Actual versus Virtual Conversation
In a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center, 89 percent of cellphone owners said they had used their phones during the last social gathering they attended. But they weren’t proud of it; 82 percent of adults felt that the way they used their phones in social settings hurt their conversations.
Sherry Turkle, MIT professor and author of the new book, Reclaiming Conversation, has been studying the impact of online connectivity on face-to-face conversation for the last five years. In a recent New York Times Op Ed, she noted that the benefits of dropping in and out of conversation to be online—such as never being bored, staying connected with work, and always being heard somewhere—are offset by a sense of loss.
Studies of conversation both in the lab and natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in their visual periphery changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they experience. People keep the conversation lighter, on topics where they won’t mind being interrupted., and they don’t feel as invested in each other. “Even silent phones disconnect us,” writes Turkle.
What to do? Turkle says we face a choice. “It is not about giving up our phones but about using them with greater intention. Conversation is there for us to reclaim. For the failing connections of our digital world, it is the talking cure.”
We want to hear. How do you react when people use their phones while talking to you? Do you use your phone this way? How does it affect the quality of your conversation? To join the conversation, click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Would you like to read more about creating a habit around masterful communication? Check out our book: Be Quiet, Be Heard: The Paradox of Persuasion.
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