No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

Sherry Turkle

Sherry Turkle (*1948) is an American sociologist, psychologist, and professor of social sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In her books, "Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other" and "Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age", she explores how modern technologies, especially social media, smartphones, and artificial intelligence, influence our ways of communicating, building relationships, and understanding ourselves. Turkle has also studied themes such as artificial intelligence, robotics, virtuality, and the human-machine relationship. She both looks at the potential negative effects of excessive dependency on digital technologies and at the ways technology can support deep interpersonal connections.


The Goldilocks Effect

The ubiquity of mobile technology has transformed our behavior and interactions. We often check social media during meetings and fail to give our full attention to others, even during meals. This leads people to tailor their interactions for comfort, thereby potentially harming their ability to form genuine relationships, especially among the youth.


The Impact on Identity and Solitude

Our reliance on technology to validate our identities undermines our capacity for self-reflection and solitude. Constant connectivity correlates with superficial lives and relationships. We have to cultivate a balanced relationship with technology, so that we find space for solitude and genuine conversations. Creating sacred spaces for dialogue and truly listening to each other can help us use technology to enrich our lives while acknowledging our vulnerabilities and affirming our values.


The Role of Artificial Intelligence

Generative AI offers simulations of relationships, not genuine human connections. Despite their seemingly empathetic responses, AI chatbots and robots cannot truly understand human emotions. Since many people find pretend empathy from machines sufficient, this raises ethical and psychological concerns, especially when individuals seek comfort from machines incapable of true understanding.

People form attachments to robots old and new like Tamagotchis, Furbies, and Paro, a robotic baby seal used in nursing homes. These interactions often lead people to believe the machines care for them; we tend to love what we nurture. AI companions like Replica market themselves as non-judgmental friends, allowing users to avoid the complexities of human relationships. Such interactions devalue human connections and diminish our capacity for empathy.


The Empathy Crisis

Our preference for digital interactions over human connections is influenced by social media and technology companies. This leads us to undervalue the complexities and vulnerabilities of human relationships. This contributes to a broader cultural trend towards narcissism and transactional relationships.

Turkle's book, "Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age," examines the consequences of device addiction on personal interactions and emphasizes the importance of face-to-face conversation. Turkle discusses the shift from direct communication to preferring texting, which she finds problematic for developing empathy. Her research across various settings, including law firms and schools, reveals that technology's pervasive presence hinders meaningful conversations and empathy development. Even a silent phone on a table changes the nature of discussions, making them more trivial and less empathetic.


Rules for Managing Technology Use

  1. Rule of Three: At a dinner table, at least three people should have their heads up and be engaged in conversation before others can check their phones. This new etiquette mitigates the negative impact of constant phone usage on meaningful social interactions. Remember: studies show that even the presence of a phone can reduce empathy and the depth of conversations.


  1. Rule of Seven: It takes about seven minutes to gauge the direction and value of a conversation. Many people, especially younger individuals, do not invest this time, as they prefer the immediacy of digital interactions. This behavior erodes spontaneous, open-ended conversations essential for developing empathy, creativity, and deep human connections.


Intentional actions, such as putting down phones and engaging in public conversations, can help. Uni-tasking (focusing on one thing at a time) is important as well, as multitasking is false efficiency. Learning necessitates imperfection.

We need to cultivate the capacity for solitude to enhance personal and social well-being. We also need conversations with ourselves, without the distraction of technology.


Technology and Education

Schools and corporations are beginning to recognize the need to manage device usage to support communication and empathy. In business, face-to-face interactions are important for effective communication and deal-making. There, we need to set aside devices for meaningful conversations.



Sherry Turkle’s work can remind us of the importance of human connection in an increasingly digital world. By understanding and managing our relationship with technology, we can reclaim conversation, create empathy, and ensure that our interactions remain human.