In 2015, Sherry Turkle published "Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age." The book dropped in the golden age of web2, a leading reason why the book became such a huge success. In her manuscript, Turkle claims our growing propensity to reach for our phones, whether to avoid being fully present with our friends, family, colleagues or to escape moments of solitude, has decreased our ability to empathize, know ourselves wholly, and have meaningful conversations.
And it's true! To this day, we are undoubtedly buried in our phones, often recoiling from face-to-face conversation in exchange for diluted conversations via text, email, and DMs, all the while unconcerned with the massive amounts of data tech giants are collecting from us.
While I resent Turkle’s approach on this subject (imagine a tired boomer mentality musing for the good old days, ala "Make America Talk Again"), her message is not lost. There is something about face-to-face conversation that will forever remain integral to our ability to form meaningful relationships and navigate this world as compassionate beings.
Despite what one may think, this concept isn't lost on Millennials and GenZ either; we are more desperate to speak to each other than ever. A surprising survey conducted by Yozell Associates in 2017 revealed that GenZ is leading the charge in reclaiming face-to-face conversation in the workplace. However, results of this survey become less surprising when understanding GenZ parents are arguably the most guilty of denying their children attention in favor of being on that phone. GenZ is deeply aware of the detriments technology has imposed on their relationships and are proactive in their efforts to recover what was lost.
Another indication of our desire to speak to each other is evident in the rise of audio-chats sparked by the viral app Clubhouse in 2020. Audio-chat rooms obviously are not a replacement for face-to-face conversation, but they allow us to practice what we've lost while we dedicate our time to presenting the most idealized versions of ourselves across social media. The spontaneity of live conversation, the quiet moments or lulls, or the live formation of an idea are reignited via audio-chat.
Turkle has examined us piloting our way through Web2 and real life. I think framing this as auto-piloting makes more sense because while we do plug into our digital cockpits, control is only an illusion when navigating Web2. Every click has been optimized to keep us plugged in. All of our feeds are digital quicksand. We've recognized this lack of autonomy, and it has become a driving force as we continue to build web3: to reclaim conversation and to reclaim our data.
Turkle makes it clear, she was never anti-technology and is simply pro-conversation. Ultimately she asks us to reconsider our relationship with tech and we are doing just that in web3. Here are some ventures in Web3 that aim to reclaim what we’ve lost.
- Kernel, a web3 educational community implements a curriculum that utilizes conversation as it’s main mode of learning instead of text or lecture.
- Cabin, which brands itself as a decentralized city, recognizes the importance of building in shared spaces and focuses on bringing together DAOs in real life.
- JournoDAO is an effort to bring integrity back to the practice of journalism. They are galvanizing to buy a newspaper or a few newspapers to grant small communities access to news media that is expansive rather than extractive.