we opt for a text or a "gchat" in lieu of a coffee date.

In her interview with Fresh Air's Terry Gross last week (which you can listen to HERE), Turkle discussed how digitial communication has become the virtual breadcrumb in the form of the text message: "What is so seductive about texting, about keeping that phone on, about that little red light on the BlackBerry, is you want to know who wants you," she tells Gross.

And we do...we keep the phone on, the Facebook logged on, the GChat greenlit, all for that morsel. That connection.

Is it worth it?


Comments [3]

T. Hammidi's picture

Responding !

Just today I was wondering if I was cyborg -- and if so, how much? As if there were a scale or continuum. Is there?    And now, if New York is covered in water won't the electronic world end? And then what happens to the Virtual Friendships lives we (I) lead?  Digital communion  does not replace my in-person friendships, but it does Do Something.  It does provide something real -- something I can go to, count on, experience, share.    That said, digital communion is nothing like the fleshy, messy body and sharing space/time/stinky cologne smells with in-person friends. So much more is possible -- so much more accomplished when the breath is shared, when the pulse is shared. I don't mean to wax holy here -- but I'm a body advocate. I like people so much more than my phone.   

I wonder more about the addiction of text messaging as it feeds into that desire to be wanted / or the wonder/curiosity/insatiable wish for satisfactation that comes with a text message, no matter how banal.  It is a repalcement for the heartbreat? For sharing a second with someone far away (or standing right next to you)? A kind of private intimacy that satisfies the hunger we sometimes can't get when we try?      

T. Hammidi

Marcie Bianco's picture

I agree it does Do Something,

I agree it does Do Something, but I personally find it different and incomparable to in-the-flesh intimacy with the one person I want to be with ... Digital communication is great because it affords different types of intimacy, different types of relations. ... Although, when a lover, for instance reaches for a phone first thing in the morning instead of you, or stares at her phone during a date, this supplication or substitution speaks volumes about our ability to be human WITH each other, doncha think?

bridgetzsweet's picture


this is such a trick bag.

I think this whole argument has to be couched in so many socioeconomic circumstances. For people who live in areas without visible queer voices I imagine VP provides a sense of community that is doing good. So that's a plus right and TOTALLY worth it.

Similarly, I cannot afford to fly to see my neice and nephew where my brother & sister in law happened to be stationed at any given time (military brats). So I cherish the connection that having 4g internet and a device with a camera affords me. Worth it!

However, I realise that puts me in a much more privaledged place of socioeconomic standards than that of the people who work in the factories to make the internet cables, the iPhones etc. On the one hand jobs & industry (worth it) and on the other hand chronic illness, low wadges, not making time for their own families, explotation & pollition (not worth it).

The ease at which I can stroke my ego (via facebook, a little red light, twitter, texts etc) comes at a hardship for entire countries worth of difficulties for others.

Also such a premimum based on talking vs. texting or virtual communication is placing a value judgement on articulating and conntecting only thorugh talking. I'm not sure I totally agree with one being better than the other. Gchat, Text, etc. allow for people to express themselves in a way that feels both protected and comfrotable. Talking may do that for some but not others.

Essentialy I don't think the right questions are being asked in this kind of discourse.



--this is the footer so watch my feet! -- how i feed my ego: http://sweetin.net/blog how i rant: http://twitter.com/bridgetzsweet how i tumble 4 ya: http://bridgetzsweet.tumblr.com