Conversation in the Digital Age

Social psychologist and conference speaker Sherry Turkle explains why we should talk to each other more.

May 2017, Volume 40, Issue 9

While advances in digital technology have ushered in exciting, new ways to communicate and share information, ramifications for human relationships and conversation have surfaced. This is according to renowned social psychologist Sherry Turkle, who is the author of Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (Penguin Press, 2015). Turkle is a thought leader for the 2017 National Principals Conference in July. Here’s a preview of her message.

What’s your educational philosophy?
Read. Talk. Listen. Imagine. Create.

Should cellphones be banned in schools?
Cellphones should be banned in all classrooms and dining areas. Those are places for talking. Students should be able to consult phones in halls, lounge spaces, and other designated areas.

How can principals help reclaim the power of conversation in an age of technology?
By creating no-device “sacred spaces” in school environments that are set aside as conversation-only places. When we are interrupted by our devices, we attend less to each other. We become less empathetic. We turn the conversation to more trivial matters and we feel less connection to each other.

In what specific ways can principals use new technology to enhance communication?
For the moment, I think our challenge is to learn to put aside technology to enhance communication. We need to learn to look at each other in the eye, to attend to body language. We need to relearn the art of the significant apology. And perhaps most of all, to attend to each other, we have to learn to attend to ourselves, to be content with our own thoughts. If we can’t gather ourselves to ourselves, we can’t hear what someone else has to say. We project onto them what we need them to be saying to buttress our fragile sense of self.

What’s the most important benefit and biggest drawback to technology in schools?
Technology brings us in contact with people and experiences all over the world, with people we would never meet. That is wonderful. We need to take advantage of this without living a life of constant distraction.

Excerpted from Principal Leadership, March 2017.

Copyright © 2017. National Association of Elementary School Principals. No part of the articles in NAESP magazines, newsletters, or website may be reproduced in any medium without the permission of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. For more information, view NAESP’s reprint policy.