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Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other Paperback – October 2, 2012
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Starred Review. As the digital age sparks increasing debate about what new technologies and increased connectivity are doing to our brains, comes this chilling examination of what our iPods and iPads are doing to our relationships from MIT professor Turkle (Simulation and Its Discontents). In this third in a trilogy that explores the relationship between humans and technology, Turkle argues that people are increasingly functioning without face-to-face contact. For all the talk of convenience and connection derived from texting, e-mailing, and social networking, Turkle reaffirms that what humans still instinctively need is each other, and she encounters dissatisfaction and alienation among users: teenagers whose identities are shaped not by self-exploration but by how they are perceived by the online collective, mothers who feel texting makes communicating with their children more frequent yet less substantive, Facebook users who feel shallow status updates devalue the true intimacies of friendships. Turkle 's prescient book makes a strong case that what was meant to be a way to facilitate communications has pushed people closer to their machines and further away from each other. (Jan.)
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With the recent explosion of increasingly sophisticated cell-phone technology and social networking websites like Twitter and Facebook, a casual observer might understandably conclude that human relationships are blossoming like never before. But according to MIT science professor Turkle, that assumption would be sadly wrong. In the third and final volume of a trilogy dissecting the interface between humans and technology, Turkle suggests that we seem determined to give human qualities to objects and content to treat each other as things. In her university-sponsored studies surveying everything from text-message usage among teens to the use of robotic baby seals in nursing homes for companionship, Turkle paints a sobering and paradoxical portrait of human disconnectedness in the face of expanding virtual connections in cell-phone, intelligent machine, and Internet usage. Despite her reliance on research observations, Turkle emphasizes personal stories from computer gadgetry’s front lines, which keeps her prose engaging and her message to the human species—to restrain ourselves from becoming technology’s willing slaves instead of its guiding masters—loud and clear. --Carl Hays
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My favorite chapters: Ch9, Growing Up Tethered discussed young people, their personal development, and the impact of living "in a state of waiting for connection" (p. 171). I laughed out loud at Ch10's No Need to Call describing how annoying(laugh) a telephone call can be given its immediacy and immediate demand for our attention.
Read this book also: Baym, N. K. (2010). Personal connections in the digital age. Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA: Polity.
What I loved about the book as a child psychiatrist myself is her capturing how today's youth hold technology so close it may as well be under the skin. One youth is "waiting to be interrupted right now" by his phone, and all youth are reinventing separation (perhaps being out of range or temporarily in a tunnel under the Big Dig?). Going to college simply means checking for good reception and endless texts, photos, and instant messages go back and forth rather than a single phone call on Sunday evening.
Her subtle and rich discussion of adolescents and technology is a must read. Adolescents can wander far from home in a suburb and still know parents are looking for them because the phone rings, even though the teen may not answer. And they may choose to text, and not to talk, to avoid the intimacy of spontaneity. Similarly, she describes how teens can easily ring one friend after another to find someone who picks up. Remind me again, what is being alone?
The book is a major contribution to teasing out just how much technology is changing who we, and our children, are. I found the second major section of the book ("Networked") far more relevant to my life than the first, which primarily concerns robots. Some readers--- perhaps those routinely interrupted by their Blackberrys -- may want to begin with the second section.
Alone Together is the mother of all wake-up calls about how technology and who we are evolve together. It's not just 'the world' that has changed. No one has observed this with a finer eye than Sherry Turkle.
The first half of the book analyzes how robotics are beginning to affect our lives, especially the lives of those who are currently seen as burdens to society, such as the elderly, children, and mentally handicapped. This section did not interest me as much, and I felt the topic could have been better addressed in it's own volume. Addressing robotic encounters in the same volume as connected encounters seems to me obtrusive and unnecessary. My recommendation to purchasers is to skip the first half of the book unless you're specifically interested in that topic.
The second of the book addresses constant connectedness, and paints several pictures of how it has affected our lives. Unfortunately, one gets the feeling that once you've seen 10-15 such stories, you've seen them all. Nevertheless, she persists through several more anecdotes. In fact, this book's. overall structure is an anecdote or two, followed by a somewhat noncommittal discussion of what the anecdote might mean. The overall volume could have been better addressed had it been organized better. She does, however, paint a general picture through the anecdotes that discusses how various people relate to the Internet and social networking.
Overall, however, I appreciated the discussion of the topic, even if it was a little long and left more questions than answers. I suppose I expected that a member of the MIT faculty would have some stronger opinions or perhaps have organized research of this kind into quantifiable observations, however, this is not the case with this book.
If you're looking for a volume that, in an impressionistic way, paints an overall picture of how technology might be making us lonely, unknown and disconnected, than this is the book for you. If you're looking for quantifiable research, this is not going to satisfy. This book is far more anthropology than statistics.