Sherry Turkle

Sherry
Turkle
1948

American Educator and Cultural Analyst, Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Author Quotes

Transparency once meant being able to open the hood to see how things worked. Now, with the Macintosh meaning of transparency dominant in the computer culture, it means quite the opposite: being able to use a program without knowing how it works.

We're lonely, but we're afraid of intimacy. And so from social networks to sociable robots, we're designing technologies that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.

Uncanny as something long familiar that feels strangely unfamiliar. The uncanny stands between standard categories and challenges the categories themselves. It is familiar to see a doll at rest. But we don?t need to cover its eyes, for it is we who animate it. It is familiar to have a person?s expressive face beckon to us, but if we blindfold that person and put them behind a curtain, we are inflicting punishment. The Furby with its expressions of fear and the gendered Nexi with her blindfold are the new uncanny in the culture of computing.

We're smitten with technology. And we're afraid, like young lovers, that too much talking might spoil the romance. But it's time to talk.

We all really need to listen to each other, including to the boring bits.

What I'm seeing is a generation that says consistently, 'I would rather text than make a telephone call.' Why? It's less risky. I can just get the information out there. I don't have to get all involved; it's more efficient. I would rather text than see somebody face to face.

The technology has become like a phantom limb, it is so much a part of them. These young people are among the first to grow up with an expectation of continuous connection: always on, and always on them. And they are among the first to grow up not necessarily thinking of simulation as second best. All of this makes them fluent with technology but brings a set of new insecurities.

We are challenged to ask what such things augur. Some people are looking for robots to clean rugs and help with the laundry. Others hope for a mechanical bride. As sociable robots propose themselves as substitutes for people, new networked devices offer us machine-mediated relationships with each other, another kind of substitution. We romance the robot and become inseparable from our smart phones. As this happens, we remake ourselves and our relationships with each other through our new intimacy with machines. People talk about Web access on their Black Berries as ?the place for hope? in life, the place where loneliness can be defeated. A woman in her late sixties describes her new iPhone: ?It?s like having a little Times Square in my pocketbook. All lights. All the people I could meet.? People are lonely. The network is seductive. But if we are always on, we may deny ourselves the rewards of solitude.

What is so seductive about texting, about keeping that phone on, about that little red light on the BlackBerry, is you want to know who wants you.

The work of neuroscientist Antonio Damasio offers insight into the origins of this guilt. Damasio describes two levels of experiencing pain. The first is a physical response to a painful stimulus. The second, a far more complex reaction, is an emotion associated with pain. This is an internal representation of the physical.

We are changed as technology offers us substitutes for connecting with each other face-to-face. We are offered robots and a whole world of machine-mediated relationships on networked devices. As we instant-message, e-mail, text, and Twitter, technology redraws the boundaries between intimacy and solitude. We talk of getting ?rid? of our e-mails, as though these notes are so much excess baggage. Teenagers avoid making telephone calls, fearful that they ?reveal too much.? They would rather text than talk. Adults, too, choose keyboards over the human voice. It is more efficient, they say. Things that happen in ?real time? take too much time. Tethered to technology, we are shaken when that world ?unplugged? does not signify, does not satisfy. After an evening of avatar-to avatar talk in a networked game, we feel, at one moment, in possession of a full social life and, in the next, curiously isolated, in tenuous complicity with strangers. We build a following on Facebook or MySpace and wonder to what degree our followers are friends. We recreate ourselves as online personae and give ourselves new bodies, homes, jobs, and romances. Yet, suddenly, in the half-light of virtual community, we may feel utterly alone. As we distribute ourselves, we may abandon ourselves. Sometimes people experience no sense of having communicated after hours of connection. And they report feelings of closeness when they are paying little attention. In all of this, there is a nagging question: Does virtual intimacy degrade our experience of the other kind and, indeed, of all encounters, of any kind?

When technology engineers intimacy, relationships can be reduced to mere connections.

There are moments of opportunity for families; moments they need to put technology away. These include: no phones or texting during meals. No phones or texting when parents pick up children at school - a child is looking to make eye contact with a parent!

We are inhibited from aggression by the presence of another face, another person. We're aware that we're with a human being. On the Internet, we are disinhibited from taking into full account that we are in the presence of another human being.

When Thoreau considered where I live and what I live for, he tied together location and values. Where we live doesn't just change how we live; it informs who we become. Most recently, technology promises us lives on the screen. What values, Thoreau would ask, follow from this new location? Immersed in simulation, where do we live, and what do we live for?

These communication technologies compete with ?the world around us? in a zero-sum game for our attention.

We are psychologically programmed not only to nurture what we love but to love what we nurture.

Wilson?s way of keeping in mind the dual aspects of the Furby?s nature seems to me a philosophical version of multitasking, so central to our twentieth-century attentional ecology. His attitude is pragmatic. If something that seems to have a self is before him, he deals with the aspect of self he finds most relevant to the context.

These days, insecure in our relationships and anxious about intimacy, we look to technology for ways to be in relationships and protect ourselves from them at the same time.

We are shaped by our tools.

Zane, six, knows that AIBO doesn?t have a real brain and heart, but they are real enough. AIBO is kind of alive because it can function as if it had a brain and heart.

These young people have grown up with sociable robot pets, the companions of their playrooms, which portrayed emotion, said they cared, and asked to be cared for. We are psychologically programmed not only to nurture what we love but to love what we nurture. So even simple artificial creatures can provoke heartfelt attachment. Many teenagers anticipate that the robot toys of their childhood will give way to full-fledged machine companions. In the psychoanalytic tradition, a symptom addresses a conflict but distracts us from understanding or resolving it; a dream expresses a wish. Sociable robots serve as both symptom and dream: as a symptom, they promise a way to sidestep conflicts about intimacy; as a dream, they express a wish for relationships with limits, a way to be both together and alone.

We are substituting ?real conversations? with shallower, ?dumbed-down? connections that give us a false sense of security. Similarly, we are capable of presenting ourselves in a very particular way that hides our faults and exaggerates our better qualities

They are learning a way of feeling connected in which they have permission to think only of themselves.

We ask [ of the computer ] not just about where we stand in nature, but about where we stand in the world of artefact. We search for a link between who we are and what we have made, between who we are and what we might create, between who we are and what, through our intimacy with our own creations, we might become.

Author Picture
First Name
Sherry
Last Name
Turkle
Birth Date
1948
Bio

American Educator and Cultural Analyst, Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology