Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Before There Were Smartphones


Reading Time: 2 minutes

I am forcing myself to listen to my audiobook version of Sherry Turkle’s book Reclaiming Conversation. I am around half way and can safely summarize it in the following meme/cartoon I just made and tweeted

(would be a cool #ds106 assignment to create cartoon reviews of books!)

It’s very funny that as I write this post, she just mentioned something related to comic strips (well the narrator, It isn’t Sherry herself).

So I just wanted to say that much of what bothers people about Smartphones or at least what bothers Sherry, we definitely had other methods of avoid conversation, eye contact and #AllThat

Here’s a list. Before there were smart phones, there were…

  1. Newspapers. People read those on public transportation. No, really. And they could ignore the person beside them by opening the paper really wide so no one could see their face
  2. Books. I am a very social person but I love reading and sometimes a book is so good I will take it with me everywhere and do anything possible to finish it even if there are people around. This happens on Kindle now,  but it’s not a new thing. I didn’t have a Smartphone when I first gave birth but I sometimes read books while breastfeeding my child. I did not stare into her eyes during the 10 or so feedings of the day. Just beginning and end
  3. Letters. No, really. People sometimes wrote cards and letters instead of speaking up or making risky declarations of love or having uncomfortable arguments in person. They did. We did. First time a guy asked me out was through a note passed in class. Gosh many guys asked me out that way.
  4. Note-passing. Really. I passed notes in class from the moment I could write to my undergrad graduation day from AUC. Smartphones just allow you to pass notes to people not in the same room, is all. Passing notes to people in class is actually fun.
  5. Doodling. People did that instead of taking notes in class. They probably still do sometimes 
  6. Walkman, Radio, TV. All these things allowed people to be in each other’s vicinity but not really talk.

I am oversimplifying all of that, of course, but my obsession with books is exactly the same and not more intense. I realize the urgency of an email or tweet feels different from the laid back pace of writing letters. 


  1. There is a part of me that worries I am simply feeding my own echo chamber by clambering to those like Clive Thompson and David Weinberger, while avoiding the Turkle’s etc … I don’t disagree that technology has had a significant impact on our world, but I agree with you that much of this is not new, the little device in my pocket only amplifies this in my mind.
    I have been doing a lot of thinking of late about blogging and feel that I was blogging along time before I had a blog. For example, my tendency to scribble down thoughts and ideas on random bits of paper has now simply been turned digital. Maybe I should be having those thoughts out loud, but I feel that sometimes they need incubation time before being released into the world. Even then they are only a beginning.

    • Yeah. Me too re little bits of paper or random files on my computer. I bought the Turkle book to try to listen to her point of view. It isn’t convincing me so far and the main reason, i think, is that she dehumanizes what we do with our phones which implies to me that she doesn’t really know what she’s talking about… It’s like people who never learned online assuming it’s not interactive or can’t promote critical thinking.. You know?

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