Sherry Turkle is an MIT professor who has written a number of books. She began as a real fan of social media. Oh, gosh. Some of you may not know what that is. Facebook you know about, right? Well, that is one social media platform. There are HUNDREDS. Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Stumbleupon, Reddit. The list goes on and on.
Millions of us—maybe billions of us, use social media every day. And apparently, the majority of the billions use it every few minutes. Is this alarming to you? It is to Professor Turkle. I wasn’t alarmed until I heard her speak on the Bill Moyers television program (during which I tweeted five times). Turkle says that we get a strong surge of pleasure each time we visit a social media site. Kind of like taking a bite of chocolate. This jolt of positiveness is so strong that we can’t resist it.
Oh, my gosh. Now I know why I check in with Twitter so frequently. I, and apparently all the thousands of people I follow, get our egos stroked constantly. This is a bit discouraging, considering the content of the tweets that apparently stroke my ego. Things like:
“My dog just barfed up part of my sock.”
“I just made kale chips. So delish!”
“Why you shouldn’t be fooled by the claims made by diet products.”
This random sample of the tweets from my Twitter feed seems to pretty easily knock down Ms. Turkle’s premise. Unless she thinks that anybody who has NOT just stepped in dog barf will get a quick surge of relief. But I guess her point is that most of us prefer to have our social interactions while sitting in our kitchens in pajamas, hair uncombed, drinking coffee, knowing that nobody can see us.
Turkle is making a valid point. I think that this is truly the reason so many of us adore social media and hate cocktail parties. Just think: we can make small talk about dog barf and kale chips with people all over the world without having to decide what to wear, put on makeup, whiten our teeth, or fill the car with expensive gas. We can hob nob with people all over the world from the privacy of our own messy homes!
And it is a real, demonstrable addiction. Just go on a walk on a nice fall day, and nod at all your fellow walkers. None of them will see your nod, because they are all texting.
Or count the number of times people at the movies turn their phones on during pivotal scenes. Just to tweet something like OMG James Gandolfini is so adorable in this movie—so sad that he is dead. And forget having a nice family dinner with cell phone wielding kids. They will never look up from their laps.
I am sad about this. Professor Turkle is right. What began for most of us as just a novelty has become a way of life. Every ten minutes. It is a statement about the way we seem to be hard wired for technology. But since I have lived my life taking the path of least resistance, I merely shrug. And continue posting pictures of my lunch on Twitter and Facebook.