Alex's Reviews > Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other

Alone Together by Sherry Turkle
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it was ok

The first thing I’d like to say about Alone Together is that half of the book is about robots. From the cover, tagline, and blurb on the back, you’d never guess that Turkle’s primary focus is actually on sociable robots. These robots take the form of children’s toys like Furby and Tamagotchi and companion robots such as AIBO and a robotic seal for elders. The first half of Alone Together focuses on how humans react to these robots and what that says about our humanity. It’s interesting, but it’s not the topic I was hoping for when I picked up this book. Turkle sees it as part of a narrative together with cell phones and the internet in how “we expect more from technology and less from each other.”

Relying heavily on anecdotes and extrapolation, Turkle makes a case that technology enables us to rely on the mere shadow of intimacy and relationship, easier to retreat into our own neuroses and coping mechanisms than deal with the messy stuff that is life. Technology is not at fault: “it is people who are disappointing each other. Technology merely enables us to create a mythology in which this does not matter.”

I agree with Turkle’s main points - but she approaches the topic with a sentimentality that alienated me as a ‘digital native.’ Ironically, Turkle devotes a chapter to the “nostalgia of the young,” the nostalgia of digital natives for a time they never experienced, such as a teen longing for letters who has never received one. I can’t help but wonder if Turkle is also longing for a time that didn’t exist for most people.

Turkle’s nostalgia comes out in small, unsubstantiated statements such as this one: “In the world of paper mail, it was unacceptable for a colleague to read his or her correspondence during a meeting.” “Unacceptable” is a pretty strong word for such a broad generalization. For whom was it unacceptable? What’s the source for this? Whose experience is Turkle drawing from? This type of statement, while it may seem harmless on the outside, contributes to the broad feeling of nostalgia for the “good old days” in which we apparently gave one another our full and unbridled attention at all times.

Turkle clearly has a vision of her ideal world, the ways in which people should interact, and values about what makes society healthy and functioning. However, she does not explicitly state these views - and as such I find it hard to accept her criticisms of society. Where does her privilege lie? What is her experience with non-neurotypical individuals? (One of her only mentions of those on the autism spectrum - a population that greatly benefits from assistive technology - is in a passing reference to how most people feel discomfort around them). Has she experienced anxiety and depression like many of those she interviews? Poverty is not considered; trauma is mentioned briefly in the context of 9/11. All of these factors, in my view, greatly impact our attachment and involvement with technology. I’d be interested in reading more about how these populations experience connectivity and how that use may hinder or help their life goals.

If you’re looking for a research-driven, carefully built case supporting technology’s supposed harm on our psyches - this is not the right book for you. But if you’d like to meditate on how technology changes the way we interact with one another, or to consider how the slope will only get slipperier, give Alone Together a read - if you can tear yourself away from the internet for that long.


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Reading Progress

May 31, 2013 – Started Reading
May 31, 2013 – Shelved
June 9, 2013 –
page 79
June 26, 2013 – Finished Reading

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