Sherry Turkle


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

People are surprised by how upset they get in this theater of distress. And then they get upset that they are upset. They often try to reassure themselves, saying things like, Chill, chill, it?s only a toy! They are experiencing something new: you can feel bad about yourself for how you behave with a computer program. Adults come to the upside-down test knowing two things: the Furby is a machine and they are not torturers. By the end, with a whimpering Furby in tow, they are on new ethical terrain.

The most used program in computers and education is PowerPoint. What are you learning about the nature of the medium by knowing how do to a great PowerPoint presentation? Nothing. It certainly doesn't teach you how to think critically about living in a culture of simulation.

If behind popular fascination with Freudian theory there was a nervous, often guilty preoccupation with the self as sexual, behind increasing interest in computational interpretations of mind is an equally nervous preoccupation with the self as machine.

People thought I was very pro-computer. I was on the cover of 'Wired' magazine. Then things began to change. In the early '80s, we met this technology and became smitten like young lovers. But today our attachment is unhealthy.

The My Real Babies frightened her,

If there is no underlying meaning, or a meaning we shall never know, postmodern theorists argue that the privileged way of knowing can only be through an exploration of surfaces. This makes social knowledge into something that we might navigate much as we explore the Macintosh screen and its multiple layers of files and applications.

Pinball games were constrained by physical limitations, ultimately by the physical laws that govern the motion of a small metal ball. The video world knows no such bounds. Objects fly, spin, accelerate, change shape and color, disappear and reappear. Their behavior, like the behavior of anything created by a computer program, is limited only by the programmer?s imagination. The objects in a video game are representations of objects. And a representation of a ball, unlike a real one, never need obey the laws of gravity unless its programmer wants it to.

The new technologies allow us to dial down human contact, to titrate its nature and extent.

If we're not able to be alone, we're going to be more lonely. And if we don't teach our children to be alone, they're only going to know how to be lonely.

Sociable robotics exploits the idea of a robotic body to move people to relate to machines as subjects, as creatures in pain rather than broken objects. That even the most primitive Tamagotchi can inspire these feelings demonstrates that objects cross that line not because of their sophistication but because of the feelings of attachment they evoke.

In debugging, errors are seen not as false but as fixable. This is a state of mind that makes it easy to learn from .6 Multiple passes also brought a new feel for the complexity of design decisions.

some children become more anxious as the operation continues. One suggests that if the Furby dies, it might haunt them. It is alive enough to turn into a ghost. Indeed, a group of children start to call the empty Furby skin the ghost of Furby and the Furby?s naked body the goblin. They are not happy that this operation might leave a Furby goblin and ghost at large. One girl comes up with the idea that the ghost of the Furby will be less fearful if distributed. She asks if it would be okay if every child took home a piece of Furby skin.

In sum, MUDs blur the boundaries between self and game, self and role, self and simulation. One player says, 'You are what you pretend to are what you play.'

Some people even talk about robots as providing respite from feeling overwhelmed by technology. In Japan, companionate robots are specifically marketed as a way to seduce people out of cyberspace; robots plant a new flag in the physical real. If the problem is that too much technology has made us busy and anxious, the solution will be another technology that will organize, amuse, and relax us. So, although historically robots provoked anxieties about technology out of control, these days they are more likely to represent the reassuring idea that in a world of problems, science will offer solutions. Robots have become a twenty-first-century deus ex machina. Putting hope in robots expresses an enduring technological optimism, a belief that as other things go wrong, science will go right. In a complicated world, robots seem a simple salvation. It is like calling in the cavalry.

In the classic children?s story The Velveteen Rabbit, a stuffed animal becomes real because of a child?s love. Tamagotchis do not wait passively but demand attention and claim that without it they will not survive. With this aggressive demand for care, the question of biological aliveness almost falls away. We love what we nurture; if a Tamagotchi makes you love it, and you feel it loves you in return, it is alive enough to be a creature.

Technology challenges us to assert our human values, which means that first of all, we have to figure out what they are.

In the early days of cubism, the simultaneous presentation of many perspectives of the human face was subversive. But at a certain point, one becomes accustomed to looking at a face in this new way. A face, after all, does have multiple aspects; only representational conventions keep us from appreciating them together. But once convention is challenged, the new view of the face suggests depth and new complexities. Lester has a cubist view of AIBO; he is aware of it as machine, bodily creature, and mind. An AIBO?s sentience, he says, is awesome. The creature is endearing. He appreciates the programming behind the exact swing of the floppy puppy ears. To Lester, that programming gives AIBO a mind.

Technology is seductive when what it offers meets our human vulnerabilities. And as it turns out, we are very vulnerable indeed. We are lonely but fearful of intimacy. Digital connections and the sociable robot may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other. We?d rather text than talk.

From watching children play with objects designed as amusements, we come to a new place, a place of cold comforts. Child and adult, we imagine made to measure companions. Or, at least we imagine companions who are always interested in us.

In this dismissal of origins we see the new pragmatism.

Technology proposes itself as the architect of our intimacies.

Hold on to your passion - you'll need it!

It is painful to watch children trying to show off for parents who are engrossed in their cell phones. Children are nostalgic for the 'good old days' when parents used to read to them without the cell phone by their side or watch football games or Disney movies without having the BlackBerry handy.

Teenagers talk about the idea of having each other's 'full attention.' They grew up in a culture of distraction. They remember their parents were on cell phones when they were pushed on swings as toddlers. Now, their parents text at the dinner table and don't look up from their BlackBerry when they come for end-of-school day pickup.

Human relationships are rich and they're messy and they're demanding. And we clean them up with technology. Texting, email, posting, all of these things let us present the self as we want to be. We get to edit, and that means we get to delete, and that means we get to retouch, the face, the voice, the flesh, the body -- not too little, not too much, just right.

Author Picture
First Name
Last Name
Birth Date

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