Arnon Rolnick


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Do not throw the baby out with the bathwater: Reclaiming (video-based) conversation: (A reply to Sherry Turkle)

Sherry Turkle, one of the first to study online interactions in the early 1980s, was at first extremely enthusiastic about the role that computers play in our lives. She saw the online world as a place where people could express aspects of themselves that they typically repressed in their daily encounters (see Life on the screen, 1995). However, as technology has developed, Turkle discovered the dangers that online interaction might present to human communication and became less enthusiastic (see Alone Together, 2012).

Recall the science fiction scenes presented at the beginning of the introduction. The possibility that humans will no longer meet other people in person (like in The Naked Sun), or that they will seek loving relationships with a robot or operating system as in the movie “Her”, can be alarming for any psychotherapist or consultant.

In her book Reclaiming Conversation (2015), Turkle talks about how people prefer to send text messages than to talk or meet. We agree with this observation and her recommendation to reclaim conversation. We also agree with the message that she directs mostly to the techniques camp, that people and machines are not interchangeable. Turkle has conducted vast studies on human interaction with robots and alerts us to the possibility that a robot could replace emotional interaction with another human being.

As we noted above, we tend to agree with Turkle that the techniques camp might lead us to a situation like the one portrayed in the movie “Her”, in which computers or robots provide “psychotherapy”. But unlike Turkle, we suggest not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We believe that hybrid or blended interventions that involve both human-to-human interaction and self-help individual exercises using applications could be an integrative and powerful means of reducing human misery.

Turkle, however, takes the more extreme position of opposing all forms of online, video-based psychotherapy. She argues that therapists have a crucial role in defending the value of physical presence in today’s digital culture. In an interview for Psychoanalytic Perspectives (2017), a psychotherapy journal, she said that “when analysts consider what screen relations will do to their enterprise, I don’t think they take seriously enough that it will change its very nature

One cannot avoid comparing Turkle’s view with Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s notions of returning to nature. Rousseau believed that the more humanity deviates from its natural state, the worse off it would be. Rousseau taught that men are naturally free, wise, and good, and that instinct and emotion, when not distorted by the unnatural limitations of civilization, are nature’s voices and instructions for living a good life.

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