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Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet Paperback – September 4, 1997

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Editorial Reviews Review

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (September 4, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684833484
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684833484
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #147,828 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sherry Turkle studies the relationship between people and technology - how does technology change our ways of seeing ourselves and the world. There is all that technology does for us, but there is all that technology does to us as people. How does it affect how our children grow up? How we relate to each other?

Her 2011 Alone Together, argues that we are at a point of decision and opportunity. Technology now invites us to lose ourselves in always-in mobile connections and even in relationships with inanimate creatures that offer to "stand in" for the real. In the face of all this, technology offers us the occasion to reconsider our human values, and reaffirm what they are.

Alone Together is the third book in a trilogy on our evolving relationships to digital technology. The first two were The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit (Simon and Schuster, 1984; Touchstone paper, 1985; second revised edition, MIT Press, 2005) and Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet (Simon and Schuster, November 1995; Touchstone paper, 1997).

One of Turkle's lifelong passions is our relationships with objects (not just computers). This has been the focus of a series of books on people's close connections to the "objects of their lives," all published by the MIT Press: Evocative Ojects: Things We Think With (2007), Falling For Science: Objects in Mind (2008), The Inner History of Devices (2008), and Simulation and Its Discontents (2009). Turkle is also the author of Psychoanalytic Politics: Jacques Lacan and Freud's French Revolution (Basic Books, 1978; MIT Press paper, 1981; second revised edition, Guilford Press, 1992).

Turkle's most recent work, to be published by Penguin Press in October 2016 is Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. It argues that there is an assault on empathy that is affecting our personal and work lives and that conversation, the most human and humanizing thing we do, is the talking cure. It analyzes a contemporary flight from conversation and charts the way back to using face-to-face communication to find each other and find ourselves.

Turkle is Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT and the founder (2001) and current director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. She received a joint doctorate in sociology and personality psychology from Harvard University and is a licensed clinical psychologist.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 10, 2000
Format: Paperback
Sherry Turkle is a sociologist and a clinical psychologist. Her pioneering work has been done in the realm of computer mediated human interaction. One of her most commented on books is Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. This book is a serious look at the concept of identity and how identity is shaped on the Internet and through computer mediation.
Her major topic is how humans contain self on the Internet. She also spends a great deal of time discussing relationships on the Internet. With splintered selves involved, relationships become more complex. Her research on the way women and men view online sexuality is fascinating. Anyone interested in how the young people of the very near future will discover their sexual selves would do well to read this book. While Turkle is fairly straightforward in her findings, they may terrify some readers. This is a completely new sexuality, a completely foreign way of doing things. Her view is, of course, fairly clinical, but, in the end, I think she shows an amazing affinity with the people she has worked with. Turkle is not worried about the splintering of self. On the contrary, she thinks that some of these tactics: being able to play with and discover parts of yourself that you normally don't interact with is vital to development and mental health.
Another area that Turkle tackles is Artificial Intelligence. She considers AI to be the next frontier. These AI will be interacted with as a matter of course in the coming years, according to the author. Again, this area enthralls some readers and frightens others. Turkle is excited about what AI can do in terms of promoting dialog.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jessica M. Kemp on August 25, 2005
Format: Paperback
Turkle's book is one of the first ethnographies published on virtual communities and how we construct and reconstruct our senses of identity through the internet. It is therefore an important starting point for anyone with a general interest in this area research. Since this book was originally published however there has been a significant amount of work done on virtual communities and self-identity on the WWW that differs somewhat from Turkle's. Therefore although I highly recommend the book I also suggest that you take the time to explore this subject area more broadly before drawing any conclusions.
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Leah Jakaitis on July 20, 2000
Format: Paperback
Turkle does a magnificant job in illustrating the human persona while online. As our culture becomes more and more internet dependent, and it becomes easier to be a "globalized" person, psychological changes are sure to take effect. "Life On the Screen" is illustrated with some wry humor, as well as vivid examples.
Sometimes doing someonething online makes it seem less "real." For instance, carding something-aka using a fake credit card number-is less 'real' if you do it online, to order something, than it is to waltz into say, BestBuy and using a fake credit card there. Just because you do it in a non-physical area (what is Cyberspace made up of, anyway?) does not mean that it is still not a crime, and that it is still not capable of having reprecussions.
Shirley Turkle captures precisely what someone, as a user and interacter with the internet, thinks, and does while online. She acknowledges the existance of the internet being a place where people are able to forge "cyber-identities"...or get more comfortable being who they are. She also outlines something that is perhaps one of the most secure things about the internet in this day and age-that on the internet, you are anonymous. Therefore, you can do what you wish (good or bad) and you can interact with others via MUDs or the like...or you can decide exactly how people will think of you as.
The internet is a secure medium for an insecure person. It is where many people who feel unaccepted in life go as refuge, to seek friends and partners who are like them, and who understand. This is also recognized in this book.
I highly recommend anyone, either the hacker, or the suit, or the working mother, or the teenager, to pick up this book and just to start reading.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By George Lenno on March 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
Sherry Turkle has written an engaging and thought-provoking book about how computers and the Internet have altered our lives. Moving beyond the concept that computers are just a tool, Turkle explains to the reader how technology allows us to explore and even alter our sense of "self." The ability to interact with other netizens in a variety of virtual settings, while adopting new personalities, has given many the freedom to explore aspects of their self-identity that without the anonymity of the electronic world would be impossible. Simulation is another area that Turkle offers interesting insights into how people perceive the world around them as a result of being able to model various possibilities via a computer simulation. These simulations and other children's toys are creating a generation who are asking the question "Is it alive?" of objects that most view as nothing more than tools or toys. Overall, I found Life on the Screen to be well written and extremely thought provoking. While you may disagree with her conclusions about technology and its affect on our concept of self, one of the key aspects of this book is that it makes you think about how your life has been altered not only physically by computers but also emotionally and psychologically. A very good read.
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