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  • Just a moment ago,

  • my daughter Rebecca texted me for good luck.

  • Her text said,

  • "Mom, you will rock."

  • I love this.

  • Getting that text

  • was like getting a hug.

  • And so there you have it.

  • I embody

  • the central paradox.

  • I'm a woman

  • who loves getting texts

  • who's going to tell you

  • that too many of them can be a problem.

  • Actually that reminder of my daughter

  • brings me to the beginning of my story.

  • 1996, when I gave my first TEDTalk,

  • Rebecca was five years old

  • and she was sitting right there

  • in the front row.

  • I had just written a book

  • that celebrated our life on the internet

  • and I was about to be on the cover

  • of Wired magazine.

  • In those heady days,

  • we were experimenting

  • with chat rooms and online virtual communities.

  • We were exploring different aspects of ourselves.

  • And then we unplugged.

  • I was excited.

  • And, as a psychologist, what excited me most

  • was the idea

  • that we would use what we learned in the virtual world

  • about ourselves, about our identity,

  • to live better lives in the real world.

  • Now fast-forward to 2012.

  • I'm back here on the TED stage again.

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

  • She sleeps with her cellphone,

  • so do I.

  • And I've just written a new book,

  • but this time it's not one

  • that will get me on the cover

  • of Wired magazine.

  • So what happened?

  • I'm still excited by technology,

  • but I believe,

  • and I'm here to make the case,

  • that we're letting it take us places

  • that we don't want to go.

  • Over the past 15 years,

  • I've studied technologies of mobile communication

  • and I've interviewed hundreds and hundreds of people,

  • young and old,

  • about their plugged in lives.

  • And what I've found

  • is that our little devices,

  • those little devices in our pockets,

  • are so psychologically powerful

  • that they don't only change what we do,

  • they change who we are.

  • Some of the things we do now with our devices

  • are things that, only a few years ago,

  • we would have found odd

  • or disturbing,

  • but they've quickly come to seem familiar,

  • just how we do things.

  • So just to take some quick examples:

  • People text or do email

  • during corporate board meetings.

  • They text and shop and go on Facebook

  • during classes, during presentations,

  • actually during all meetings.

  • People talk to me about the important new skill

  • of making eye contact

  • while you're texting.

  • (Laughter)

  • People explain to me

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

  • Parents text and do email

  • at breakfast and at dinner

  • while their children complain

  • about not having their parents' full attention.

  • But then these same children

  • deny each other their full attention.

  • This is a recent shot

  • of my daughter and her friends

  • being together

  • while not being together.

  • And we even text at funerals.

  • I study this.

  • We remove ourselves

  • from our grief or from our revery

  • and we go into our phones.

  • Why does this matter?

  • It matters to me

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

  • trouble certainly

  • in how we relate to each other,

  • but also trouble

  • in how we relate to ourselves

  • and our capacity for self-reflection.

  • We're getting used to a new way

  • of being alone together.

  • People want to be with each other,

  • but also elsewhere --

  • connected to all the different places they want to be.

  • People want to customize their lives.

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

  • because the thing that matters most to them

  • is control over where they put their attention.

  • So you want to go to that board meeting,

  • but you only want to pay attention

  • to the bits that interest you.

  • And some people think that's a good thing.

  • But you can end up

  • hiding from each other,

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

  • A 50-year-old business man

  • lamented to me

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

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

  • he doesn't call.

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

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

  • But then he stops himself

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

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

  • I think I should want to,

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

  • Across the generations,

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

  • if and only if

  • they can have each other at a distance,

  • in amounts they can control.

  • I call it the Goldilocks effect:

  • not too close, not too far,

  • just right.

  • But what might feel just right

  • for that middle-aged executive

  • can be a problem for an adolescent

  • who needs to develop face-to-face relationships.

  • An 18-year-old boy

  • who uses texting for almost everything

  • says to me wistfully,

  • "Someday, someday,

  • but certainly not now,

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

  • When I ask people

  • "What's wrong with having a conversation?"

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

  • It takes place in real time

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

  • So that's the bottom line.

  • Texting, email, posting,

  • all of these things

  • let us present the self as we want to be.

  • We get to edit,

  • and that means we get to delete,

  • and that means we get to retouch,

  • the face, the voice,

  • the flesh, the body --

  • not too little, not too much,

  • just right.

  • Human relationships

  • are rich and they're messy

  • and they're demanding.

  • And we clean them up with technology.

  • And when we do,

  • one of the things that can happen

  • is that we sacrifice conversation

  • for mere connection.

  • We short-change ourselves.

  • And over time,

  • we seem to forget this,

  • or we seem to stop caring.

  • I was caught off guard

  • when Stephen Colbert

  • asked me a profound question,

  • a profound question.

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

  • don't all those little sips

  • of online communication,

  • add up to one big gulp

  • of real conversation?"

  • My answer was no,

  • they don't add up.

  • Connecting in sips may work

  • for gathering discreet bits of information,

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

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

  • I mean, look at how I felt

  • when I got that text from my daughter --

  • but they don't really work

  • for learning about each other,

  • for really coming to know and understand each other.

  • And we use conversations with each other

  • to learn how to have conversations

  • with ourselves.

  • So a flight from conversation

  • can really matter

  • because it can compromise

  • our capacity for self-reflection.

  • For kids growing up,

  • that skill is the bedrock of development.

  • Over and over I hear,

  • "I would rather text than talk."

  • And what I'm seeing

  • is that people get so used to being short-changed

  • out of real conversation,

  • so used to getting by with less,

  • that they've become almost willing

  • to dispense with people altogether.

  • So for example,

  • many people share with me this wish,

  • that some day a more advanced version of Siri,

  • the digital assistant on Apple's iPhone,

  • will be more like a best friend,

  • someone who will listen

  • when others won't.

  • I believe this wish

  • reflects a painful truth

  • that I've learned in the past 15 years.

  • That feeling that no one is listening to me

  • is very important

  • in our relationships with technology.

  • That's why it's so appealing

  • to have a Facebook page

  • or a Twitter feed --

  • so many automatic listeners.

  • And the feeling that no one is listening to me

  • make us want to spend time

  • with machines that seem to care about us.

  • We're developing robots,

  • they call them sociable robots,

  • that are specifically designed to be companions --

  • to the elderly,

  • to our children,

  • to us.

  • Have we so lost confidence

  • that we will be there for each other?

  • During my research

  • I worked in nursing homes,

  • and I brought in these sociable robots

  • that were designed to give the elderly

  • the feeling that they were understood.

  • And one day I came in

  • and a woman who had lost a child

  • was talking to a robot

  • in the shape of a baby seal.

  • It seemed to be looking in her eyes.

  • It seemed to be following the conversation.

  • It comforted her.

  • And many people found this amazing.

  • But that woman was trying to make sense of her life

  • with a machine that had no experience

  • of the arc of a human life.

  • That robot put on a great show.

  • And we're vulnerable.