Posts Tagged ‘Sherry Turkle’

The Downside of Digital Life: Disconnection

April 27th, 2012 04:03 admin View Comments

Team Gantt co-founder Nathan Gilmore takes just one sentence to sum up what Sherry Turkle took 1,800 words to say in a New York Times op-ed piece Sunday.

“While technology can help strengthen relationships with people you barely know, it can damage relationships with the people that are close to you, like family,” Gilmore said.

Turkle, the MIT psychologist and author, is making waves in tech circles. It was Turkle, after all, who told us a decade ago that children should go online to learn communication skills. Now Turkle is publicly rethinking that stance, saying that while we are always communicating, we are rarely connecting. That strains our relationships and, as the title of Turkle’s latest book echoes, we spend a lot of time being alone together. Despite some criticism, however, many people who consider themselves tech-savvy are seeing some sense in her op-ed.


The Good Old Days, Circa 2004

“In the past, I worked in offices where there was a constant hum of conversation. In today’s office, there is almost an eerie silence,” said Jon Gelberg, chief content officer of Blue Fountain Media. “Colleagues talk to each other, but most of the conversation is through Skype or email.”

Indeed, here at ReadWriteWeb, where most of us work remotely, we recently abandoned our daily editorial call on Skype because it was more efficient and more productive to discuss stories and plan coverage on Trello. We’re by no means Luddites, and neither is Gelberg, whose company designs and markets websites and mobile applications.

“I left home last week without my iPhone, and I felt as if I had been stranded on a desert island. I am one of those people who reads books, magazines and newspapers almost exclusively on my iPad,” he said. “But I am nostalgic for the days when people actually talked to each other.”

You won’t find those nostalgic days of yesteryear in the office of the future. WinTech recently rolled out ALICE, a virtual secretary. The company promises in its marketing materials that “ALICE is the perfect virtual receptionist for every lobby, office and front business foyer” and promises that she (it?) adds an “efficient and valuable tool to any company while cutting down the cost of another employee.”

Your company can even win its very own ALICE by submitting a photo of your office and a reason as to why you need her.

Tech-Induced Dating Downfalls

Jack D. Serrano of dating advice company DateMasters said his firm’s research teams have spent the past several years going on dates trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to building fulfilling relationships.

“What have we learned about texting, Facebook, Twitter, social media and all the other hip, new technologies that seem so popular these days? Nothing destroys everything that makes us attractive to the opposite sex faster than these things,” Serrano said. “People who use these things are just tossing all of the excitement, mystery and intrigue that comes with getting to know a new partner out the window.”

Turkle discusses why this may be in her op-ed piece. Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media are about connecting. It’s hard, she says, to confide in someone when 3,000 Facebook friends are watching.

But that hasn’t stopped people from dreaming of the next version of ALICE: If a computer can be trained to be a receptionist, why can’t it be trained to be a therapist? Or, in a world where people find it hard to form close friendships, why can’t a computer fill that role?

“A high school sophomore confides to me that he wishes he could talk to an artificial intelligence program instead of his dad about dating; he says the A.I. would have so much more in its database,” Turkle wrote. “Indeed, many people tell me they hope that as Siri, the digital assistant on Apple’s iPhone, becomes more advanced, “she” will be more and more like a best friend — one who will listen when others won’t.”

Ultimately, it’s up to the end user to figure out how much, or how little, they’re going to let technology build or tear down connections.

“I have a wife, a 1-year-old daughter, and a baby on the way. After 5:00, I try hard to disconnect and not look at my phone so that I can spend quality, uninterrupted time with them,” said Gilmore, of Team Gantt. “It’s about quantity vs quality. Now it’s easy to keep in touch with a lot of people. However, that can come at the expense of those close to you.”

Images courtesy of Shutterstock.

Source: The Downside of Digital Life: Disconnection

How Social Networks are Killing the Internet

March 6th, 2012 03:00 admin View Comments

shutterstock_enter_press_button.jpgShare this on Facebook! Tweet this to your followers! Pin it to Pinterest! Submit the link to StumbleUpon and drive tons of traffic to your site! Digg it and hopefully more eyeballs will see it (and then it will end up on Facebook through the Digg Social Reader). Isn’t it great? You can cross your fingers and hope that the entire social Web sees something you like if you share it to all of your social networks. After all, we are what we share. defines the verb (used with object) “to share” as “to divide and distribute in shares, apportion” and “to use, participate in, enjoy, receive, etc., jointly.” The example it gives for the later is: “The two chemists shared the Nobel prize.” They passively shared this Noble Prize, which was awarded to both of them by a committee.

