When was the last time you had dinner with a group of friends without checking your phone at least once? Very few people, especially millennials, cannot answer this question. Not because they can’t remember the last time they went to dinner with a group of friends, but because they can’t remember the last time they didn’t check their phone. Sherry Turkle, a professor at MIT discusses this in her TED talk titled Connected, but alone?.
My idea for an invention is one that would seemingly progress us backwards. However, as Turkle explains, we are heading for trouble; a place where we are very good at “being alone, together”. She says that parents text at breakfast or dinner, denying their children their full attention. When adolescents spend time together, a time where they would have previously learned to have real face-to-face conversations, are denying each other their full attention. Now that we have gotten to this place, I am asking you to help get us out.
I think we need to find a way to prioritize the things that interrupt us. I want my phone to stop buzzing every three minutes with a text or email that is not going to affect my life if it is put off for a few minutes or ignored completely. When I am at dinner, in class, or spending time with family, I want my phone to know. To many, this may seem like the opposite of disconnecting since your are being tracked by an electronic device. The reality is I think this would disconnect us if it uses the information the right way. If I get a mass email or text and I am in a social situation, I want my phone to stop and wait, then notify me when I am done. If the world is ending at my job or in school, then it is appropriate to interrupt me, and continue to if it is even more urgent. I think your next invention should give our electronics a way of knowing when it is appropriate to disconnect us from the world in front of us so that we do not find ourselves in a place where we don’t know how to have a conversation without a keyboard. Sherry Turke tells the story of a teenage boy who says, “someday, someday, but certainly not now, I would like to learn how to have a conversation.” I think our next invention needs to bring us to that day.