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Class of 2025 Inattentive at Annual Convocation

At this year’s convocation for the Class of 2025, keynote speaker Sherry Turkle discussed the importance of face-to-face conversation and putting down technology, while a sea of Boston College freshmen spoke over her, looked at their phones, and trickled out through the exits. 

Freshmen attended the event in person in Conte Forum, but Turkle spoke virtually and was projected on a large screen. While Turkle reflected on her book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age, students talked over her. 

Miki Sauska, MCAS ’25, said that some freshmen found the online format of the speech to be ironic given Turkle’s message of stepping away from technology.

“I think in person would have been better, especially given that the subject matter of the required reading for us was entirely about reducing the amount that we use technology, and … I just think it didn’t really go over that well,” Sauska said.

In her speech, Turkle spoke about the need for solitude, which she said can be attained by stepping back from technology to reflect on oneself. COVID-19 provided ample time for these moments of reflection, according to Turkle.

“For me, quarantine was a moment of stepping back and deep reflection,” she said. “To move forward we need to get distance.”

As Turkle spoke on practicing solitude, freshmen continued to make conversation. 

“It’s the same way you set aside time for money, or you set aside time for calling back home or being with your friends,” Turkle said. “You just discipline yourself to say that some time without any technology when I’m just focusing on myself, is really important to my self-care.” 

The goal of all this reflection, according to Turkle, is to form stronger personal identities, which enable meaningful conversation. Turkle said that without a sense of identity, people can’t truly engage with one another as their true selves. 

“Because if you can’t be content with yourself, you look to others to tell you who you are,” Turkle said.

Turkle said that instead of taking away from her work, COVID-19 added even more meaning for her, as it reemphasized the fundamental nature of conversation and human connection. 

“I wanted solitude, I did not want solitary confinement,” Turkle said. “So, I think we’ve all come out of this knowing that conversation is the oxygen that we need. And when you deprive people of conversation, it is very serious.”

Turkle continued, discussing the complex role of conversation and technology in racial and social justice issues, and said people need to be sophisticated and critical users of social media.

“I see it as a tool in the fight for justice, and I see it as one of the major sources of disinformation and profiling and algorithmic injustice in our country and in the world,” she said. 

Freshmen quickly exited at the conclusion of the event.

Because of several aspects of convocation—the speaker appeared virtually, rain prevented the traditional walk down Linden Lane, and conversation and low speaker volume made it difficult to hear Turkle—Sauska thinks many freshmen had a hard time engaging. 

“I think that maybe the way that they went about just presenting it could have been done a lot better, and it could have just been the way that it was presented that would have changed the results dramatically,” he said.

Sauska said that despite all these challenges, students were still disrespectful, and he hoped Turkle could not see or hear the crowd.

“I think obviously the students are still at fault, we were still being jackasses,” he said. “We still weren’t being attentive, we weren’t being respectful, and that’s our fault, but I think that it wasn’t exactly an environment that made it easy to be.”

Featured Image by Ikram Ali / Heights Editor

Video by Erin Shannon / Heights Editor

Update 9/10/2021 4:39 p.m.: This article was updated to include the video from inside Conte Forum and the student interview.

September 10, 2021