Open book

Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, by Sherry Turkle, is an examination of how our communication has changed in the world of social media, texting, and e-mail. As a professor of Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, Turkle provides insight into the world of communication from the perspective of an educator, researcher, and therapist.

Through the author’s recounting of dialogues with many of her students and clients we see how our conversations with ourselves, our conversations with others, and our conversations as a society have often been stunted by the rapid change of technology.

Chapter after chapter, Turkle builds a case that attempts to find guilty our new ways of communicating through digital means. As I read this book (on my iPhone Kindle app, of which I am sure the author would not approve), I began to feel ashamed of my own dependence on technology. Turkle does not let up on preaching the dangers of our digital masters. Her persistence may wear on the reader as her evangelism often caused me to bristle in defense of what I feel are the justified uses of digital communication.

Turkle’s viewpoint is certainly not nuanced and even if I were to agree wholeheartedly with her premise, I found myself arguing with the author that our world has changed and is not likely to return to the idyllic vision that she suggests.

Although as physicians we know that building genuine human connection is key to meaningful patient and colleague relationships, I felt the book left me with more questions than answers about how to drop our screens altogether and face each other in the age of text and email communication that our patients demand.

Clearly, I was not completely sold on the severity of the problem, or the simplicity of the solution. However, after finishing this book, I deleted the Facebook app on my iPhone, so perhaps Turkle’s preaching motivated some change in me.

If you find yourself wondering where face-to-face conversations have gone, you may enjoy this challenging and thought-provoking look at the consequences of our reliance on technology for communication and perhaps you will find a way to build more meaningful human connection into your daily routine. If nothing else, being aware of how much we are missing by ignoring human conversations in our own relationships is worth the time and effort to read this book.

Book review by
Mark Ashley, MD
Family Medicine, Riverside
Regional Director Clinician-Patient Communication