Every social network on the Web asks users to do some variation on sharing. Ultimately, the goal is to get that content in front of other users. Once a user shares, he or she momentarily feels more connected to others. But this momentary connectedness is killing us. And we are, in turn, killing the Internet with our passive, networked actions.

Renowned cyberpsychologist Sherry Turkle explains it eloquently in her latest TED 2012 talk. “Human relationships are rich, and they’re messy and they’re demanding,” says Turkle. “And we clean them up with technology. We sacrifice conversation for mere connection.

All that “connecting” is happening on – where else? – social networks. It happens subtly, so much that we hardly notice we are spending more time texting and talking on Facebook and Twitter than we are in real life, communicating with actual living, breathing humans. We hide behind our glass screens. And we seem like it that way.

The Facebook Connection Dilemna

With the advent of new Timeline social apps, such as the Digg Social Reader, WaPo Social News Reader and The Guardian UK Social Reader, it’s super easy to stay on Facebook and read what your friends are reading. It’s so much easier to get interesting recommendations from my quirky friend who shares some of the same tech and weird news interests as I do. Why wouldn’t I leave it up to the Facebook news feed‘s expert algorithm to figure out exactly what I want to read? It’s incredibly convenient, and lets me feel alright about being lazy.

The problem comes when I click on the social reader link, and it asks me to please reveal all of my data. Once I do that, I feel psychologically more connected to, and reliant upon, Facebook. This opportunistic relationship is killing me, and I in turn am killing the Internet.

StumbleUpon: Stop By & Stay Awhile, Won’t You?

The other month, I wrote about a new StumbleUpon feature that greatly upset the Internet. Previously, StumbleUpon users could stumble around the site and then leave if a specific link if they’d like by quickly closing out the screen. StumbleUpon would send users to the original site. The company decided to eliminate that option after users kept accidentally leaving StumbleUpon, thus interrupting their stumble experience.

The user is always right. StumbleUpon exists because of its users, and so why wouldn’t the company change its ways to appease those users who spend hours on end inside the site. Who could blame them? They have everything they need inside StumbleUpon, so why leave? I am not being sarcastic. StumbleUpon is a smart, creative site that perfectly tailors to its users’ individual taste graph.

StumbleUpon’s Marc Leibowitz left a comment on the ditching StumbleUpon for Pinterest story that I wrote. StumbleUpon’s users did not complain about the removal of the Web bar. “Given that our normally vocal members have NOT complained about the current implementation, however, leads us to believe this may not be quite as provocative an issue as this post suggests,” he says. “Nevertheless, as I say, we are exploring other options.” Not long after that, StumbleUpon CEO Garrett Camp blogged the following:

Our previous StumbleBar design included an ‘X’ button (to close the iframe if you wanted to view the original URL) but we didn’t initially make this as part of the redesign for signed-in members. We received several requests for this feature over the last few weeks, so as of today we will be adding this back in for signed-in members. This lets you hide the StumbleBar to see the original link, and simply click back afterwards to return to Stumbling.

There’s an easier way for users to leave StumbleUpon now. But does it matter? Users of the social Web prefer to stay inside social networks, discovery engines and other insular spaces. It’s safe, it’s easy and most of all, it’s convenient.

How We Are Killing the Internet

Not being able to share across the Web and, instead, being able to share only on social networks, isn’t new. Tristian Louis of blogged about his experience using Path, which did not allow him to share out. “But eventually, the inability to share over the Web started grating at me as I realize that I was trapped in Path’s truck,” he writes. “I stopped using the service.”

I have daydreams of organizing all of my friends to do a mass exodus from Facebook. But truth be told, we’d probably all quit for a week and then return, hungry for status updates, viral graphics and meandering bulletpoint-y super-sharable blog posts which hardly qualify as articles.

Facebook is an alluring black hole that welcomes us in, and asks us to stay awhile. It’s possible to leave, but no matter what I always come back. I have given up on the idea of leaving. Now I just check the site more from my Facebook mobile app than the Web version, and get annoyed when I can’t easily share stories and images from it. Like a smoker who needs their nicotine fix, I am a social networker and I need my data.

