Sherry Turkle directs the MIT Initiative on Technology and the Self. She has published several books, including Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. She was recently interviewed by Krista Tippett on American Public Radio’s On Being. Following are some quotes from the interview I found particularly interesting.
“My favorite line in Alone Together is, “Just because we grew up with the Internet, we think that the Internet is all grown up.” That is that we think, that we have a mature Internet in front of us and we don’t. We don’t have a mature Internet in front of us. We’re in the baby stages, and that’s good because that means we can make it right.”
“I’ll give you an example of my most recent moment of when I get nervous. Mark Zuckerberg makes a statement that “privacy is no longer relevant as an element in social discourse.” He says that. It gets widely reported, not commented on. You know, I tweet very little, but this caused me to tweet. I said very simply, maybe privacy isn’t convenient for the social network, but maybe we should be asking, What is intimacy without privacy? What is democracy without privacy?”
“The great psychologist Piaget was interested in the question of how do children decide what’s alive and not alive. And he — in the world of traditional objects where you had bicycles and stones and dolls, he interviewed children about what was alive and not alive. Ultimately, they decided that things that could move, physically move without an outside push or pull, were alive. So that meant that, for example, they would incorrectly classify clouds as alive until they could figure out that the wind pushed the clouds. When the computer came, I studied a radical shift in how children went about solving that problem because they no longer cared — and this was dramatic — they no longer cared about whether or not something was pushed in terms of its movement. They cared about how this thing thought, what its psychology was, whether its psychology came from the inside, and that was stunning.”
“That’s when I started talking about a new pragmatism among this generation of young people. This is no longer philosophical. Life becomes a pragmatic quality. Is this alive enough for this purpose? And this is important because we’re now talking about robots that will serve as companions to the elderly, robots that will serve as companions to children as kind of nanny-bots. This is the question being asked of them. Are they alive enough for this purpose? And I, of course, think this is the wrong question in many cases. What are the things these children start to miss if they don’t think it’s important that things be alive?”
“There’s a wonderful phrase. In psychology, it says, “If you don’t teach your children to be alone, they’ll only always know how to be lonely.”
“To make our life livable, we have to have spaces where we are fully present to each other or to ourselves, where we’re not competing with the roar of the Internet and, quite frankly, where the people around us are not competing with the latest news off the Facebook status update. They may not have anything new. They may just be there being in a way that needs attention. I mean, people like to put things on Facebook and Twitter that are happy. I’ve interviewed people who say things to me as simple as, you know, I don’t even like to put that my dog died.”
“You know, I don’t have a crazy nostalgia for an unplugged life, you know, in cabins in the woods. I’m just saying that we have to ask ourselves really what is served by having an always-on, always-on you, open-to-anyone-who-wants-to-reach-us way of life? Because in my research, I’ve found that it actually cuts off conversations as much as it opens out conversations. So, for example, you can be too busy communicating to think.”