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Annotated captions of Sherry Turkle: Connected, but alone? in English

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tedtalks 00:00
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Just a moment ago,

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my daughter Rebecca texted me for good luck.

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Her text said,

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"Mom, you will rock."

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I love this.

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Getting that text

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was like getting a hug.

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And so there you have it.

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I embody

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the central paradox.

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I'm a woman

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who loves getting texts

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who's going to tell you

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that too many of them can be a problem.

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Actually that reminder of my daughter

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brings me to the beginning of my story.

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1996, when I gave my first TEDTalk,

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Rebecca was five years old

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and she was sitting right there

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in the front row.

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I had just written a book

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that celebrated our life on the internet

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and I was about to be on the cover

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of Wired magazine.

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01:00

In those heady days,

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we were experimenting

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with chat rooms and online virtual communities.

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We were exploring different aspects of ourselves.

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And then we unplugged.

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I was excited.

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And, as a psychologist, what excited me most

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was the idea

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that we would use what we learned in the virtual world

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about ourselves, about our identity,

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to live better lives in the real world.

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Now fast-forward to 2012.

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I'm back here on the TED stage again.

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My daughter's 20. She's a college student.

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She sleeps with her cellphone,

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so do I.

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And I've just written a new book,

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but this time it's not one

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that will get me on the cover

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of Wired magazine.

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01:55

So what happened?

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I'm still excited by technology,

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02:00

but I believe,

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and I'm here to make the case,

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that we're letting it take us places

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that we don't want to go.

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Over the past 15 years,

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I've studied technologies of mobile communication

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and I've interviewed hundreds and hundreds of people,

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young and old,

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about their plugged in lives.

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And what I've found

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is that our little devices,

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those little devices in our pockets,

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are so psychologically powerful

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that they don't only change what we do,

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they change who we are.

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Some of the things we do now with our devices

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are things that, only a few years ago,

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we would have found odd

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or disturbing,

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but they've quickly come to seem familiar,

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just how we do things.

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So just to take some quick examples:

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People text or do email

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during corporate board meetings.

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They text and shop and go on Facebook

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during classes, during presentations,

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actually during all meetings.

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People talk to me about the important new skill

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of making eye contact

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while you're texting.

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(Laughter)

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03:15

People explain to me

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that it's hard, but that it can be done.

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Parents text and do email

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at breakfast and at dinner

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while their children complain

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about not having their parents' full attention.

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But then these same children

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deny each other their full attention.

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03:34

This is a recent shot

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of my daughter and her friends

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being together

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while not being together.

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And we even text at funerals.

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I study this.

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We remove ourselves

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from our grief or from our revery

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and we go into our phones.

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Why does this matter?

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It matters to me

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because I think we're setting ourselves up for trouble --

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trouble certainly

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in how we relate to each other,

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but also trouble

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in how we relate to ourselves

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and our capacity for self-reflection.

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We're getting used to a new way

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of being alone together.

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People want to be with each other,

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but also elsewhere --

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connected to all the different places they want to be.

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People want to customize their lives.

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They want to go in and out of all the places they are

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because the thing that matters most to them

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is control over where they put their attention.

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So you want to go to that board meeting,

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but you only want to pay attention

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to the bits that interest you.

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And some people think that's a good thing.

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But you can end up

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hiding from each other,

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even as we're all constantly connected to each other.

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A 50-year-old business man

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lamented to me

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that he feels he doesn't have colleagues anymore at work.

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When he goes to work, he doesn't stop by to talk to anybody,

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he doesn't call.

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And he says he doesn't want to interrupt his colleagues

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because, he says, "They're too busy on their email."

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But then he stops himself

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and he says, "You know, I'm not telling you the truth.

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I'm the one who doesn't want to be interrupted.

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I think I should want to,

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but actually I'd rather just do things on my Blackberry."

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Across the generations,

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I see that people can't get enough of each other,

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if and only if

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they can have each other at a distance,

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in amounts they can control.

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I call it the Goldilocks effect:

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not too close, not too far,

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just right.

