Author Sherry Turkle discusses her book at "Con-ver-sa-tion 2016"

Live tweeting and photos were discouraged when a room of 550 guests were asked to disconnect and relinquish their phones to the center of the table during the Columbus Metropolitan Club's June 13 "Con-ver-sa-tion 2016" luncheon at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

The exercise set the tone for what would be a larger discussion with MIT professor and author Sherry Turkle on her book "Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age." Describing her book as a "love letter to conversation," Turkle spoke about the intersection of digital technology and human relationships, and how a passion for technology impacts work and life.

(Photo by Jillian Span Hofbauer)

Flight from conversation is happening everywhere, across all generations, says Turkle. "At the dinner table, children compete with phones for their parents' attention. Friends learn new strategies to keep conversations going as their peers raise and lower their eyes to check their phones. At work we retreat to our screens, although it is conversation at the water cooler that increases productivity," she writes in her book.

This reliance on devices is diminishing face-to-face interactions and inhibiting our capacity for empathy, Turkle argues.

She shares the story of a father from one of her studies who has two daughters: an 11-year-old and 2-year-old. When the 11-year-old was younger, he would give her a bath every night and talk to her while she was in the tub. They have a strong relationship because of it, he says. Now, when he runs the bath for his 2-year-old daughter, he makes sure the water is OK and then he sits near the tub and checks his email. Noting the difference, he worries what affect it will have on his relationship with his younger daughter.

When later asked by the program's moderator, 10TV's Kristyn Hartman, whether younger generations will grow up without the skills of conversation and the knowledge of what life was like before the dominance of digital communications, Turkle says "Kids have a desire for conversation." Establishing restrictions and boundaries with digital devices at home, in business and in the classrooms is a good start toward nurturing that desire for interpersonal communication in youngsters, she says.

While Turkle says her message is not anti-technology, she urges people to make conscious efforts to find moments in their days to unplug from their devices and reclaim conversations.

The program is part of the Columbus Metropolitan Club's 40th anniversary year and a calendar of events and forums planned. Proceeds from Con-ver-sa-tion 2016 will benefit the CMC Legacy in Civic Engagement Founders and Leaders Fund to support an annual Con-ver-sa-tion forum.