Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other Summary

Sherry Turkle

Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other

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Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other Summary

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Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other by Sherry Turkle is a book that looks at the the effects technology has on society. Sherry Turkle is an MIT professor and the founding director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. She holds a joint doctorate in personality psychology and sociology from Harvard, and also works as a licensed clinical psychologist. Mobile technology, social networking, sociable robotics, and culture and therapy are her specialties. In addition to Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other, she is also well-known for The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit.

Turkle has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, as well as a Rockefeller Humanities Fellowship. She’s received the Harvard Centennial Medal, and was named “Woman of the Year” by Ms. Magazine. Esquire included her on its list of “forty under forty” who are making changes to our nation. Franklin & Marshall College awarded her an honorary degree—a Doctor of Science—in 2015. Concordia University awarded her an honorary doctorate degree in 2016. Her research and articles have been published by Connection Science, Wired Magazine, and in the AAAI Technical Report Series of 2006. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other joins a list of nine books that she’s published since 1978 in the field of psychology. In 2012, Turkle gave a Ted Talk titled Connected, but Alone? that was aired on NPR in 2013.

Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other is about how society is reacting and responding to the increased use of mobile technologies, computers, robots, and other electronics that have found their way into our everyday lives. Turkle is particularly concerned in Alone Together with how artificial intelligence (AI) affects society. She discusses how interactions with AI are deceptively meaningful. These interactions have become constant, according to Turkle, and they have a negative effect: They degrade the organic social interactions which provide real connection between people in a society.

Turkle writes that while developments in technology have increased our ability to achieve inter-connectivity, they’ve also contributed to alienation, hence the main title of the book, Alone Together. The reason for this is because interactions with AI and other technologies do not produce the meaningful connections that interactions with real people in our space can generate.

In the first part of Alone Together, Turkle argues that these false interactions and relationships that we’re developing with robots are materially dangerous to our ability to relate and connect with other humans in our society. This is her main thesis. Turkle sites one of the reasons for this being that robots have been created and programmed to interact with our emotions. Because of this, she’s afraid that robots may then replace other people or animals like our beloved pets in this role of fostering emotional connection. And since they’re incapable of providing the real connection that other people and pets can, society stands to suffer a loss.

Part of the problem stems from humans giving robots qualities that they don’t actually have. According to Turkle, we tend to anthropomorphize them. The result of this is that our emotional connections to other actual humans is eroded. If this goes too far, Turkle warns that we may no longer have the capacity to appreciate human interaction and connection.

In the second part of Alone Together, Turkle looks into online interactions, with specific focus on social media. She examines how social media has changed people—especially the younger generations. Turkle explores how younger generations connect with one another as a result of integration of social media in their day-to-day lives. She discovers that relationships with real, living humans are shallower because people are not paying attention to one another. Instead, they’re only paying partial attention, with their focus split between the people around them and their phones. A consequence of this, Turkle says, is that teens don’t develop personal independence because they’re constantly seeking advice from friends instead of spending time reflecting on the self.

Then, Turkle moves on to the idea of privacy. After the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, people sacrificed their privacy for safety, she writes. This led to the younger users of social media and technology growing up without an appreciation for privacy. Because it’s less important than safety, these technology users are open and share more personal details on the internet than the generations who grew up before them. This over-sharing further corrodes the value society places on privacy. That leads to even more over-sharing, and the cycle continues of its own momentum.

Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other is not a book with an optimistic outlook, unlike Turkle’s 1995 book titled Life on the Screen. To sum up her current views on society’s relationship with technology, Turkle warns of the consequences of falling prey to what she considers to be a corporate trap—relying on technology for emotional connection.