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But what might feel just right

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for that middle-aged executive

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can be a problem for an adolescent

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who needs to develop face-to-face relationships.

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An 18-year-old boy

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who uses texting for almost everything

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says to me wistfully,

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"Someday, someday,

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but certainly not now,

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I'd like to learn how to have a conversation."

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When I ask people

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"What's wrong with having a conversation?"

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People say, "I'll tell you what's wrong with having a conversation.

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It takes place in real time

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and you can't control what you're going to say."

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So that's the bottom line.

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Texting, email, posting,

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all of these things

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let us present the self as we want to be.

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We get to edit,

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and that means we get to delete,

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and that means we get to retouch,

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the face, the voice,

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the flesh, the body --

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not too little, not too much,

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just right.

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Human relationships

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are rich and they're messy

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and they're demanding.

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And we clean them up with technology.

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And when we do,

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one of the things that can happen

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is that we sacrifice conversation

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for mere connection.

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We short-change ourselves.

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And over time,

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we seem to forget this,

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or we seem to stop caring.

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I was caught off guard

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when Stephen Colbert

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asked me a profound question,

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a profound question.

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He said, "Don't all those little tweets,

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don't all those little sips

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of online communication,

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add up to one big gulp

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of real conversation?"

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My answer was no,

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they don't add up.

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08:01

Connecting in sips may work

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for gathering discreet bits of information,

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they may work for saying, "I'm thinking about you,"

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or even for saying, "I love you," --

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I mean, look at how I felt

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when I got that text from my daughter --

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but they don't really work

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for learning about each other,

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for really coming to know and understand each other.

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And we use conversations with each other

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to learn how to have conversations

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with ourselves.

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So a flight from conversation

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can really matter

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because it can compromise

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our capacity for self-reflection.

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For kids growing up,

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that skill is the bedrock of development.

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Over and over I hear,

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"I would rather text than talk."

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And what I'm seeing

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is that people get so used to being short-changed

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out of real conversation,

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so used to getting by with less,

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that they've become almost willing

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to dispense with people altogether.

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So for example,

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many people share with me this wish,

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that some day a more advanced version of Siri,

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the digital assistant on Apple's iPhone,

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will be more like a best friend,

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someone who will listen

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when others won't.

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I believe this wish

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reflects a painful truth

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that I've learned in the past 15 years.

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That feeling that no one is listening to me

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is very important

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in our relationships with technology.

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That's why it's so appealing

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to have a Facebook page

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or a Twitter feed --

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so many automatic listeners.

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And the feeling that no one is listening to me

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make us want to spend time

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with machines that seem to care about us.

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We're developing robots,

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they call them sociable robots,

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that are specifically designed to be companions --

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to the elderly,

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to our children,

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to us.

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Have we so lost confidence

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that we will be there for each other?

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During my research

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I worked in nursing homes,

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and I brought in these sociable robots

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that were designed to give the elderly

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the feeling that they were understood.

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And one day I came in

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and a woman who had lost a child

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was talking to a robot

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in the shape of a baby seal.

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It seemed to be looking in her eyes.

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It seemed to be following the conversation.

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It comforted her.

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And many people found this amazing.

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But that woman was trying to make sense of her life

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with a machine that had no experience

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of the arc of a human life.

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That robot put on a great show.

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11:00

And we're vulnerable.

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People experience pretend empathy

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as though it were the real thing.

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So during that moment

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when that woman

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was experiencing that pretend empathy,

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I was thinking, "That robot can't empathize.

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It doesn't face death.

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It doesn't know life."

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And as that woman took comfort

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in her robot companion,

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I didn't find it amazing;

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I found it one of the most wrenching, complicated moments

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in my 15 years of work.

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But when I stepped back,

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I felt myself

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at the cold, hard center

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of a perfect storm.

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We expect more from technology

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and less from each other.

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And I ask myself,

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"Why have things come to this?"

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And I believe it's because

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technology appeals to us most

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where we are most vulnerable.

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And we are vulnerable.

