As MIT professor and psychologist Sherry Turkle sees it, students are obsessed with perfection and invulnerability. That’s why they will email her their questions instead of coming to office hours.
“As I get famouser and famouser, I post more office hours, and the numbers [of students attending them] come down,” said Turkle, who researches and writes on peoples’ relationship to technology, during a panel at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. “What they say is basically, ‘I’ll tell you what’s wrong with conversation, it takes place in real time, and you can’t control what you’re going to say.’” These students are trying to hide their vulnerabilities and imperfections behind screens, she said, and they have a “fantasy that at 2 in the morning I’m going to write them the perfect answer to the perfect question.”
It’s all a sign that we’ve become too dependent on our devices to get us through life, as Turkle sees it. She inveighed not only against email-loving Millennials but also against new moms who would rather sit at home on their phones than go meet each other at the playground.
She points to studies that show that having your phone on the table during mealtimes, even if it’s off, leads to reduced feelings of empathy. To truly turn the tide, Turkle said, there ought to be some no-phone times and places.