Louis’ essay delves into the dangers of quietly moving from the Web version to the mobile app, rather than trying to figure out how to fix the Web. It’s easier to just think about the apps. Smartphones are must-have accessories. He continues the essay, pointing out the user-hungry move into Facebook territory, which contributes to the death of the Internet at large, and the continual push of users into social networks – like cows into a slaughterhouse:

When­ever I bumped into a silo like Face­book, I may have grum­bled but I didn’t leave. In fact, I pushed more con­tent into it, not ask­ing that it push con­tent back out. I did that because that’s where the read­ers were, where I could get more users, etc…

Then PIPA/SOPA/ACTA happened, and we all freaked out. For a minute. Then it went away and we forgot, content to passively share on our social network of choice.

How to Save the Internet, Social Networks, All Of It: Make It a Two-Way Street

I will not summarize all of Louis’ smart article here. Instead, I will send you out to the Internet, to the original site where this story lives. I hope you won’t share the story to Facebook; instead, email it to your friends. Tell your friends to go online and Google it. Print it out and pass it around to some of your Internet-obsessed friends, in person. I promise you won’t kill too many trees in the process. Do not tell your friends to do anything that feels like sharing it on a social network. Then think about it. Reminder: Don’t share it on Facebook.

Go to this link:

Scroll down to “Will you revive it?”

And follow the instructions.

Source: How Social Networks are Killing the Internet

How Technology Changes Our Relationships

March 5th, 2012 03:48 admin View Comments

shutterstock_cyberrelationships.jpgAh, the Internet. The once magnificent and glorious tool has transformed from being a fast-paced information highway to that place where we all admit, rather begrudgingly, that we spend too much time on. Alone. We love the immediate answers, the idea of relying on Google as one aspect of our “external brain”. We crave instant gratification. We make important decisions (such as impulse buys) without a second thought. We are turning into Internet speed fiends, and we are doing it alone.

Last week Sherry Turkle spoke at TED 2012. I missed it because I was on the road with a few friends, off to spend time in the woods away from the Internet. But somehow, on the car ride up, I found myself checking Twitter like a fiend. Even though I was in the car with two very live human beings, both of whom I like, even, I had to get my information fix. I caught wind of Sherry’s TED talk, and shortly afterwards I closed Twitter for the weekend to try and think a bit, self-reflect. What does it mean to truly be alone?

Before Turkle stepped on stage to give her presentation, she received a text from her daughter. Typical. After “in person” time, teens’ second favorite mode of communication is texting, and then talking on the phone. Like most moms, Turkle was quite pleased to receive the text, which said “Mom, you will rock.” She said that receiving this text was “like getting a hug.” So now, a text message holds the same value as a hug? How did we start substituting human contact with (most likely) auto-corrected words on a smartphone screen?

Turkle is concerned. But it wasn’t always like this. In 1996, her first TEDTalk was quite the opposite, aptly titled “Celebrating our life on the Internet.” How would the Internet change our lives for the better? Her new book, Alone Together, is not at all celebratory. It expresses Turkle’s deep-seated fears that we are letting technology “take us places we don’t want to go.” She concludes the following: “The little devices in our pockets are so psychologically powerful that they don’t eve change what we do, they change who we are.”

Texting while talking has become second nature. In fact, it’s not strange to take a smartphone into the bathroom. A total 75% of American smartphone owners use their phones in the bathroom; 91% of Gen-Ys are also using their phones in the bathroom. Even the Silent Generation uses their phones while in the bathroom; 47% of them do, anyway. Turkle points out the importance of making eye contact while texting, saying that “it’s hard but it can be done.” But that can’t be done if you’re in the bathroom, alone.

Turkle says that this constant digital interaction actually lessens our ability to self-reflect. It all comes back to the fairytale Goldilocks and the Three Bears, as do many narratives in American culture. Turkle describes this alone togetherness, calling it the Goldilocks Effect: “People want to be with each other, but also elsewhere,” says Turkle. “People want to control exactly the amount of attention they give others, not too much, not too little.”


What are we doing to encourage this type of behavior? Through text messages, social networks and emails, however, we learn to edit ourselves. We do not have to reveal as much as we do in-person or via phone. We don’t have to feel as vulnerable, knowing that there is always a screen to hide behind. Actual real relationships with others are far more complex than that, however.

“Human relationships are rich, and they’re messy and they’re demanding,” says Turkle. “And we clean them up with technology. We sacrifice conversation for mere connection.”

The illusions of “friendship without the demands of companionship,” as Turkle describes, offer us three types of fantasies: We’ll have attention everywhere, we’ll always be heard and we’ll never have to be alone. In other words, we feel less compelled to reach out and make an active connection.

Just like Facebook has redefined the idea of a “friend” – a passive connection with someone you may or may not know in real life, who you will become Facebook friends with and broadcast information to (if the news feed decides that it should be so) – it has also redefined “sharing.”