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We're lonely,

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but we're afraid of intimacy.

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And so from social networks to sociable robots,

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we're designing technologies

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that will give us the illusion of companionship

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without the demands of friendship.

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We turn to technology to help us feel connected

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in ways we can comfortably control.

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But we're not so comfortable.

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We are not so much in control.

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These days, those phones in our pockets

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are changing our minds and hearts

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because they offer us

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three gratifying fantasies.

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One, that we can put our attention

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wherever we want it to be;

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two, that we will always be heard;

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and three, that we will never have to be alone.

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And that third idea,

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that we will never have to be alone,

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is central to changing our psyches.

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Because the moment that people are alone,

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even for a few seconds,

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they become anxious, they panic, they fidget,

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they reach for a device.

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Just think of people at a checkout line

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or at a red light.

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Being alone feels like a problem that needs to be solved.

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And so people try to solve it by connecting.

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But here, connection

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is more like a symptom than a cure.

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It expresses, but it doesn't solve,

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an underlying problem.

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But more than a symptom,

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constant connection is changing

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the way people think of themselves.

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It's shaping a new way of being.

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The best way to describe it is,

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I share therefore I am.

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We use technology to define ourselves

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by sharing our thoughts and feelings

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even as we're having them.

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So before it was:

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I have a feeling,

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I want to make a call.

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Now it's: I want to have a feeling,

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I need to send a text.

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The problem with this new regime

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of "I share therefore I am"

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is that, if we don't have connection,

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we don't feel like ourselves.

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We almost don't feel ourselves.

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So what do we do? We connect more and more.

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But in the process,

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we set ourselves up to be isolated.

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How do you get from connection to isolation?

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You end up isolated

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if you don't cultivate the capacity for solitude,

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the ability to be separate,

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to gather yourself.

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Solitude is where you find yourself

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so that you can reach out to other people

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and form real attachments.

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When we don't have the capacity for solitude,

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we turn to other people in order to feel less anxious

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or in order to feel alive.

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When this happens,

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we're not able to appreciate who they are.

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It's as though we're using them

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as spare parts

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to support our fragile sense of self.

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We slip into thinking that always being connected

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is going to make us fell less alone.

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But we're at risk,

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because actually it's the opposite that's true.

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If we're not able to be alone,

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we're going to be more lonely.

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And if we don't teach our children to be alone,

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they're only going to know

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how to be lonely.

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15:25

When I spoke at TED in 1996,

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reporting on my studies

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of the early virtual communities,

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I said, "Those who make the most

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of their lives on the screen

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15:37

come to it in a spirit of self-reflection."

tedtalks 15:37
15:40

And that's what I'm calling for here, now:

tedtalks 15:40
15:43

reflection and, more than that, a conversation

tedtalks 15:43
15:46

about where our current use of technology

tedtalks 15:46
15:48

may be taking us,

tedtalks 15:48
15:50

what it might be costing us.

tedtalks 15:50
15:53

We're smitten with technology.

tedtalks 15:53
15:56

And we're afraid, like young lovers,

tedtalks 15:56
15:59

that too much talking might spoil the romance.

tedtalks 15:59
16:01

But it's time to talk.

tedtalks 16:01
16:04

We grew up with digital technology

tedtalks 16:04
16:06

and so we see it as all grown up.

tedtalks 16:06
16:09

But it's not, it's early days.

tedtalks 16:09
16:11

There's plenty of time

tedtalks 16:11
16:13

for us to reconsider how we use it,

tedtalks 16:13
16:15

how we build it.

tedtalks 16:15
16:17

I'm not suggesting

tedtalks 16:17
16:19

that we turn away from our devices,

tedtalks 16:19
16:22

just that we develop a more self-aware relationship

tedtalks 16:22
16:24

with them, with each other

tedtalks 16:24
16:27

and with ourselves.

tedtalks 16:27
16:29

I see some first steps.

tedtalks 16:29
16:31

Start thinking of solitude

tedtalks 16:31
16:33

as a good thing.

