I’m generally not one to link TED talks, but Sherry Turkle’s TEDxUIUC talk is worth watching. In sixteen minutes, Turkle outlines the second half of her latest book, Alone Together (this book is a terrific read, and absolutely worth the purchase). While I do not always agree with Turkle, I tremendous respect for her, and her work. This video demonstrates some of the things I think Turkle gets right.
It might be tempting to label Turkle’s observations as technologically deterministic but I’m not entirely sure that is the case. Turkle cautions against overly simplistic judgements about our relationship with technology. For instance, if we use the language of addiction, then we must utilize the treatment of addiction which is to remove ourselves from technological interactions. This, as Turkle so rightly points out, is as impossible as it is impractical. Instead, Turkle calls for us to reshape and reconfigure our relationship with technology. This assessment is anything but technically deterministic – it ascribes considerable agency to the individual. Moreover, if we stop thinking of the Internet “as all grown up,” then we see that there is considerable opportunity to mold the Internet in ways that are less socially distancing.
Still I am somewhat cautious in my assessment of her claims. If the Internet is still in its infancy, then maybe the problems Turlke identifies are symptomatic of growing pains? This is not an overly optimistic ”oh, we’ll grow out of it” statement. If the issues Turkle observes are as pervasive as she suggests, then I imagine that we will continuously shape our relationship with technology in ways that reduce these anxieties. This is not to say that Turkle’s concerns are unimportant. They identify issues in need of repair. I’m just not convinced that we are at a crossroads: one where we are enslaved by technology, the other where we are masters of technology.