Life on the Screen

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Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet is a book by clinical psychologist and professor Sherry Turkle. It addresses how people interact with computers, and consequences of that interaction. It was first published in November 1995. Turkle explains how peoples' opinion of computers have evolved through time and some of the implications for new users.

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In the section titled "Of Dreams and Beasts", Turkle focuses on how the boundary between humans and machines has evolved to become extremely vague. She pays great attention to the development of artificial intelligence and artificial life, and notes people's constant struggle to make a distinction between humans and machines. When AI first came about, there were two different approaches: emergent and rule-driven. Originally, rule-driven AI was more practical. People at the time never even considered humans to be anything like machines. Later, computers became more widely used and technology allowed emergent AI to come about. People said machines couldn't be like people because humans had feelings and were spontaneous. Emergent AI was similar to being spontaneous so the boundary had to be redrawn. As technology improved machines began to act more and more humanoid. People's opinions of computers had evolved along with the technology. Turkle observed that where once people refused to even think of machines as a very basic human mind, now they referred to their own mind as machine-like at times. She also noticed that people now began to talk to machines freely without much embarrassment. The boundary between humans and machines had been broken down to one point, humans are alive where machines are not. With the development of a-life, that weak boundary is becoming weaker. Turkle questions how we define life and simulated life.

Turkle dedicates a section entitled "On the Internet" to her observations about how people use the technology. Within this section she argues that misrepresenting oneself in a MUD may be therapeutic. Turkle also considers the problem of differentiating between real life crimes and those which occur in online environments. She questions the ferocity and dangers of online "rape" because of the differing reactions she has seen to it. She also discusses the problem of underage children posing as adults. This misrepresentation could potentially lead to a relationship with a genuine adult.

In the same section, Turkle also observes that women have a "non-linear" approach to computers. This she calls "soft mastery" and "bricolage" (as opposed to the "hard mastery" of linear, abstract thinking and computer programming).



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