Then there's the increasing awareness of privacy issues. What if the Internet never forgets? Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, is on record as saying that he thinks that by 2021, everyone will need to change their name because Google won't be able to protect their privacy and nobody will want to be accountable for their Internet "histories." In 1995, I wasn't focused on the fact that everything you did could potentially be recorded and traced back to you. I didn't explore these privacy issues back then. And I didn't consider that many people might become so fascinated by their lives in virtual worlds that they wouldn't get out and have an actual life!
PN: So your new book has a much more cautionary tone.
ST: I think what's at stake are some of the fundamental notions we have about personal identity and relationship that have developed over the past 200 years. Our notions of being in love and being an individual and being autonomous and separating and growing up and growing into adulthood are deeply enmeshed with our ideas about the importance of having privacy—of having a bounded self and a circle of privacy in our lives. These ideas, which are the mainstays of our emotional and political culture, are now being challenged. We're losing the technical infrastructure for them. So I'm just saying, before we go much further, let's look at how technology is changing us, and let's have a conversation about what those changes may mean for all of us.
PN: So where do therapists fit into all this?
ST: Part of my mission is to ask therapists to think about how the Internet and the other new communication technologies are impacting all of us. I want them to explore with their clients, particularly their adolescent clients, what they're doing online. And I think that's beginning to happen today. Just as no psychotherapist would be comfortable not knowing about a patient's family relationships, today, therapists are starting to ask about their patients' relationship with the online world.
PN: Now it seems there are two distinct faces of the Internet. Earlier on, it was the old idea of the "Information Superhighway" that no one talks about anymore—it was the Internet as mainly a limitless source of information. Then came Web 2.0 and the networked world, where, through social media, through things like first MySpace and then Facebook, you have access to people from your past and people who share your interests in a way that no one had ever really imagined before. It's become possible to have multiple tribal identities, depending on where you want to hang out on the web.
In the last couple of years, I think we've crossed some threshold, even among therapists, who must be one of the most technophobic groups in the culture. Not a day goes by that I don't get an invitation to "friend" someone on Facebook. And even an old-school, late-adopter like me has now fallen in love with technology. About six months ago, I finally bought an iPod, and my life hasn't been the same since.
ST: What do you listen to?
PN: First of all, I never listen to music—it's mainly interviews and the kind of loose, spontaneous conversations that are the hallmark of podcasting. It's a whole new relational world for me. I discovered that just about every magazine I read broadcasts free podcasts that I can download on iTunes. Suddenly I feel like I'm on personal terms with the best talkers and smartest minds in the world—although it may be a bit like the robots and the anthropomorphism that you were talking about a while ago.