June 18, 1948 |
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Known for||Social Studies of Science and Technology|
|Notable work||The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit", Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other|
Sherry Turkle (born June 18, 1948) 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.’” 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.”
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." 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 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.
Early life and education
Sherry Turkle was born in Brooklyn on June 18, 1948. After she graduated as a valedictorian from Abraham Lincoln High School in 1965, she began her studies at Radcliffe College. After a few years at Radcliffe, Turkle took time off from college to live and work in France. During this time she had a glimpse of France's era of social and intellectual unrest. In the early 1970s, she returned to the United States and graduated with a Bachelors in Social Studies from Radcliffe College. She then received a Masters in Sociology at Harvard University in 1973. She went on to earn a Doctorate in Sociology and Personality Psychology from Harvard University in 1976. Inspired by her time in France during her undergraduate years, she did her dissertation research in France, "writing about the relationship between Freudian thought and the modern French revolutionary movements." This relationship was also the subject of her first book, Psychoanalytic Politics: Jacques Lacan and Freud's French Revolution.
The Second Self
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.
Life on the Screen
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 book discusses how our everyday interactions with computers affect 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.
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A cautionary tale about the limits of technology, Alone Together explores where technology is taking us and how society adapts to answer new questions brought on by the rise of mobile technologies, robots, computers, and other electronic gadgets. In particular, the author Turkle, raises concerns about the way in which genuine, organic social interactions become degraded through constant exposure to illusory meaningful exchanges with artificial intelligence. There is a deep irony underlying Turkle's central argument: that the technological developments which have most contributed to the rise of inter-connectivity, have at the same time bolstered a sense of alienation between people.
Turkle's main argument in the first part of the book is that our interactions with robots that simulate emotion pose serious threats to our ability to relate to one another properly. If a robot can fool a human into thinking that it cares, when in fact it doesn't, the human is being deceived. Turkle discusses various robots such as Cog, Kismet, and Paro, which have been designed to interact with humans on an emotional level and to convincingly simulate language, perceptual awareness and even interpersonal intimacy. Turkle worries that these robots will ultimately replace humans or other animals as pets and caregivers. She offers many significant examples which demonstrate that even individuals who should be acutely aware of the emotional dearth of robotic interactions (like robotic programmers) are actually surprisingly vulnerable to believing that they have emotionally meaningful interactions with their technological creations. Because robots can't feel real emotions (for the present), they are designed to replicate humans as closely as possible. Turkle is concerned that we often attribute certain qualities to robots that the robots do not in fact possess, and that our emotional interactions with other humans become eroded as a direct result. A salient example that Turkle uses to illustrate this is that of AIBO a little robot dog that has the ability to mature and adapt. Turkle expands on several cases where children and even adults have formed intimate, emotional bonds with their specific AIBO. Her point is that many of these people knew that the pet dog was not "real" but treated it if it were real. The implications of this are grave because it means that we are deceiving ourselves and letting technology rule our emotions. For example, one of the children stated that when he is having a bad day he just turns the AIBO off. This sense of instant gratification and emotional-playing is what worries Turkle as it is a foreshadowing of what is to come with the rise of A.I. Turkle also talks about a sex-robot named Roxxxy who is designed to provide intimacy to other humans. This too is frightening as it signals an age of personalized emotions and instantaneous gratification via technology. Moreover, if the intimacy of intercourse can be adequately simulated by a robot, Turkle is concerned that our appreciation for genuine, face to face, human interaction may become eroded.
The second part of the book examines the nature of online social interactions, and the way in which social media has changed how people, particularly younger people, connect with one another. It negatively influences the social dynamic when in-person meetings have distractions and when people are aware that they are constantly connected after the interaction has ended. For example, when students in class are not entirely "present" because they are distracted with Facebook or other social media outlets. Similarly, people in interpersonal social situations are often distracted by their phones, which Turkle argues causes them to pay insufficient attention to one another. She is particularly concerned that young people, who are often the most deeply immersed in new technologies, have increasingly shallow interactions with one another. Not only does this degrade actual human-to-human interaction, it also has had a profound effect on today's teenagers. The current adolescent generation is so addicted to the internet and mobile devices that teenagers have linked their emotional state to how their friends on social media respond to them. Furthermore, the degradation of human to human interactions through increasing use of social media and other technological means of communication lead to increased examples of emotional bullying and inability to understand how much your words hurt other people. Turkle cites examples of high school students admitting to posting very cruel comments about their friends and ostracizing their classmates without even realizing how much it could have hurt them, all because technology made them physically and emotionally detached from the victims. The absence of physical proximity is an important aspect of this detachment. Teenagers have become so reliant on friends' support or advice, they do not take time to reflect on themselves and, thus, have become very collaborative and less independent.
