I have several speaking engagements on faith and technology lined up in the coming months, so I figured I should probably learn something about faith and technology sometime soon. With that in mind, I picked up Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other, and boy am I glad I did.
Turkle is making the rounds these days. Here she is on All Things Considered, Talk of the Nation, and Krista Tippett On Being, She’s popular because a) she must have an awesome publicist and b) she says reflective informed things about how Americans use technology.
I underlined and dog-eared the heck out of my copy of Alone Together, so there’s dozens of quotes I’d like to share. However, the basic premise is this: Churchill said, “We shape our buildings and then they shape us.” Turkle says, “We make our technologies, and they, in turn, shape us.” A psychologist who teaches at MIT, Turkle has the studied robotics, computers, and handheld technologies for years. Her basement, she says, is like a graveyard for toy robots — Furbys, Tamagotchi, My Real Babies, etc. She conducts dozens of qualitative studies on technology’s effects on folks, particularly young people. She writes well too, plainly but persuasively.
The book is in two parts. The first, “The Robotic Moment: In Solitude, New Intimacies” explores how robots — toys, mostly, but also companions and, increasingly, medical devices — affect the way we live. In these chapters, she asks interesting questions about times when robotic pets replace real pets and robotic nurses replace real carers. She had conducted interviews in which kids say things like, “I wish I could build a robot to save me from my brothers ... I want a robot to be my friend ... I want to tell my secrets.” Another preferred a robot dog AIBO because it could do things the boy’s dog couldn’t do like not get sick and die.
I hadn’t considered robots much before reading Alone Together, but now I’m fascinated. Especially, the robots developed to comfort residents of nursing homes make me wonder about the importance of human nurture — if humans develop a robot that comfort elderly folks, can that be seen as an extension of our care or the renunciation of it?