At once an active act – I share my bread with you, neighbor – it is now passive. Sharing means posting information and wondering if others will “discover” it. Sharing is like the offline equivalent of dropping a flier on a corner newsstand and hoping someone will see it, at some point. And nowadays, the idea is “I share, therefore I am.” Or, “I share therefore I am…an online identity.”

How to Be Alone

In Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Goldilocks strolls into the bears’ home, eats the porridge, sleeps in the bears’ beds, and then runs away.

Turkle’s talk may have fairytale references, but this isn’t how it ends.

There is something we can do to relearn how to be alone, not together. It starts with parents teaching their kids the importance of solitude. Then, she suggests, make spaces in the house that are for being alone. And most importantly, she says, listen to everything – even the boring filler-type stuff.

“When we stumble or hesitate or lose our words,” says Turkle, “we reveal ourselves to each other.”

Images courtesy of Shutterstock.

Source: How Technology Changes Our Relationships

[STUDY] How Hyperconnectivity Affects Young People

February 29th, 2012 02:45 admin View Comments

shutterstock_youngpeopleoftoday-150.jpgWould you mind putting down your smartphone for a moment to read this? Thanks, we really appreciate it.

A new study released today by Pew sheds light on the lurking, albeit very real notion that we all not-so-secretly fear: There are actual consequence to the hyperconnected lifestyle that many 21st century millennial Americans live! But calm down, it’s not all frowny-face emoticons and Sherry Turkle-esque Alone Together narratives.

Yes, there are some major downsides to relying on the Internet as our “external brain,” including the desire for instant gratification, and the increased chances of making”quick, shallow choices.” But researchers also say we networked young people are nimble, quick-acting multitaskers who will do good in the world.

Teens and young adults are hyper-immersed in technology. A total 95% of teens ages 12-17 are online, 76% use social networking sites and 77% have cell phones. Of the slightly older age group (18-29 year olds), 96% are Internet users, 84% use social networks and 97% have cell phones. More than half of those users have smartphones and 23% own tablets such as the iPad.

Pew talked to 1,021 technology “stakeholders and critics” through an entirely opt-in survey. In other words, the people who participated did so of their own volition. Of those surveyed, approximately 55% agreed that the future for hyperconnected individuals looks positive. Meanwhile, a total 42% thought otherwise saw negative outcomes. This outcome skews slightly more positive; Pew in fact admits that the outcome is actually more like 50-50. So, is the cup half-empty or half-full?

The Networked Future Looks Good, Mate! Fair Sailing Ahead!

Approximately half (or, arguably, 52%) believe that hyperconnectedness will have a positive impact, suggesting a stronger ability to multitask, cycle through personal- and work-related tasks and become more adept at finding answers to deep questions. These people – who are mostly millenials – will be able to tap into the Internet’s greater knowledge base, accessing more information and working together to do so via crowdsourcing.

Says acclaimed Microsoft Senior Researcher danah boyd, who studies the cybercultures of teens and young adults: “Brains are being rewired – any shift in stimuli results in a rewiring. The techniques and mechanisms to engage in rapid-fire attention shifting will be extremely useful for the creative class whose job it is to integrate ideas; they relish opportunities to have stimuli that allow them to see things differently.”

We have already started to see that happen. Facebook is a natural space for artists to exchange ideas and engage in fast discussion. The Internet pinboard social network, Pinterest, is a beautiful space for posting inspiring images. The creative class benefits from these visual, idea-oriented forums.

The Networked Future is a Dark, Deserted Island of Doom

Half of the people surveyed by Pew disagree with the above rosy statements. The believe that the brains of such millenials will not retain information. They think millenials will be focused on short social messages and content that will entertain. They will be incapable of deep engagement with people and knowledge. These Internet users will surf around, grabbing the first bit of information they find. They will take fiction as fact.

“Increasingly, teens and young adults rely on the first bit of information they find on a topic, assuming that they have found the ‘right’ answer, rather than using context and vetting/questioning the sources of information to gain a holistic view of a topic,” says one survey participant. Instant gratification plays into this negative consequence, along with an overall lack of patience.

Another non-millenial encounters the same problem. “I’m 33 years old and over the last two years have ramped up my time spent on the internet to 10-plus hours a day. The effects have been detrimental. My attention span for longer-form information consumption such as books, movies, long-form articles, and even vapid 30-minute TV shows has been diminished immensely. My interpersonal communications skills are suffering, and I find it difficult to have sustained complex thoughts. My creativity is zapped and I get very moody if I’m away from the Web for too long.”

