I first encountered Turkle’s research on mediated communication while developing a readings list for my doctoral dissertation on journalism-as-a-conversation. I’ve had a mad crush on her ever since. She’s a rare qualitative scholar in an ocean of quantoids at MIT, a challenge in itself. She’s also one of the first scholars/psychologists to study the Internet’s impact on human relations — and it ain’t purty.
I think it’s fair to say she’s grown increasingly concerned about our use of social media and text-messaging as a substitute for real conversation. I’m with her on that. While I consider myself a champion of mediated communication, it’s hardly a substitute for the real thing. And yet as she eloquently explains in this NYT guest editorial, we are substituting at an accelerating rate, from boardrooms to classrooms, fooling ourselves all the while.
Partly in response, I put conversation and discussion at the heart of every course I teach, at least when my students and I are in the classroom. I also forbid the use of electronic devices during those discussions, unless otherwise instructed. I confide to them I’d be the first to pull out my phone to check for messages if I didn’t, and that’s no lie. Usually, but not always, I get faint smiles of understanding from them. And, for now, that’s good enough for me.
If you’re a psychologist, the news has to make you a little nervous—particularly if you’re a psychologist who published an article in 2008 in any of these three journals: Psychological Science, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, or the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition.
Because, if you did, someone is going to check your work. A group of researchers have already begun what they’ve dubbed the Reproducibility Project, which aims to replicate every study from those three journals for that one year. The project is part of Open Science Framework, a group interested in scientific values, and its stated mission is to “estimate the reproducibility of a sample of studies from the scientific literature.” This is a more polite way of saying “We want to see how much of what gets published turns out to be bunk.”
This is an interesting approach that maybe will force social scientists and others who are active in research disciplines masquerading as science to rethink and create a methodological foundation that fits their own area.