In the silence of connection, people are comforted by being in touch with a lot of people — carefully kept at bay. We can’t get enough of one another if we can use technology to keep one another at distances we can control: not too close, not too far, just right.
In today’s New York Times, Sherry Turkle of M.I.T. decries our substitution of “conversation by technology” for actual conversation. We prefer the controlled, editable, deletable world of texting and Facebook to the messy world of actually talking to others. She refers to it, describes in the paragraph above, as the Goldilocks Effect.
We like the world of social technology because we can share what we want to yet still retain ultimate control. As Sherry suggests, we are able to present our best faces at all times, able to hide that which we don’t want others to see. The messy bits of ourselves. And it is those messy bits that seem to fall out so openly in conversation, from simple grammatical errors to the annoying faux pas that we so often succumb to.
I spend a lot of time working in coffee shops. By that I mean sitting cross-legged in a comfy chair at Starbucks with a computer balanced on my lap, coffee at my side. And I like to watch people. I see people glued to their laptops, earbuds in their ears, phones at the ready for an occasional text or two. These people are in their own worlds; they actively avoid conversation. I’m guilty of it too, being completely absorbed in what I am doing, clearly uninterested in conversing with others around me.
But once in a while, I’ll start up a conversation with someone sitting nearby, or someone will start one with me, and what was previously two solitudes becomes a vibrant discussion, seemingly enjoyed by both of us. It doesn’t take much to get started.
Perhaps we are all just willing conversationalists waiting inside. We’ve just forgotten how to get started. Maybe all we need is a little push.