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Taking back the talk

When was the last time you sat and had a face-to-face chat with a friend, instead of trading a flurry of texts? How about a family dinner that didn’t include screens at the table? If it takes you a few moments to pinpoint the most recent meaningful, in-person exchange you’ve had, you’re not alone – and it’s a trend that is changing how we relate to the world around us.

MIT professor and author Sherry Turkle has spent decades researching the psychology of people’s relationship with technology. She believes our increased reliance on digital technology has brought us out of balance with what we need as people: rich, robust, and trusting relationships. Her examples will be familiar to many of us: at home, families sit in silence at the dinner table. We text, shop, and tweet during class, and while out with friends or on dates. At work, executives email during meetings. We’re more connected than ever, but to our keyboards and screens. Sherry’s latest book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, investigates a troubling consequence of our current world of social networking and mobile connectivity: at school, at work, and at home, we seek and find ways around real, face-to-face conversation.

When she looked at how this tech-life imbalance ripples through schools in particular, Sherry’s research found that in primary grades, kids struggle to form authentic friendships. Screen time – their use of it, but also the mere presence of technology – has stunted their emotional development. What results is a lack of empathy, or their ability to relate by listening and learning, that will plague them throughout their school years, follow them into the workplace and ultimately, impact the quality of relationships with their boss, colleagues, spouse, and children. In university and higher education, Sherry points to students who don’t want to come to office hours anymore, preferring to interact with professors through email: “They can present themselves as perfect and ask me their exact question, and expect that I will send them their exact perfect answer back.”

Sherry believes we’re enabling students to turn conversations into transactions. “We’re helping them take the easy way out for the sake of convenience; it’s time to put an end to that cycle and reclaim conversation. The goal isn’t solely encouraging more and better conversations. It’s about teaching children and young adults how to self-reflect and build relationships online and off, at school, at work, and in life.”

How do we do that, as parents and educators? Join Sherry at St. Clement’s School next week for insights into the ways we can reclaim conversation – and why it’s critical that we do so.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017
7:00 p.m.
Powell Hall @ St. Clement’s School
21 St. Clements Avenue

Following her presentation, there will be an opportunity to purchase Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, and have it signed by Sherry.

Reserve your seat: scs.on.ca/sherry-turkle

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