Sherry Turkle Sees e-Life at the Crossroads

January/February 2011

Sherry Turkle introduces her 1995 book, Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet, with a quote from a poem by Walt Whitman: "There was a child went forth every day, / And the first object he look'd upon, that object he became." For Turkle, an ethnographically trained sociologist and psychologist (the founding director of MIT's Initiative on Technology and Self), Whitman was conveying a profound truth: "We make our objects and our objects make us," as she's said. In our high-tech, computer-obsessed age, Turkle's key mission has become to unravel "how our increasingly intimate relationship with technology . . . changes the way we see ourselves as people. It isn't so much what technology is doing for us, but what it's doing to us." More and more, as Turkle sees it, we're the machine, and the machine is us.

Turkle has spent the last 30 years studying what our machines have come to mean to us, and how they're altering—sometimes radically—our understanding and experience of intimacy, privacy, relationship, personal identity, even our sense of what we consider "reality" and "virtual reality"—which one is the "real" reality? Few would want to return to the primitive B.C. era (before computer): our electronic stuff is just too useful, too pleasurable, too seductive. But that seductiveness incurs significant costs, which we've…

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