Saturday, July 4, 2009

"...and I think the social morays are going to going to start to move..."

why we don't need to worry about eels swimming upstream in response to the text messaging phenomenon

Here's an interesting article on the trend of teens texting incessantly, starring Sherry Turkle as the Concerned Parental Figure.

The article accompanies a recent interview with Turkle on Public Radio International's Here and Now.

PRI cites Turkle as saying the warning that the eels will start swimming in a new direction in response to this new trend:
"I talked to a lot of teens who feel that there is no choice because if they don't have it, people will think there's something wrong with them, people will think that they don't want to get back to their friends. And I think the social morays are going to start to move in a direction where you'll to see some push-back, both from grownups and teenagers."

Look, nobody's saying constant attachment to a cellphone is necessarily the most ideal scenario for the emotional development of teens. But, come on, Turkle: eels? Really?

My friend Katie heard Turkle speak a few months ago on exactly this issue. Apparently, Turkle herself has pointed out that traditional theories on and approaches to child development will need to be rethought--that the behaviors that traditional psychology would label abnormal are getting adopted nearly universally. In making this argument, Katie said, Turkle was referring to teens' practice of constantly holding their cellphones and refusing to put them away. It seems abnormal to us, Turkle said--but we're the ones who need to adapt. We need new guidelines to account for these new practices, new strategies for considering child development and teen behavior.

I'm not a psychologist, but it does seem to me that the nature of psychology is one of "adaptive rigidity." Homosexuality is therefore identified as "abnormal" until it becomes socially accepted, at which point the APA guidelines get adjusted. Making social connections online was considered "abnormal" and even, perhaps, an addiction as recently as the early years of this very decade; now, as engagement with social media has become more widespread, we're rethinking this dictum.

Text messaging as a dominant form of communication seems abnormal to older adults--but that's because we're used to a face-to-face world and not a peer-to-peer one. The new behaviors that become possible through new media formats always seem unhealthy to us at first, until we develop the kinds of complex relationships to the platforms that we humans are wont to do.


Clement Chau said...

Great analysis. I think you point to precisely what most social sciences are about...finding out what we think is "the truth" until the truth changes; then we change our minds. This is why social science is a "soft science". To me, that's good science (though I am of course biased). I am someone who believes that the world, including its structure and laws, is changing constantly, so I am comfortable in thinking that what are "appropriate" behaviors at one point in time must give space for new "appropriate" behaviors at another point in time.

Given that, the challenge is thinking about what we do at a given point in time. As an applied scientist, I am always challenged to make decisions about what we should do and how to apply particular theoretical perspectives and research evidence in a variety of situations. When it comes to child development, often these decisions are made knowing that they do not apply 100%. No one really likes the answer, "well, we really don't know what's good or bad." But then again, we can never make decisions that are 100% certain, especially if one takes a perspective that the world is always changing, and that previous research conclusions no longer apply perfectly because new contexts and situations arise, and the world children live in today are not the same as, let say, 3 years ago.

If research just isn't enough (either because of a lack of evidence or a lack of applicability), then me must supplement existing research with something else. And thus, we partly base our decisions on our values and and partly on what we see as immediate implications of people's behaviors. What our values are based on is another topic to discuss. Because we simply don't know what type of relationships and bebaviors will develop in the future, and we really don't know the long term implications of interacting with new media like texting, we must based our recommendation on 1) theoretical perspectives in the literature, 2) research data that are at least partially applicable, 3) our own behaviors and values, and 4) any immediate implications of new bahaviors and social phenonmena......knowing very well that what we say today will not be valid tomorrow.

Certainly, empiricism is only one form of decision-making (though priviledged in the sciences). Empiricism is fundamentally conservative. And of course, one can decide to make decisions not based on what we know "from before" but what we think will happen in the future. I think that's called a Futurist.

Who knows, maybe there will be a Texting Brain Implant in the future that doesn't require our attention, our thumbs, or our time. Then all these discussions about texting would be moot....

Clement Chau said...

damn. i just wrote a lot! i should just write my own blog that is always a response to your blog!!!

ZedWord said...

APA guidelines? Aren't those the formatting guidelines for citing sources?

Do you mean the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders)?

Jenna McWilliams said...

doh! haha, yes, i most certainly do.

ailsa said...

Good blog Jenna, I was getting tired of the moral panic that seemed to come across with my google alerts, i must have had 50 all citing the same research by Sherry Turkle, seems the more times it gets said, the more real a fiction becomes.


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