But there will always be those few outliers who see a different kind of opportunity in the seemingly dark abyss. They will seize it, and run forward.

One Pew participant believes that millenials will start to truly see the value of slow and steady wins the race. The tortoise beats the hare: “Long-form cognition and offline contemplative time will start to be viewed as valuable and will be re-integrated into social and work life in interesting and surprising ways,” the person says.


And who will do all that deep thinking, now that we are addled with Internet-induced ADD? The division of labor will shift accordingly.

“Perhaps the issue is, how will deep thinking get done – including by whom – rather than will everyone be able to do deep thinking,” says Marjory S. Blumenthal, associate provost at Georgetown University and former director of the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board of the National Academies.

The Internet, Facebook and all these Web technologies are here to stay. Our challenge now is to figure out the best ways to interact with them. After all, says Tiffany Shlain, director of the film Connected and founder of the Webby Awards, “As Sophocles once said, ‘Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse.’”

“The Cliché Young People of Today” and “Tortoise & Hare” images courtesy of Shutterstock.

Source: [STUDY] How Hyperconnectivity Affects Young People

Keen On… James Gleick: Why Cyberspace, As a Mode of Being, Will Never Go Away (TCTV)

June 23rd, 2011 06:30 admin View Comments

It’s not only douchebags who say that the Internet changes everything. According to James Gleick, one of America’s most important and successful technology writers and the author of the major new book The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood, the Internet is as transformative as the invention of the printing press or writing.

“Cyberspace as a mode of being will never go away.” Gleick told me when he came into TechCrunch’s New York studio. “We live in cyberspace,” he added, explaining that it changes everything that we do.

But Gleick, in spite of his belief that the Internet is central to 21st century life, is too smart to fall into clichés about the digital revolution. No, he insisted, it isn’t wrecking our brains and making us stupid, even though it is drowning us in information. And no, he explained, it isn’t necessarily resulting in Sherry Turkle’s robotic moment – even if he is way too experienced a technology pundit to predict the future.

This is the second part of a two part interview with Gleick. Yesterday, he explained to me why we ARE information.

The History of Information and the Internet

Are We Drowning in Information?

The Future of Information

Source: Keen On… James Gleick: Why Cyberspace, As a Mode of Being, Will Never Go Away (TCTV)

Keen On… Sherry Turkle: Alone Together in the Facebook Age (TCTV)

February 15th, 2011 02:25 admin View Comments

While yesterday’s interview with MIT’s Sherry Turkle focused on the arrival of the Robotic Moment, today’s is about Turkle’s pessimistic view of social media. In today’s age of the social, we are all becoming adolescents, she told me when she came into our San Francisco studio earlier this month. “Just because we grew up with the Internet doesn’t mean the Internet is grown-up,” the MIT Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology darkly warned.

“In intimacies, new solitudes,” Turkle argues in her new book, Alone Together. In the social age of Facebook ubiquity, she explained to me, we have to fight Mark Zuckerberg’s incessant promotion of transparency and reclaim privacy. The alternative, she warns, is perpetual adolescence and superficiality – a condition that will have a tragically destructive impact on both our intimate relationships and upon our democracy.

Just because we grew up with the Internet doesn’t mean the Internet is grown-up

Saying no to Zuckerberg

Source: Keen On… Sherry Turkle: Alone Together in the Facebook Age (TCTV)

Keen On… MIT Professor Says Robotic Moment Has Arrived, And We Are Toast (TCTV)

February 14th, 2011 02:01 admin View Comments

Once a cheerleader of the Internet revolution, Sherry Turkle, the Director of MIT’s Initiative on Technology and Self, has become deeply pessimistic about our digital future. In her controversial new book, Alone Together, Turkle argues that the development of emotionally sympathetic robots like Tamagotchis and Furbies means that the “robotic moment” has arrived for the human race.

“We are toast,” Turkle told me when she came into the TechCrunch San Francisco studio earlier this month.

It’s no laughing matter. Alone Together is the result of hundreds of interviews that Turkle has carried out over the last 15 years with a broad cross section of children, adults and old people. What Turkle finds is that, out of a sense of disappointment with each other, we’ve turned to robots as a substitute for human interaction. What Turkle meticulously charts in Alone Together are robots used by lonely, isolated human beings as lovers, best friends and caregivers.

So has the robotic moment really arrived? When was the last time you fondled your Roxxxy?

The robotic movement

We are toast

Can we love robots?

Source: Keen On… MIT Professor Says Robotic Moment Has Arrived, And We Are Toast (TCTV)