On a recent Sunday, I opened up my Twitter feed to find Sherry Turkle getting pummeled for an opinion piece in the New York Times, “The Flight From Conversation.” Rarely has my feed spoken with such strident uniformity. Turkle had clearly struck a nerve. Critics noted that Turkle presented a false dichotomy; conversations can still happen even in a world that includes social media and text messaging. This is true in principle, of course. And, in principle, I suspect Turkle would agree. But I’m not sure this is really the best way of approaching these sorts of concerns.
Perhaps it would be better to reframe the issue in terms of presence. Turkle’s concerns seem strongest when they deal with the manner in which technology impinges on face-to-face communication. And on this point many of her critics agreed with her concerns even while they disagreed with the way they were packaged. After all, much to her critics’ bemusement, the threaded comments seemed mostly to validate Turkle’s point of view.