Sherry Turkle and Tethering

By Erin Carolan

Sherry Turkle’s piece “Always On” instantly drew me in to a world of cell phones, cyborgs, laptops and PDA’s, bringing the issue of our crumbling social communication standards into focus.  Turkle explores the idea that we are “tethered” to our everyday technologies, and sneaks that concept into each different topic she discusses, urging us to keep this point in focus.   

     In a moment of creative inspiration, I took it upon myself to conduct an informal experiment around campus for a day, to put Turkle’s idea of “tethering” to the test.  As I sat in the grassy field outside the library, I observed girls, boys, punks, jocks, couples, film kids, art kids, and friends.  After about half an hour, a common trend seemed to be emerging among all types of students.  Technology, everywhere, every kind, attached to the face of everyone.  Turkle’s theory had proved itself painfully obvious, much like a pulsating pimple on a pre-pubescent face.   

Snapshot: Thursday October 2nd, 12:15pm.  Among the thirty or so students lounging on the grass or steps, the majority sit in singles or pairs, hypnotized in their own world, with little white “Apple” cords extending from pockets to ears.  Some plod away on laptops, pretending to do last week’s Psychology homework while really indulging in new Facebook gossip.  A girl appears to talk animatedly to the air about what “Janet totally did to Tara last Saturday”.  A blue blinking LED light from a plastic Motorola piece in her ear tells me that someone on the other end is in on this juicy gossip.   A couple walks by hand in hand, silently, as they’re too busy texting away on their cell phones.  Growing up, I was always told that university is the place to branch out and meet new people, but that was the opposite of was witnessing Thursday afternoon.  Instead of talking to one another, it was evident that students would rather escape into their music, or chat with friends and family outside of school. 

Although our modern day technologies have many benefits that allow us to be in contact at all times for work, leisure, or in case of emergencies, as a result we have become constantly “plugged in”.  We have become so wrapped up in the seemingly limitless possibilities of our cell phones, laptops, iPods and PDA’s, that we haven’t even noticed the dramatically decreasing standards of human social communication/interaction.  And additionally, am I the only one noticing the lack of simple good manners and common courtesies among people nowadays?  There must be a connection between technology and this phenomenon.  Observing students at Capilano made me realize how unapproachable our generation has become.  Unknowingly, we are slowly slipping away from universal, into our own private worlds by way of our hand-held gadgets. 

The aim of Turkle’s essay is to encourage us to be aware of this growing communications crisis.  As we hover on the cusp of new evolving technologies, we, the “everyday people” are becoming more susceptible to all the techno-junk that is now an integral part of living within North America’s mass consumer culture.  Turkle is entirely correct in saying that we are “always on”.  The challenge for us as individuals and as a society is to find a way to re-establish the integrity of the age-old communications traditions between ourselves as members of a community rather than a virtual reality.    

 Sherry Turkle’s essay “Always On” :


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