On the plane to London last week, I spent some time reading Sherry Turkle's latest book called Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.
Sherry spoke at TED 2012 and I was fascinated by her comments. In her TED Talk, she didn't touch on the first half of this book, where she explores the use of robots, especially in elder care and even childcare. She spent years observing and analyzing the responses of people to robots from the most primitive of a couple of decades ago to the more highly sophisticated recent models. It is disturbing on several levels, and Sherry points out the opportunities--and challenges--the use of robots presents. Fascinating stuff, especially the evolution from the view of a robot to "good enough" when compared to interaction with other humans, to preferable, even superior to human companionship.
The second half of the book is about our use of technology and how it has flipped our interaction with others so that we seem more and more interested in maintaining relationships with our phones and pda's and less and less interested in close relationships with other people.
Of course, my interest in face to face conversation makes me shudder at the truth in what Sherry has found, namely that younger people are especially uncomfortable in face to face situations and often prefer texting than talking.
Has the protocol simply not caught up with improvements in technology, meaning that if we give ourselves time, we'll figure out a proper balance between our dependence on technology and our need for close interaction with other human beings on a personal, face to face level? I'm not so sure. What I do know is that I treasure every opportunity to have the kind of personal interaction where the other person's physical presence adds a dimension to the conversation that simply isn't there, even with the most sophisticated video technology like that of the life-like-seeming TelePresence from the Cisco people.
I'm beginning to think there is a boot-camp course required to teach young people--especially those about to look for jobs--how to converse, what to say and how to say it when talking with an interviewer who has the power to give the thumbs up or down on the qualifications of an applicant for a job position. Maybe I should put that course together.