Another MLK science message and “Alone Together”

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Following from our previous post on Dr. King and his consideration of science and religion, Kea Giles pointed me to a post by Beth Lebwohl at EarthSky on Dr. King’s Nobel Lecture when receiving the 1964 Nobel Prize for Peace. The complete text of the lecture can be found here at Nobelprize.org.

King held that our scientific advances progressed in the absence of basic attention to moral and spiritual growth, the lack of which he believed was responsible for racial injustice, poverty and war:

Yet, in spite of these spectacular strides in science and technology, and still unlimited ones to come, something basic is missing. There is a sort of poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.

Beth Lebwohl also discussed a related, contemporary message put forth by MIT’s Dr. Sherry Turkle, author of the just-released book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other (interview in Fast Company here).

Turkle clearly appreciates instant communication: “You need to put a fast deal in Abu Dhabi? There’s nothing better, and nothing in my book suggests this technology should not be used widely and deeply to solve such problems.” However, Turkle takes issue with our “technological promiscuity”:

I make a statement in the book, that if you don’t learn how to be alone, you’ll always be lonely, that loneliness is failed solitude. We’re raising a generation that has grown up with constant connection, and only knows how to be lonely when not connected. This capacity for generative solitude is very important for the creative process…

While Turkle doesn’t necessarily discuss spirituality, her comments do hold true in how I’ve seen my own capacity for reflection and musing often be overtaken by constant communication.

I’m lucky, however, to have just come off a weekend of real-life activities at the ScienceOnline2011 conference where 300 online communicators came together to brainstorm, share ideas, and interact compassionately with one another. Together with Danielle Lee and Alberto Roca, I moderated a session there in honor of Dr. King and discussing how our technology can be used to engage underrepresented groups in science and technology. Connections – intellectual and intimate – require a depth of understanding and intention that cannot be captured adequately in 140-character bursts. We’ll expand in the coming days on the discussions from that session.

I’ll have to read Turkle’s book to get her whole story but today has been an opportune time to reflect on how to further the vision of Dr. King for ourselves as individuals and as a community.

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