"The little devices most of us carry around are so powerful that they change not only what we do, but also who we are."
That's a quote from M.I.T. psychologist Sherry Turkle, in The New York Times. She says we have now become used to the idea of being a tribe of one, loyal to our own party.
We go to a meeting but only pay attention to what interests us. In our social lives we are moving from conversations to connections. According to Professor Turkle, we are "comforted by being in touch with a lot of people --- carefully kept at bay".
She points out that texting and emailing and posting let us present ourselves the way we want to be, carefully edited and retouched. Contrast this with face-to-face conversation, which unfolds and reveals slowly, and teaches patience, among other things.
We want faster answers so we simplify the questions. In conversations, we move closer together. In social media, we move further apart. We don't learn how to converse even with ourselves. We rarely say anything self-reflective.
Who would you rather talk to about dating --- your father or a computer program? Your computer promises so-called listeners, no eye contact. And because 300 of your friends are listening, you don't reveal your true feelings.
As marketers and advertising people interested in media, we have to be aware of the consequences of what we use and do. Professor Turkle again: "We think constant connection will make us feel less lonely. The opposite is true. If we are unable to be alone, we are far more likely to be lonely."
Can we in marketing, in a small way, help revive conversation? Isn't advertising at its best really a conversation between someone with something to sell, and a person who has a reasonable interest in buying it?
If we're selling things to increasingly lonely people, what will that mean? What can we do? Maybe we should figure out what it takes to really be a friend.