Tag Archives: Relationships

Connected, But Alone?

As we expect more from technology, do we expect less from each other?

This is the question clinical psychologist Sherry Turkle asks in her book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, which is based on 30 years of her work studying the psychology of people’s relationships with technology. While she is not anti-technology, Turkle presents a compelling case that our current communication revolution is degrading the quality of human relationships.

Based on five years of research and interviews in homes, schools, and workplaces, Turkle argues that many of us, “would prefer to send an electronic message or mail than commit to a face-to-face meeting or a telephone call” (Turkle, 2015, p.3). Her concern is the cost associated with this new type of connection and how technology allows us to find ways around conversation. She argues that “face-to-face conversation is the most human – and humanizing – thing we do. Fully present to one another, we learn to listen. It’s where we develop the capacity for empathy” (Turkle, 2015, p.3).

Reclaiming Conversation argues that, while technology presents us with seemingly endless possibilities to improve our lives, it also allows us to hide from each other even as we’re constantly connected to each other. And, it is this loss of connection and conversation that should give us pause and cause for concern. In having fewer meaningful conversations on a regular basis, we are losing skills such as the ability to focus deeply, reflect, read emotions, and empathise with others, all of which are needed to actually engage in meaningful conversations.

Turkle further argues that the ability to have meaningful conversations also depends on our engagement with solitude and self-reflection. If we are always connected, then we may see loneliness as a problem that technology needs to solve and that being connected is going to make us less lonely. However, Turkle cautions that it is actually the reverse: “If we are unable to be alone, we will be more lonely. And if we don’t teach our children to be alone, they will only know how to be lonely” (Turkle, 2015, p.23).  Research in this area indicates that being comfortable with solitude and, correspondingly, our vulnerabilities is central to happiness, creativity, and productivity.

Building on these considerations and thinking about Turkle’s writing in the context of ISZL, the book presents several compelling arguments for any school and community to consider, particularly given our collective work to support student learning and development. On a personal note, the book challenged me in several ways in terms of my own relationship with technology and my practices as a father, husband, educator, and community member. By way of an example, the following passage from the book has led me to further consider the implications of the presence of a cell phone during conversations:

“What phones do to in-person conversation is a problem. Studies show that the mere presence of a phone on the table (even a phone turned off) changes what people talk about. If we think we might be interrupted, we keep conversations light, on topics of little controversy or consequence. And conversations with phones on the landscape block empathic connection. If two people are speaking and there is a phone on a nearby desk, each feels less connected to the other than when there is no phone present. Even a silent phone disconnects us ” (Turkle, 2015, p.20).

A central question emerged during the reading of this book: Are we unintentionally inhibiting our students’ development in terms of the skills and tools that are crucial to friendship, love, happiness, work, creativity, and sense of worth? Like anything that is of deep significance, there is no simple response to this question as we continue to understand the benefits and impacts technology is having and will have on our lives.

Turkle believes that our regular connection to be online and “elsewhere” will likely lead to the erosion of the essential human qualities of empathy, generativity, and the mentoring of our young. If this is true, then there are obvious and compelling reasons for our school community to further our reflections, conversations, and actions associated with this challenge. These thoughts may perhaps be best summed up by Cameron, a student Turkle interviewed, when he shared what he sees around him: “Our texts are fine. It’s what texting does to our conversations when we are together, that’s the problem” (Turkle, 2015, p.21).


Turkle, S. (2015). Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, Kindle Edition. Penguin Press.

Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY 2.0) flickr photo d26b73: i I i

Twitter: @dequanne

Blog: www.barrydequanne.com

The Hero’s Journey

Heroes didn’t leap tall buildings or stop bullets with an outstretched hand; they didn’t wear boots and capes. They bled, and they bruised, and their superpowers were as simple as listening, or loving. Heroes were ordinary people who knew that even if their own lives were impossibly knotted, they could untangle someone else’s. And maybe that one act could lead someone to rescue you right back.” ~ Jodi Picoult

It was a typical beautiful and sunny morning in Brasilia. Teachers from the American School of Brasilia were preparing a churrasco, a Brazilian barbecue, to show their appreciation to the maintenance, cleaning, security, and support staffs for their daily contributions in support of the work of teachers, students, and our school’s educational program. This special day was filled with family activities, games of futebal, food, conversation, laughter, and relationship building.

It is days like this that we are reminded of the importance of community and the difference a positive and supportive culture can make in the lives of all members, particularly students and their education. With all due respect to Joseph Campbell’s seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, perhaps we can redefine the meaning of the Hero’s Journey to one more representative of Jodi Picoult’s vision where heroes are everyday people making a positive difference in the lives of others. Whether it is an act of kindness, a sacrifice for a stranger, a demonstration of empathy, or to simply listen, the seemingly small gestures of everyday heroes often lead to significant and meaningful differences in the lives of others.

Each morning, I see our guards welcoming every student by name, personalizing the start of their day and making our students feel special. I see the cleaning staff cleaning the walkway in the courtyard, seeing to every detail and taking pride in the appearance of the school. A few weeks ago, members of the maintenance department and support staff were on their way home after a long day when they heard that a water pipe had burst in the chemistry class and, without hesitation, dropped everything to return to school to spent three hours of their evening to ensure class could resume as normal the next day. Schools the world over can share similar stories about those special people whose daily actions, which often go unnoticed, make a difference in the lives of others. It is this ideal of daily contributions towards community building and the development of relationships that makes a school special.

The French existentialist, Simone de Beauvior, touches on this subject in her book, All Men are Mortal. In the 13th century, the main character of the novel, Fosca, attains the status of immortality. For several centuries, he travels the world, reads countless books, meets fascinating people and falls in love many times. Fosca has a life that a mortal human could only dream of. He has the opportunity to achieve anything a person could wish to attain.

But, there is a problem. Fosca’s immortality becomes burdensome as he is unable to find happiness, an idea further explored by Derek de Lint in his film about the novel: “Fosca is haunted by events from past centuries, living with the same mistakes over and over again, with war, cruelty and injustice. He must question whether immortality and love can exist at the same time or whether true love and commitment are only possible through the limitations of life. He eventually begins to desire mortality as a basic necessity for human happiness.”

Fosca desperately searches for meaning in his life but his immortality robs him of it. What he finally understands is that it is the finiteness of the human condition that forces us to embrace our lives and to live each moment with passion. And where is meaning to be found? This is a seemingly difficult question to answer. Fosca does not find meaning through power, studying, reading, position in society, travel, or the accumulation of wealth. Madame Beauvoir leaves the reader with the notion that everything in our lives, everything we strive for, everything we accumulate is meaningless with one exception: the relationships we have with others, the lives we touch and the lives we are touched by.

If a meaningful life is defined through relationships and our efforts to make a even a small and positive difference in the lives of others, then it is fitting to confer the title of “hero” to those dedicated support staff members working in all schools. Through small acts of kindness, our colleagues attain what Fosca desperately failed to achieve through immortality. Through their commitment to support the work of teachers, students, and parents each and every day, those individuals who oversee security, maintenance, cleaning, technology, business and secretarial affairs, contribute to building community and enhancing the lives of others in essential and significant ways. They are our everyday heroes.


Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a weekly blog at www.barrydequanne.com (Twitter: @dequanne)