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1-Page Summary of Alone Together
In the book Alone Together, Sherry Turkle explores how humans interact with technology and why they expect more from it. The first half of the book deals with sociable robots and what happens when people become attached to them. In the second half, she talks about social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
In the 1970s, psychologists began to study artificial intelligence. One of these scientists was Sherry Turkle. She interviewed a computer program called ELIZA that acted like a therapist and helped people express themselves by answering their questions. This program is an example of early AI because it only responded with pre-programmed responses and didn’t actually think on its own. Tamagotchis, Furbies (robotic toys), and AIBOs (robotic dogs) are examples of more advanced AI because they respond in unique ways to each user’s actions or words, giving the impression that they have personalities based on what information users give them. Turkle also interviewed children who had bonded with these robots as if they were real pets or friends; this shows how technology can cause us to treat things differently than we normally would.
Turkle explores the advancement of robotics and how it will affect our lives. She looks at My Real Baby, a doll that can perform many human behaviors. Turkle notes that children don’t seem to care that robots wouldn’t be able to understand them as well as another human would.
In 1994, Turkle meets Cog, the first robot with a movable body. She treats it as if it were a person and has trouble relating to it differently than she would another human being. Kismet is another robot that looks like a baby and is able to communicate in ways similar to humans. Both robots have qualities that make people treat them like they are alive or real humans. In her studies of children interacting with robots, Turkle finds that many times these attachments come from what’s missing in their lives (for example, not having enough time with parents).
In part two, Turkle looks at the way that people use their phones and what it means. She finds that texting is a form of communication where one needs to be alone in order to focus on what they’re going to say.
Turkle looks at chatrooms, Facebook and other online games to support her idea that we could get used to virtual interactions better than real ones. We can have connection where and when we need it.
Turkle looks at how young people have been influenced by technology. She discusses the pressure they feel to always be available, and how that influences their identity. Turkle also mentions Adam, who plays lots of video games like Quake and Civilization, which she sees as a way for him to escape into a world where he can control things. This is similar to confession sites like PostSecret that devalue atonement because it’s too easy now; anyone can just vent online instead of actually apologizing. Finally, Turkle talks about privacy and how much young people care about protecting it—most don’t really think about it or put any effort into protecting their privacy on social media websites such as Facebook.
The author’s daughter is in Paris studying. Turkle, the author, says that she misses how it used to be when you could disconnect from your old life and have a thrilling adventure in a new country. She wants her daughter to write letters instead of texting all the time, so they do.
Technology is the architect of our intimacies. It creates a virtual utopia in Second Life, and it’s even present in Zhu Zhu pet hamsters (1). Technology seduces us into believing that artificial improvements are better than real ones. However, there is an illusion to this approach because people text their friends for attention when they’re physically next to each other (2).