Alone Together

A cautionary tale about the limits of technology, Alone Together explores where technology is taking us and how society adapts to answer new questions brought on by the rise of mobile technologies, robots, computers, and other electronic gadgets. In particular, the author Turkle, raises concerns about the way in which genuine, organic social interactions become degraded through constant exposure to illusory meaningful exchanges with artificial intelligence. There is a deep irony underlying Turkle's central argument, which is that the technological developments which have most contributed to the rise of inter-connectivity, have at the same time bolstered a sense of alienation between people.

 

About the Author

Sherry Turkle (born June 18, 1948) is the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé professor of the social studies of science and technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She obtained a BA in social studies and later a PhD in sociology and personality psychology at Harvard University. She now focuses her research on psychoanalysis and human-technology interaction. She has written several books focusing on the psychology of human relationships with technology, especially in the realm of how people relate to computational objects.

In The Second Self, originally published in 1984, Turkle writes about how computers are not tools as much as they are a part of our social and psychological lives. “Technology," she writes, "catalyzes changes not only in what we do but in how we think."[3] She goes on using Jean Piaget's psychology discourse to discuss how children learn about computers and how this affects their minds. The Second Self was received well by critics and was praised for being “a very thorough and ambitious study.”

In Life on the Screen, Turkle discusses how emerging technology, specifically computers, affect the way we think and see ourselves as humans. She presents to us the different ways in which computers affect us, and how it has led us to the now prevalent use of "cyberspace." Turkle suggests that assuming different personal identities in a MUD (i.e. computer fantasy game) may be therapeutic. She also considers the problems that arise when using MUDs. Turkle discusses what she calls women's "non-linear" approach to the technology, calling it "soft mastery" and "bricolage" (as opposed to the "hard mastery" of linear, abstract thinking and computer programming). She discusses problems that arise when children pose as adults online.

Turkle also explores the psychological and societal impact of such "relational artifacts" as social robots, and how these and other technologies are changing attitudes about human life and living things generally. One result may be a devaluation of authentic experience in a relationship. Together with Seymour Papert she wrote the influential paper "Epistemological Pluralism and the Revaluation of the Concrete."[5] Turkle has written numerous articles on psychoanalysis and culture and on the "subjective side" of people's relationships with technology, especially computers. She is engaged in active study of robots, digital pets, and simulated creatures, particularly those designed for children and the elderly as well as in a study of mobile cellular technologies. Profiles of Turkle have appeared in such publications as The New York Times, Scientific American, and Wired Magazine. She is a featured media commentator on the effects of technology for CNN, NBC, ABC, and NPR, including appearances on such programs as Nightline and 20/20.

Turkle has begun to assess the adverse effects of rapidly advancing technology on human social behavior. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other was published in 2011 and when discussing the topic she speaks about the need to limit the use of popular technological devices because of these adverse effects.[6]