Thursday, May 10, 2018

Third Party - Google Search

By Cheryl Oreglia

I'm up for a google search today but I wanted to tackle the topic from a different angle. I've become dependent on google for much of my blog research but also as a tool in many of my daily interactions. I use it to check traffic patterns, convert measurements when cooking, find my children, compare prices on toilet paper, and locate the closest urgent care ~ to name a few. But recently I've noticed how google is squirreling its way into my personal life.

There were eight of us sitting around the table enjoying breakfast, coffee, and quality conversation. We celebrated a friends milestone birthday the night before and spent a good part of the morning going over the highlights. There were many and the conversation was lively. Sleepovers have become a thing again in midlife, maybe we're reliving our youth, but clearly there are many practical reasons. None of us like to drive late at night, especially after a few glasses of wine, we have lots of space since the children have moved out, and hanging out with each other in the morning is a total bonus.

I noticed something interesting happening around the table. Our smart phones have become a third party in our conversations. We casually googled a plethora of topics, expanding our knowledge of current events, definitions, polls, opinions, historical events, trends, song lyrics, even mass schedules. It didn't seem to stall the conversation, if anything it enhanced our chatter, or maybe shaped it with all the additional information available at our fingertips. 

The smart phone provides us with a platform to travel further in our search for knowledge, a classic James Shatner, "to boldly go where no wo/man has gone before." We can pull up satellite images of an obscure street in Avignon France, I call it world voyeurism, because in a matter of seconds we can travel to the remotest parts of the earth with a simple search. We used it to find party games like Heads Up. And just the fact that any type of music is available at the touch of a button is miraculous especially at social gatherings. 

This uninvited third party is appearing at family gatherings, during intimate conversations, in the classroom, at board meetings, social occasions, conferences, restaurants, libraries, concerts, laundry mats, breweries, cafes, even church, and the list goes on. I don't think there is a place on earth that hasn't been invaded by cell phones (even the bathroom). It is changing the way we retain information, engage with the current political climate, avoid boredom, understand complex issues, utilize statistics, and engage with each other. But are we developing the art of conversation, empathy, real listening? Most researchers claim that excessive use of cell phones is pushing these important human faculties in a negative direction. 

The fear of being without your cell phone is a real phenomena (I googled it, it's called nomophobia) across age groups, income, and ethnicities. According to MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle, author of the new book Reclaiming Conversation, we lose our ability to have deeper, more spontaneous conversations with others, changing the nature of our social interactions in alarming ways.
"Mobile phones hold symbolic meaning in advanced technological societies," a research team led by Shalini Misra of Virginia Tech University writes. "In their presence, people have the constant urge to seek out information, check for communication, and direct their thoughts to other people and worlds."
Eighty-nine percent of Americans say that during their last social interaction, they took out a phone, and 82 percent said that it deteriorated the conversation they were in. Is it possible for google searches to increase the quality of what you are talking about? 
Sherry Turkle says it decreases the empathic connection that people feel toward each other? Something about how the lulls in conversations actually encourage us to go deeper especially without the interference. When we avoid the lulls with google searches this changes the depth of our discussions. Is this true for you? 

Turkle is also concerned about the many other situations in which everyone is texting at a meal and applying the “three-person rule”—that three people have to have their heads up before anyone feels it’s safe to put their head down to text. She claims it takes away our ability for empathy and deep connection. 
I think it is possible to live in harmony with technology but maybe we have to set aside sacred space for conversations to organically sprout and grow without the benefits of google search. Trukle encourages us to allow for those human moments, accept that life is not a steady “feed,” and learn to savor the pace of conversation—for empathy, for community, for creativity.
What's your policy on cell phones? Have you noticed this third party appearing in your conversations? Does it distract or enhance your discussions? In your opinion is google search changing the dynamics of our most intimate conversations?

I'm also Living in the Gap, google it, see what comes up.


Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

My spouse is awful about phones at the table. Drives me crazy and sets a bad example for the kids. I do rely on Google for everything, particularly recipes when I own a ton of cookbooks. I often want to throw my phone in a river but then I'd jump in after it.

Cheryl Oreglia said...

Thanks for your comment Kimberly, I think most of us have a love hate relationship with our phones. It never occurred to me how dependent I would be on such device just decades ago. I realize phone addiction is not good for us individually but it has such a societal impact and in some ways I worry about the future. Could it possibly get worse?

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