Alone Together

by wil — Aug 22, 2011

I finished Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other a while ago, but I’m only now getting around to writing a review.

Turkle is a psychologist, professor, and “the founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self.” Alone Together is a psychological/sociological critique of a) social robots (and the humans that interact with them) and b) the always-connected individual.

I found Turkle’s discussion of social robots quite fascinating. She worries that social robots might become so sophisticated that we begin to treat them as human, even though their underlying programming is entirely synthetic and different from our own. It leads to a Baudrillard-esque question:

What is the difference between a human-human (real) interaction and a human-synthetic (simulated) interaction, if you can’t tell the difference?

I think, for all practical purposes, there is no difference. But Turkle believes there is something fundamental missing from a human-synthetic interaction. It may well be that we aren’t truly in disagreement, but just offering our own nuanced answers. Either way, it’s an interesting topic.

In the second half of the book, Turkle discusses the social/psychological effects of always-on (phone, computer) connections and the rapidly rising frequency of screen-mediated interactions. She covers issues of privacy, burn-out, social anxiety, social decorum, loneliness, and sacred space.

Turkle is always thoughtful in her critique. She doesn’t lecture, she simply asks us to think about the issues; to move forward deliberately, not blindly. —Recommended.

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