Sherry Turkle

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Sherry Turkle
Sherry Turkle.jpg
Born June 18, 1948[1]
New York City, New York[2]
Nationality American
Education Ph.D. in Sociology and Personality Psychology from Harvard University, BA Social Studies from Harvard University
Known for Professor at MIT, Social Studies of Science and Technology
Notable work(s) The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit",[3] Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other

Sherry Turkle 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 Ph.D. 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.’”[4] 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.”[5]

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."[6] Professor 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 Professor 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.[7]

Early life[edit]

Sherry Turkle was born on June 18, 1948. A Brooklyn native, Turkle attended Abraham Lincoln High School and graduated as a valedictorian in 1965. Afterwards, she attended Radcliffe College. Turkle visited France in the late 1960s and had a glimpse of France's era of social and intellectual unrest. She later returned to the United States in the 1970s. After receiving her Bachelors in Social Studies from Radcliffe College, she received her Masters in Sociology at Harvard University in 1973. She would then go on to earn her Doctorate in Sociology and Personality Psychology from Harvard in 1976, "writing about the relationship between Freudian thought and the modern French revolutionary movements."[8]

Life on the Screen[edit]

In Life on the Screen, Turkle presents a study of how people's use of the computer has evolved over time, and the profound effect that this machine has on its users. The computer, which connects millions of people across the world together, is changing the way we think and see ourselves. Although it was originally intended to serve as a tool to help us to write and communicate with others, it has more recently transformed into a means of providing us with virtual worlds which we can step into and interact with other people.

The term “cyberspace” was coined and refers to our everyday interactions on the computer, such as checking our email or making airline reservations. Cyberspace allows us to come in contact with other people from across the world, and develop virtual relationships with them. The book discusses how such simulation affects our minds and the way we think about ourselves.

Turkle also discusses the way our human identity is changing due to the fading boundary between humans and computers, and how people now have trouble distinguishing between humans and machines. It used to be thought that humans were nothing like machines, because humans had feelings and machines did not. However, as technology has improved, computers have become more and more human-like, and these boundaries had to be redrawn. People now compare their own minds to machines, and talk to them freely without any shame or embarrassment. Turkle questions our ethics in defining and differentiating between real life and simulated life.[9]

The Second Self[edit]

In the Second Self, Turkle defines the computer as more than just a tool, but part of our everyday personal and psychological lives. She looks at how the computer affects the way we look at ourselves and our relationships with others, claiming that technology defines the way we think and act. Turkle's book allows us to view and reevaluate our own relationships with technology.

In her process of evaluating our relationships with computers, Turkle interviews children, college students, engineers, AI scientists, hackers and personal computer owners in order to further understand our relationships with computers and how we interact with them on a personal level. The interviews showed that computers are both a part of our selves as well as part of the external world. In this book, Turkle tries to figure out why we think of computers in such psychological terms, how this happens and what this means for all of us.[10]

Alone Together[edit]

In Turkle's 2011 book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, she discusses how newer technologies are greatly affecting this generation. The book draws from Turkle's experience interviewing hundreds of children and adults about their use of technology and their interpersonal relationships. Turkle presents a darker, more cautionary vision of what it means to live in an interconnected world. She explains the downsides of seeking control and convenience in our interpersonal relationships. This has resulted in people being more connected than ever, yet still often alone and uncomfortable with intimacy. Turkle warns against the loss of rich and demanding social interactions and face-to-face conversations, and the preference for texting over talking. The book also criticizes the development of social robots.

Sherry Turkle gave a TED talk on the subject of the book in February 2012, under the title “Connected, but alone?” [11] Points from her talk echo those in the book: 1. The communication technologies not only change what people do, but also changes who they are. 2. People are developing problems in relating to each other, relating to themselves, and their capacity for self-reflection. 3. People using these devices excessively expect more from technology and less from each other. Technologies are being designed that will give people the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. 4. The capacity for being alone is not being cultivated. Being alone seems to be interpreted as an illness that needs to be cured rather than a comfortable state of solitude with many uses. 5. Traditional conversation has given way to mediated connection, leading to the loss of valuable interpersonal skills.


Turkle has had an interest in MUDs, or Multi-User Domains. Her book Life on the Screen draws on a thorough study of MUDs. She finds MUDs to be fulfilling for many users. "A MUD can become a context for discovering who one is and wishes to be. In this way, the games are laboratories for the construction of identity.”[12]

Turkle lived in Boston and attended many pizza parties to carefully observe "MUDers." She discovered that people use virtual reality to act as if it were reality. Human behaviors such as romance are practiced in virtual reality. Spending a lot of time with these "MUDers," she realized how the Internet has become a modern day way of connecting to people. The Internet links millions of people and it has begun to dictate the way we think and learn. She is quoted as saying in Life on Screen, "Computer screens are the new location for our fantasies, both erotic and intellectual. We are using life on computer screens to become comfortable with new ways of thinking about evolution, relationships, sexuality, politics, and identity." She goes on to discuss the closer relationship between humans and computers.[13]


Papers and reports[edit]



  1. ^ Henderson, Harry. Encyclopedia of Computer Science and Technology. 2009. p. 482. [1]
  2. ^ Henderson 2009, p. 482.
  3. ^ Turkle, Sherry. MIT Profile
  4. ^ [2]
  5. ^ [3]
  6. ^ Turkle, Sherry; Papert, Seymour (1992). "Epistemological Pluralism and Revaluation of the Concrete". Journal of Mathematical Behavior 11 (1). 
  7. ^ Sherry Turkle on Being Alone Together, Moyers & Company, October 18, 2013
  8. ^ Henderson 2009, p. 482.
  9. ^ Turkle, Sherry. Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York. [4]
  10. ^ "The Second Self"
  11. ^ Turkle, Sherry. "Connected, but alone?"
  12. ^ Kapor, Mitchell. "Life in the MUD". Spring 1996
  13. ^ "Who am We?"., January 1996. [5]


External links[edit]