I recently finished Alone Together and wanted to share some quotes from it while I collect my thoughts. It proved more disquieting than I’d anticipated. Note: as I am on my Chromebook until tomorrow evening (I’ve been dogsitting) I’m posting these quotes sans exterior marks so I don’t have to manually adjust all the interior quotation marks.
1. I leave my story at a point of disturbing symmetry : we seem determined to give human qualities to objects and content to treat each other as things.
2. The comparison with pets sharpens the question of what it means to have a relationship with a robot. I do not know whether a pet could sense Miriam’s unhappiness, her feelings of loss. I do know that in the moment of apparent connection between Miriam and her Paro, a moment that comforted her, the robot understood nothing. Miriam experienced an intimacy with another, but she was in fact alone. Her son had left her, and as she looked to the robot, I felt that we had abandoned her as well.
3. A “place” used to comprise a physical space and the people within it. What is a place if those who are physically present have their attention on the absent? At a café a block from my home, almost everyone is on a computer or smartphone as they drink their coffee. These people are not my friends, yet somehow I miss their presence.
4. We are overwhelmed across the generations. Teenagers complain that parents don’t look up from their phones at dinner and that they bring their phones to school sporting events. Hannah, sixteen, is a solemn, quiet high school junior. She tells me that for years she has tried to get her mother’s attention when her mother comes to fetch her after school or after dance lessons. Hannah says, “The car will start; she’ll be driving still looking down, looking at her messages, but still no hello.”
5. The media has tended to portray today’s young adults as a generation that no longer cares about privacy. I have found something else, something equally disquieting. High school and college students don’t really understand the rules. Are they being watched? Who is watching? Do you have to do something to provoke surveillance, or is it routine? Is surveillance legal? They don’t really understand the terms of service for Facebook or Gmail, the mail service that Google provides. They don’t know what protections they are “entitled” to. They don’t know what objections are reasonable or possible. If someone impersonates you by getting access to your cell phone, should that behavior be treated as illegal or as a prank? In teenagers’ experience, their elders—the generation that gave them this technology—don’t have ready answers to such questions.
6 Longed for here is the pleasure of full attention, coveted and rare. These teenagers grew up with parents who talked on their cell phones and scrolled through messages as they walked to the playground. Parents texted with one hand and pushed swings with the other. They glanced up at the jungle gym as they made calls. Teenagers describe childhoods with parents who were on their mobile devices while driving them to school or as the family watched Disney videos.
7 Children have always competed for their parents’ attention, but this generation has experienced something new. Previously, children had to deal with parents being off with work, friends, or each other. Today, children contend with parents who are physically close, tantalizingly so, but mentally elsewhere.
8. Brad says that digital life cheats people out of learning how to read a person’s face and “their nuances of feeling.” And it cheats people out of what he calls “passively being yourself.” It is a curious locution. I come to understand that he means it as shorthand for authenticity. It refers to who you are when you are not “trying,” not performing. It refers to who you are when you are in a simple conversation, unplanned.
9. These young men are asking for time and touch, attention and immediacy. They imagine living with less conscious performance. They are curious about a world where people dealt in the tangible and did one thing at a time. This is ironic. For they belong to a generation that is known, and has been celebrated, for never doing one thing at a time.
10. A 2010 analysis of data from over fourteen thousand college students over the past thirty years shows that since the year 2000, young people have reported a dramatic decline in interest in other people. Today’s college students are, for example, far less likely to say that it is valuable to try to put oneself in the place of others or to try to understand their feelings.29 The authors of this study associate students’ lack of empathy with the availability of online games and social networking.