Sherry Turkle is Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT, as well as founder (2001) and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. Turkle received her BA in Social Studies from Harvard University and her Ph.D. in Sociology and Personality Psychology from Harvard University, and is a licensed clinical psychologist. According to her MIT website:
"Professor Turkle writes on the "subjective side" of people's relationships with technology, especially computers. She is an expert on mobile technology, social networking, and sociable robotics. Profiles of Professor Turkle have appeared in such publications as The New York Times, Scientific American, and Wired Magazine. She has been named "woman of the year" by Ms. Magazine and among the "forty under forty" who are changing the nation by Esquire Magazine. She is a featured media commentator on the social and psychological effects of technology for CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, the BBC, and NPR, including appearances on such programs as Nightline, Frontline, and 20/20."
The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit Edit
The Second Self emerged as Turkle's second book, but her first one on computers/digital life. It was highly influenced by her employment at MIT, where she became acquainted with the many variants of computer culture. It prefigures later works, such as Life on Screen and Evocative Objects, and cemented her as one of the first ethnographers/psychologists (and certainly the first woman) to publish on such topics which were just gaining mainstream emergence (she refers to her subject as "culture in the making" and "a moving target" (18)). Turkle writes: "My goal: to study computer cultures by living within them, participating when possible in their lives and rituals, and by interviewing people who could help me understand things from the inside" (20).
In the text, Turkle explores our social and psychological dynamics of computer use, ending with a consideration of the new motif of the "computational mind" (Katherine Hayles will later contrast this with the "world as clockworld" sensibility of the the Age of Reason, in her book How We Became Postmodern). She offers brief histories of the various phenomena she discusses (computers, hacking, video games) but her work is primarily exposition of her case studies, and the conclusions they head her to. She is interested in relating to the computer as an "evocative object", a thing with great personal meaning that exposes our own thoughts, rather than as the highest form of rational order.
Turkle develops the notion of "holding power" to explain the fixedness of attention that computers and video games provoke. Although comparisons are often made the television, the analogy is misplaced, for computers and games require intense focus and concentration. The holding power of the computer makes it a projective medium, an object with which we have a diversity of relationships.
Turkle's work interviewing people regarding how they see the computer as a powerful metaphor of the mind exposes how we have moved from the rational animal to the emotional machine; computational philosophies of mind, like psychoanalysis, decenter the "I" (although many do re-create some form of "the self"). Our fascination and fear of the computer is, for Turkle, akin to the Victorian fascination with psychoanalysis and the taboo of sex.
Chapters of note:
2: Video games and computer holding power--children move from the metaphysical to a stage of mastery, emplowing games as powerful ways of managing life's issues
5: personal computers with personal meetings--transparency (hobbyist culture) vs. mystery (hacker). Turkle interviews numerous Mass. residents with personal computers, taking their names from user groups and computer magazine subscriptions. personal computers have different meanings, but these meanings also reflect how people feel about their sense of a "living" computer (hobbyists say no, hackers say yes).