Sherry Turkle: [Full interview transcript]

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Sherry Turkle, author of “Alone Together, Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other” invites Ramona Pringle into her home, to talk about community, technology, and the difference between a “connection” and a “relationship”. Read Sherry’s full bio here…

Click here to watch Sherry Turkle’s interview, “Our Relationship With Technology.”

Sherry: I’m Sherry Turkle, I am a professor at MIT. I’m trained as a sociologist and psychologist and from the minute I hit MIT at the beginning of the personal computer revolution, in the late 70s, I have been studying people and their relationships to technology:

Ramona: How is your journey or your prospective shifted since you started?

Sherry: I guess you can say that I’ve gone from cyber-optimist to little bit more cyber-cautionary. I see us going places that I don’t think we want to go.

We look to online life to–as places where we can be more to each other, then we’ve allowed ourselves to be in our face to face life. So I look at sociable robots and sociable networks, the social network, as places of intimate technology and in these two new places the sociable robots and the sociable networks, I find cause to be more pessimistic and more kinda spinning a cautionary tale, then I had before.

Ramona: There is this culture of commodity of more and more bigger, better, faster when it comes to technology and there hasn’t really been the time to step back and reflect on well, how is this changing us? How are we using it?

Sherry: I think we’re smitten and like young lovers we’re afraid that too much talking will spoil the romance and I think that’s where we are as a culture, but I think it’s time to talk and I see great resistance to the kinds of things that I want to talk about, because I think that as a culture we’re smitten. We see many problems and we sort of think that calling in technology, is like calling in the Calvary and that the technology will help us. So people are lonely and they think, “OH” social network, a solution. Oh there aren’t enough people to help out old people, “OH” robots. You know, I mean to me, to my eyes these are not well thought out solutions, they’re not going to help. There’re really not going to help in the long run. We have a solution, it’s us.

Ramona: We talk about ourselves, we are the species that creates tools and yet you talk about it much more–you speak of computers, not so much as tools as they are part of our social lives and our psychological selves; or psychological lives.

Sherry: When I first began working people kept saying to me, “The computer is just a tool. Why do you want to study this? The computer is just a tool,” and, you know, of course its just a tool but the word ‘just’ is there to deny me my work, which was to say, this is just a tool, but this is a tool that changes your mind and heart. It changes your relationships, it changes how you see yourself, it changes how you see your mind, it changes how you raise your children.

So, this “just a tool” concept, you have to really watch out for because these are tools that as I put it are the architect of our intimacies, and those devices, those little devices in our pockets, are changing the way we see the world.

Has connection become too “risky”?

Sherry: The most important thing for people now is control over where they put their attention. People feel so pressured, they feel so beleaguered that they don’t want to have the risk of not being able to control the time and the emotional exposure. And that’s an extraordinary moment to come to. Where people are afraid of the time and the emotional exposure. But that’s where we’re at.

We are being short-changed and I think it’s a questions of how we can renew relationships that are more meaningful to us because I think more and more people are discovering that something is amiss in their relationships.

Ramona: You’ve been called the “couples therapist” between humanity and technology but people go to couples therapy with the hopes of making things work so when it comes to the relationship between humanity and technology what steps do you think need to be taken in order for this relationship to work?

Sherry: I think we need to know better what we want. In other words I think we need to re-affirm our commitment to each other and stop looking to technology to be there instead of us. I think the fantasies of substitution are the ones that I think in my view need to be addressed.

I think we need to focus on making this life the life we can love and not hoping that we can go online and having a life, we can love.

Summary

  • Online technology allows people to create intimate relationships with each other, but there are consequences
  • We use technology to enhance connections with people in a way that we can’t achieve face to face
  • Technology can be used as a quick fix for problems, like solving loneliness by joining a social network, but that doesn’t mean they are effective solutions
  • Technology is not just a tool, it is changing how we relate to each other and how we see the world
  • People are the solution, not technology

Read more about Sherry Turkle on her webpage and follow her on Twitter @STurkle.

 

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