Jan 242010

turkle2Sherry 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.”


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