Thinking Critically About How Technologies Shape Us

Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together, gave an interesting talk yesterday at Calvin College.  She has studied the psychology of technology for over three decades and has traced the rise and impact of the personal computer, the internet, cell-phones, and smart phones.  She is especially interested in how these technologies shape our humanity, including our hoping, fantasizing, relating, and behaving.

A few things she said really struck me.  When she began her research on how people engaged the internet in 1995, she was initially optimistic.  She assumed that the internet contained vast resources to help people learn, grow, and improve themselves so that they could flourish and truly enjoy their (real) lives.

Fifteen years later, she is less optimistic.  She was surprised to find that people were not using the online world as a resource for the greater enjoyment of their real lives.  The online world had become a substitute for the real world and people were preferring their online lives to their actual lives.

According to Turkle, we can’t just assume that the internet is in a mature form, as if it’s “all grown up.”  We must be critical about how these technologies (that will continue to be part of our lives) shape us.  We should pay especially close attention to the internet’s seduction, which she identifies as the point at which its affordances meet our relational and emotional vulnerabilities.

Much to think about . . .

2 thoughts on “Thinking Critically About How Technologies Shape Us

  1. Allen Browne

    Thanks for bringing our attention to Turkle, Tim. Haven’t read her yet.

    *Social not-working* might be a good way to describe on-line relationships 🙂
    Seriously, on-line is great for information, but “disembodied existence in a digital world” cannot substitute for relationships.
    [Douglas Groothuis’ term, in “The Soul in Cyberspace”, Baker, 1997]

  2. Pingback: On the Web (January 7, 2011) – J. David Stark

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