Sherry Turkle is rapidly becoming the sociologist of the Internet, and that's beginning to seem like a good thing. While her first outing, The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit
, made groundless assertions and seemed to be carried along more by her affection for certain theories than by a careful look at our current situation, Life on the Screen
is a balanced and nuanced look at some of the ways that cyberculture helps us comment upon real life (what the cybercrowd sometimes calls RL). Instead of giving in to any one theory on construction of identity, Turkle looks at the way various netizens have used the Internet, and especially MUDs (Multi-User Dimensions), to learn more about the possibilities available in apprehending the world. One of the most interesting sections deals with gender, a topic prone to rash and partisan pronouncements. Taking as her motto William James's maxim "Philosophy is the art of imagining alternatives," Turkle shows how playing with gender in cyberspace can shape a person's real-life understanding of gender. Especially telling are the examples of the man who finds it easier to be assertive when playing a woman, because he believes male assertiveness is now frowned upon while female assertiveness is considered hip, and the woman who has the opposite response, believing that it is easier to be aggressive when she plays a male, because as a woman she would be considered "bitchy." Without taking sides, Turkle points out how both have expanded their emotional range. Other topics, such as artificial life, receive an equally calm and sage response, and the first-person accounts from many Internet users provide compelling reading and good source material for readers to draw their own conclusions.
From Publishers Weekly
The Internet, with its computer bulletin boards, virtual communities, games and private domains where people strike up relationships or emulate sex, is a microcosm of an emerging "culture of simulation" that substitutes representations of reality for the real world, asserts Turkle (The Second Self). In an unsettling, cutting-edge exploration of the ways computers are revising the boundaries between people and computers, brains and machines, she argues that the newest computers?tools for interaction, navigation and simulation, allowing users to cycle through roles and identities?are an extension of self with striking parallels to postmodernist thought. She also looks at "computer psychotherapy" programs such as Depression 2.0, a set of tutorials designed to increase awareness of self-defeating attitudes; hypertext software for creating links between related songs, texts, photographs or videos; and "artificial life," attempts to build intelligent, self-organizing, complex, self-replicating systems and virtual organisms.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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