Now I feel like I actually know all sorts of people whose thoughts I'd previously only encountered on the page. It's as if I suddenly have an entirely different relationship to the New Yorker, for example, whose staff of writers now regularly talk directly to me—or so it seems. I think, like lots of people, I find myself using the podcasts to find my tribe, people who connect me to a community of like-minded people whom I could never discover otherwise. My iPod has become a kind of lifeline for me. I probably spend more time listening to my iPod than I do to just about anybody else in my life besides my wife—although sometimes she might disagree with that.
ST: Well that's why I was first going to call my book "The Intimate Machine."
PN: You say that your goal in writing this book is to start a conversation about the impact of technology on our lives. In your mind, what role do psychotherapists play in having that kind of national conversation?
ST: First of all, if you're seeing kids in therapy, have them bring in their laptops and talk to you about how they use the web. Let them be your guide. Many kids have websites. Ask to see them. Have the children show you their avatars, if they're willing. What exactly are their avatars doing? What does that mean? Give it a rest with the blocks and the houses; go on Second Life with the child. Bring as much of this online life as you can into the consulting room. That's the first thing.
PN: So, you're saying to therapists: Begin with curiosity. Let your clients talk to you about the role technology plays in their lives.
ST: Right. Listen when the couples in therapy with you mention that they're not talking directly with each other. Ask how they actually spend their time together. What happens during dinner? Do they text each other instead of talking—you'd be surprised how many people do that. So I'll say, "Oh, you text each other. How is that working out?" Then I might start talking about the difference between communication and connection. Because that's what people are doing; they're texting each other in a relationship.
Now I have nothing against texting. That's how my daughter and I communicate a lot of the time. I love texting. I never take a position against any of it. But there are some things you can't talk about very well in texting. A mother can't talk with a daughter about menstruating in a text—"Are you having terrible cramps?" Well, you know, that's hard in a text! Not every kind of communication medium is good for everything, and now we have so many.
I think therapists are in a good position to be in the forefront of negotiating our relationship with technology. As therapists, we know a little bit about narcissism, in whatever professional language you use. You know that when people treat other people as though they're things, there's trouble! But we live in a technological world that's often set up so we treat each other like things. It's as if we need a package warning for technology that says, "Beware of treating people like things."