Sherry Turkle is the Abby Rockefeller Mauze Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, and is the director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. She earned her doctorate in sociology and personality psychology from Harvard University, and is a licensed clinical psychologist. She writes about the “subjective side” of the relationship between people and technology.
I first read The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit nearly twenty years ago and have often assigned it to students. Turkle describes how children use computers as evocative objects — “things to think with” — which assist them in understanding their own capacities and limitations. Thus, the sense of self that emerges in children who have grown up with computers can differ from that in children who have grown up with, say, animals and pets — the experience of the former suggesting the specific difference and genus feeling machine, rather than the traditional Aristotelian rational animal. This kind of revision in our understanding of who we are, it seems to me, marks a profound cultural transition — and it is important that we consider the possibility that our technology can induce deep changes.
I found equally provocative Turkle’s next book, Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. It is a perceptive look at how the roles that we assume on-line affect us in real life. Dr. Turkle is also the author of Psychoanalytic Politics: Jacques Lacan and Freud’s French Revolution, and MIT Press has recently published four sets of essays edited by Turkle:
Evocative Objects: Things We Think With
Falling for Science: Objects in Mind
The Inner History of Devices
Simulation and Its Discontents.
Every year Edge poses its annual question. For 2010 it is this: How has the internet changed the way you think? In her response, Turkle talks about our need to protect a zone of private action and reflection. “To me,” she says, “opening up a conversation about rethinking the Net, privacy, and civil society is not backward-looking nostalgia or Luddite in the least. It seems like part of a healthy process of democracy defining its sacred spaces.”