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138 of 166 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Whoa! Let's not get carried away, February 6, 2011
This review is from: Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (Hardcover)
There is much insight to be gained about our relationship with digital technology in reading Alone Together...but it's equally informative to consider some of what's not covered in Turkle's book. When viewed through a broader perspective, perhaps we needn't be as alarmed as one might think after finishing AT.

Sherry Turkle's research indicates a loop. People design digital machines that make demands on us, their users. But people program digital technology such as robots and games to appeal to vulnerabilities. Turkle is most concerned with demands digital makes on our vulnerabilities, to the extent that some people are so attracted to the digital world that they run the risk of not being able to differentiate between reality 101 and digital illusions.

Even for someone who researches and analyzes the information technology such as myself, there are many eye-opening findings in AT. But the book is limited in scope, despite the fact that it is the cumulation of 30 years work by Turkle. For starters, Turkle's Freudian approach to psychology leads her to focus on the pathological. Zeroing in on the pathological can be informative if it is the start of a path that is linked to more socially integrated behavior. In other words, examination of the pathological mind can yield insights into better integrated minds.

From some of the reactions here, I think there is a pitfall in translating Turkle's findings directly to society at large, without taking into account how better integrated minds react to digital technology. And, I don't fault readers. It's a reasonable reaction and reflects a weakness in the book. "What's wrong with the new and artistic world of computer games? Nothing is wrong with them. But looking to games for amusement is one thing. Looking to them for a life is another," Turkle says on p.226. In other words, the digital world is what each of us collectively make of it. In that regard, it's much like all phenomena.

Turkle's diagnosis of the pathologies of the digital age seem right on. But I think that the illusory relationship with technology is transcended in individuals more integrated in a social setting. In other words, those who are not well integrated into their social settings, are vulnerable to the gravitational pull of the convenient and unambiguous digital world. Those who are better integrated will tend to view digital games as games. That's certainly what I see in my teenage children (who seemingly are anatomically connected to their mobile phones yet somehow achieve leadership in their social activities), in their friends, in my work researching the business side of digital technology, and in those with whom I mix socially.

The fly in AT's ointment is that Turkle's findings are overly dependent on projecting the pathological directly onto the socially integrated. With children, she makes no allowance that they might outgrow their seemingly alarming relationship with digital toys. As pointed out in another review here, she doesn't consider the many beneficial effects of digital technology, nor how well integrated people view the digital world.

I did think of Marshall McLuhan while reading AT, and his assertion that electronic media is controlled to a large degree by the user, in contrast to print, which is controlled by the press owner. AT illustrates that to a degree we are using our control over digital technology to address vulnerabilities. Some are confusing the illusions they perceive while using digital technologies to create alternative worlds that zaps their motivation for living in the real world. I'm sure some are. But I also question how many?

Another shortcoming of AT is the lack of prescriptive remedies. I suspect that the reaction of many is to deny access to the digital, just as many well-intended parents severely limit, or deny TV. It seems to me there are much more effective alternatives.

Turkle's book is worth a read, but bring your skepticism along. Not only are you reading the findings of a Freudian, but one who projects a relatively narrow perspective onto a large canvas.
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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 12 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 5, 2011 11:52:28 AM PDT
EFK says:

You mention "taking into account how better integrated minds react to digital technology".

But what many people are wondering is how digital technology will affect future generations' ability to be better intergrated.

In reply to an earlier post on May 5, 2011 3:16:54 PM PDT
Martin Zook says:
Hey Emmet.

It's a wide open question, isn't it? I think Turkle is more alarmed about the prospects than I am, but the concerns she points to are valid.

In reply to an earlier post on May 22, 2011 11:29:11 AM PDT
IRG says:
Enjoyed your overview. However, I, for one, do remain concerned about the future for those growing up in and being educated in the digital age. Although the concerns apply to all ages since you've older folks displaying the same bad habits as younger ones. (Forty something husband on the computer with porn while loving and attractive wife is alone in bedroom.)

When people cannot put a sentence together, cannot add small numbers in their head, cannot focus in a real-life conversation, avoid one-to-one personal contact, and end up spending hours a week playing video games, or being online...while missing out on opportunities to engage with others in shared activities, it concerns me for how people think, act and ultimately relate to each other and society.

The idea that most people are not going to succumb to the digital age and make wise choices is certainly not born out by what most of us see (anecdotally) around us in everyday life.

You've got cashiers in supermarkets who are texting with one hand while inputting/scanning with the other. AND talking on the phone as well or surfing the Web on their iPhones. Multitasking is all people seem to do today given the availability of digital toys. Even when multitasking puts them at risk (as in driving).

We need IMHO as a society to be more focused and more aware of each other's humanity. In some ways, that is aided by digital technology. But in many ways it is not. And most people are NOT capable of even monitoring their own lives to see how/if digital technology is enhancing it or undermining it.

Real life means real interaction with people. "Alone Together" is a great title that tells it all.

In reply to an earlier post on May 23, 2011 8:57:04 AM PDT
Martin Zook says:
IRG - no argument from me. Excellent post.

