For the past two years, I’ve taught an an opinion piece in my class, Sherry Turkle’s The Flight From Conversation. I’m starting to move away from using it because it’s the longest I’ve used an article continuously, yet I’m still surprised by how easily my students relate to it, finding it at once familiar and eye-opening. I’ve internalized the piece to the extent that I can quote entire paragraphs from memory. (If I were teaching for only my benefit, I suppose I would have them read John Donne or John Berryman.)The language is simple and the argument is direct, making it easy for students to look behind the veil to grasp what she’s doing rhetorically. They quickly understand why she believes conversation is so important in our ‘connected’ times.
Consumerism, America’s dominant ideology, is all but inescapable. (And always has been. ‘The land of the free’ only meant the poor were free to become landed.) You may not shop at WalMart, instead buying artisanal coffees and watching only the finest of television serials. One may reflect ‘taste’ and allow for some well-deserved self-righteousness, but the principle is still the same: the pursuit of satisfaction and distraction. If technology allows us distance from each other, we might reflect about how far we are from ourselves.
A student I met last spring came into my class after living in the world for seven years. He worked when he needed to, hitchhiked, and was homeless. One day I overheard him in conversation with a couple of other students as he explained how he just didn’t ‘get it.’
“You’re just trading in tickets,” he said.
“Tickets?” one of the other students asked.
“Yeah, like at at arcade–like Dave and Busters. You play the game by going to work, you earn your tickets, and trade them in for cheap ‘prizes.'”
What struck me about the analogy was its brash equivalence. A house, a fixed-gear bicycle, or a wine of the month club–they’re the plush footballs, bright pencils, or remote control sports cars that, in the end, don’t mean much of anything.