tedtalks 16:33
16:35

Make room for it.

tedtalks 16:35
16:38

Find ways to demonstrate this

tedtalks 16:38
16:40

as a value to your children.

tedtalks 16:40
16:42

Create sacred spaces at home --

tedtalks 16:42
16:44

the kitchen, the dining room --

tedtalks 16:44
16:47

and reclaim them for conversation.

tedtalks 16:47
16:49

Do the same thing at work.

tedtalks 16:49
16:51

At work, we're so busy communicating

tedtalks 16:51
16:54

that we often don't have time to think,

tedtalks 16:54
16:57

we don't have time to talk,

tedtalks 16:57
16:59

about the things that really matter.

tedtalks 16:59
17:01

Change that.

tedtalks 17:01
17:05

Most important, we all really need to listen to each other,

tedtalks 17:05
17:09

including to the boring bits.

tedtalks 17:09
17:11

Because it's when we stumble

tedtalks 17:11
17:14

or hesitate or lose our words

tedtalks 17:14
17:18

that we reveal ourselves to each other.

tedtalks 17:18
17:21

Technology is making a bid

tedtalks 17:21
17:23

to redefine human connection --

tedtalks 17:23
17:25

how we care for each other,

tedtalks 17:25
17:27

how we care for ourselves --

tedtalks 17:27
17:29

but it's also giving us the opportunity

tedtalks 17:29
17:31

to affirm our values

tedtalks 17:31
17:33

and our direction.

tedtalks 17:33
17:35

I'm optimistic.

tedtalks 17:35
17:38

We have everything we need to start.

tedtalks 17:38
17:40

We have each other.

tedtalks 17:40
17:43

And we have the greatest chance of success

tedtalks 17:43
17:46

if we recognize our vulnerability.

tedtalks 17:46
17:48

That we listen

tedtalks 17:48
17:50

when technology says

tedtalks 17:50
17:53

it will take something complicated

tedtalks 17:53
17:56

and promises something simpler.

tedtalks 17:56
17:58

So in my work,

tedtalks 17:58
18:01

I hear that life is hard,

tedtalks 18:01
18:03

relationships are filled with risk.

tedtalks 18:03
18:05

And then there's technology --

tedtalks 18:05
18:07

simpler, hopeful,

tedtalks 18:07
18:10

optimistic, ever-young.

tedtalks 18:10
18:12

It's like calling in the cavalry.

tedtalks 18:12
18:14

An ad campaign promises

tedtalks 18:14
18:16

that online and with avatars,

tedtalks 18:16
18:20

you can "Finally, love your friends

tedtalks 18:20
18:23

love your body, love your life,

tedtalks 18:23
18:26

online and with avatars."

tedtalks 18:26
18:28

We're drawn to virtual romance,

tedtalks 18:28
18:31

to computer games that seem like worlds,

tedtalks 18:31
18:35

to the idea that robots, robots,

tedtalks 18:35
18:38

will someday be our true companions.

tedtalks 18:38
18:41

We spend an evening on the social network

tedtalks 18:41
18:44

instead of going to the pub with friends.

tedtalks 18:44
18:46

But our fantasies of substitution

tedtalks 18:46
18:49

have cost us.

tedtalks 18:49
18:52

Now we all need to focus

tedtalks 18:52
18:54

on the many, many ways

tedtalks 18:54
18:56

technology can lead us back

tedtalks 18:56
18:59

to our real lives, our own bodies,

tedtalks 18:59
19:01

our own communities,

tedtalks 19:01
19:03

our own politics,

tedtalks 19:03
19:05

our own planet.

tedtalks 19:05
19:07

They need us.

tedtalks 19:07
19:09

Let's talk about

tedtalks 19:09
19:12

how we can use digital technology,

tedtalks 19:12
19:15

the technology of our dreams,

tedtalks 19:15
19:17

to make this life

tedtalks 19:17
19:19

the life we can love.

tedtalks 19:19
19:21

Thank you.

tedtalks 19:21
19:27

(Applause)