All of the problems you raise have to be addressed by the individuals involved. It's the only solution, one person at a time. I can remember telling my then wife to "get the needle out of your arm" because she was spending so much time on the Internet. But, in the end, it's up to the person to decide how best to use technology.

My son spent hours on end in front of the idiot box playing video games. By 15, he has outgrown it. I think a lot of this is just waiting for young people to mature, for lack of a better phrase. As for adults, well maybe they to sit down and come to some sort of an understanding.

In reply to an earlier post on May 26, 2011 6:37:51 AM PDT

Excellent comments, though I'm not sure the only solution of one person at a time to all the problems raised 'solves' the problems so much as simply states the obvious.

The title is pithy and I found it interesting that Amazon recommend it to me based on interest in McLuhan.

In reply to an earlier post on May 26, 2011 7:00:21 AM PDT
Martin Zook says:
Douglas - Thanks for commenting.

I'm not so sure there is a "solution," or even if there's a "problem," which implies there's a solution. From my reporting days on crime, and other social trends, it seems to me there are trends within any social group. If isolated, there is an implication that the problem group is emblematic, which takes them out of the larger context of society as a whole. That's the problem I have with Turkle's otherwise excellent book. She really doesn't demonstrate to my satisfaction that the group she's dealing with are representative of society as a whole.

So, you're right. I'm stating the obvious in advocating for an individualized approach. I'm not sure what "solutions" there might be, nor am I convinced that they wouldn't be worse than the problem.

There doesn't seem to be much of a link between McLuhan, who examines how media work, and Turkle, who focuses on the pathological, in my mind's eye. I find Gleick's The Information extends McLuhan's thinking, even though that's not its intent. There also is a relatively new biography of McLuhan out (Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work) that I plan to read soon and that you might like.

As I suspect is the case with many who have been intrigued by McLuhan's works, I wonder how he would view the Internet. For instance, what part of the body would he regard it as an extension of? I've thought the mind, in the eastern sense of the word, and am encouraged that the biography indicates from scanning that seeing the Internet as an extension of consciousness fits into McLuhan's thinking.

Love to hear your thoughts.

In reply to an earlier post on May 26, 2011 7:43:31 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 26, 2011 7:44:54 AM PDT

Again interesting observations. I haven't read Turkle's book yet but I will, in part, based on your comments.

Obviously, I can't say much about the link between McLuhan and Turkle, besides the one Amazon's software found for me, but from your comments I would venture to say there is a tenuous tie. If she focuses on the pathological aspects of new media, I think that is also an area McLuhan was very much intrigued by, especially the psychological and spiritual impact on the individual and humanity as a whole, negative and positive. In fact, it struck me that 'Alone Together' was very much a McLuhan type of utterance.

McLuhan has always fascinated me, what I didn't realize until recently was how central Catholicism was in his thinking. I had a sense of it when I was studying the effects of radio on the early 20th century and specifically the former Soviet Union. I realized he was misunderstood by many who loved his non-chalance and the hip halo that floated about his works, but I didn't quite pinpoint the Catholic foundation of his thinking, a little ironic since I was at Georgetown.

Anyway I'll get back to you after I've read Turkle's book, meanwhile you can see where I'm taking some of this on my blog Kappert Isle on Tumblr.

All the best, thanks again for your thoughts.

In reply to an earlier post on May 26, 2011 7:51:54 AM PDT
Martin Zook says:

Thanks much. I'll check out your blog and look forward to reading your thoughts on Alone Together.

Posted on Aug 28, 2012 8:34:50 PM PDT
I rarely go out anymore because I can't stand people playing with their phones when they should be enjoying the meal and the conversation.

I mean---it's just so rude.
And it's the norm now.

Person by person, OK. Whatever. I see people not outgrowing this, and no understanding of the possible health hazards all these electromagnetic fields have on our minds and our physical health. I look around and see more obsession and devotion to machines and fantasy than ever before. If the planet is in trouble, why are scientists ecstatic over photographs of dry hills on Mars?

I mean, we live in a world where it is the norm to risk one's life just to get to the office every day---because we must take to the roads in these very dangerous machines we love so much, which kill people every day--cars. I'm a traffic reporter, so I hear about it all the time. As I look around and try to heed the signals coming through the machines, including these signals you guys are sending out here, I come up with not a lot of hope.

I see the narrow perspective on the large canvas of the world every single day: people staring into screens and talking to their pockets while around them, the 3-D world continues to turn, unnoticed.

Maybe it's just me, but that scares me.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 29, 2012 5:46:23 PM PDT
Martin Zook says:
Not sure where you live, Cynthia. But my observation is that people in general are becoming far more skilled in how to used their hand-held devices without intruding on the space of others. I can remember at the turn of the century going out to eat could be rudely interrupted, or comically entertaining depending on the mobile phone user. Even at the theater, people seem to understand that the reminder to turn off the phone means them, not the person sitting in the next seat.

The exception, of course, is driving.
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