The depreciation of privacy
Turkle talks about the nature of privacy in the post 9/11 world where privacy got sacrificed in exchange for safety and guarantee to avoid another tragedy like 9/11. Despite this book having been written before the revelations about the breadth of NSA cyber spying programs, many of her arguments anticipate contemporary concerns with the way in which our sense of privacy may be imperiled in the modern world due to the development of technology and to the temptation to monitor private communications between individuals to avert public safety threats. Moreover, because they have grown up as part of a world in which privacy is regarded as increasingly tenuous, children do not always appreciate the full value of privacy, which in turn causes them to share even more personal details on the web. This further depreciates the value of privacy in a self-perpetuating cycle. However Turkle does mention that since no action or comment can be kept private anymore, people have developed a sense of self-control, similar to the prisoners in Panopticon, who don't know whether they are being watched or not, so they develop a habit of always being on their best behavior. As people find it increasingly difficult to keep anything off the indestructible book that is internet, they discipline themselves to avoid doing something they will regret.
Presented at TED
Turkle gave a TED talk on the subject of the book in February 2012, under the title “Connected, but alone?”  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.
The reasons for this are, according to Turkle, that these technologies promise us three gratifying fantasies: 1) that we can put our attention wherever we want to, 2) that when we're connected we will always be heard and 3) that we'll never have to be alone. Technology promises us simplicity whereas human relationships and interactions are hard and complex. People want to be in control of their attention and affections. Turkle calls this desire the 'Goldilocks Effect'—we want our relationships, the amount of attention that is required of us etc.—not to be too much or to little, but just right. Technology seemingly enables us to be just that.
- Psychoanalytic Politics: Jacques Lacan and Freud's French Revolution (1978) ISBN 0-89862-474-6
- The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit (1984). ISBN 0-262-70111-1
- Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet (1995) (paperback ISBN 0-684-83348-4)
- Evocative Objects: Things We Think With, (Ed.), MIT Press (2007). ISBN 0-262-20168-2
- Falling for Science: Objects in Mind, (Ed.), MIT Press (2008). ISBN 978-0-262-20172-8
- The Inner History of Devices, (Ed.), MIT Press (2008). ISBN 978-0-262-20176-6
- Simulation and Its Discontents, MIT Press (2009). ISBN 978-0-262-01270-6
- Alone Together, Basic Books (2011). ISBN 978-0-465-01021-9
- Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, Penguin Press (2015). ISBN 978-1-594-20555-2
Papers and reports
- Sherry Turkle, Will Taggart, Cory D. Kidd, and Olivia Dasté. (December 2006). "Relational Artifacts with Children and Elders: The Complexities of Cybercompanionship," Connection Science, 18(4):347-361.
- Sherry Turkle, (July 2006). "A Nascent Robotics Culture: New Complicities for Companionship," AAAI Technical Report Series.
- Sherry Turkle. (January 1996). "Who Am We? : We are moving from modernist calculation toward postmodernist simulation, where the self is a multiple, distributed system," Wired Magazine, Issue 4.01, January 1996.
- Liz Else, Sherry Turkle. "Living online: I'll have to ask my friends", New Scientist, issue 2569, 20 September 2006. (interview; subscription needed for full article)
- Colbert Report, Jan. 17th, 2011.
- Fischetti, M. (2014). THE NETWORKED PRIMATE. Scientific American, 311 (3). 82-85. 
Awards and honors
Turkle is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Rockefeller Humanities Fellowship, the Harvard Centennial Medal, and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Turkle has been named "woman of the year" by Ms. Magazine and among the "forty under forty" who are changing the nation by Esquire.
- Henderson, Harry. Encyclopedia of Computer Science and Technology. 2009. p. 482.
- Turkle, Sherry. MIT Profile
- Turkle, Sherry; Papert, Seymour (1992). "Epistemological Pluralism and Revaluation of the Concrete". Journal of Mathematical Behavior. 11 (1).
- Sherry Turkle on Being Alone Together, Moyers & Company, October 18, 2013
- "The Second Self"
- Turkle, Sherry. Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York.
- Turkle, Sherry. "Connected, but alone?"
- Meneses, J. (2006). Ten Years of (Everyday) Life on the Screen: A Critical Re-reading of the Proposal of Sherry Turkle
- Sherry Turkle's homepage
- SocioSite: Famous Sociologists - Sherry Turkle Information resources on life, academic work and intellectual influence of Sherry Turkle. Editor: dr. Albert Benschop (University of Amsterdam).
- Turkle's article "Virtuality and Its Discontents: Searching for Community in Cyberspace" (1996).
- Detailed interview at priory.com at the Wayback Machine (archived August 6, 2006)
- Interview with Sherry Turkle Silicon Valley Radio
- Sherry Turkle Playlist Appearance on WMBR's Dinnertime Sampler radio show February 9, 2005
- Lecture about Alone Together (MP3) London School of Economics, 2 June 2011
- Sherry Turkle on Being Alone Together, Moyers & Company, October 18, 2013
- Making The Case For Face To Face In An Era Of Digital Conversation, interview on Weekend Edition Saturday on NPR, September 27, 2015