Alone Together

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* Book: Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Computers and Less From Each Other. Author::Sherry Turkle. Basic Books, published::2010


= The title beautifully summarizes her growing concern that computers, rather than becoming catalysts for re-thinking identity, have seriously undermined our ability to connect in meaningful ways with each other. [1]


Sherry Turkle:

"Technology is seductive when what it offers meets our human vulnerabilities. And as it turns out, we are very vulnerable indeed. We are lonely but fearful of intimacy. . . . Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other. We’d rather text than talk.

I tell two stories in Alone Together: today’s story of the network, with its promise to give us more control over human relationships, and tomorrow’s story of sociable robots, which promise relationships where we will be in control, even if that means not being in relationships at all.

The narrative of Alone Together describes an arc: we expect more from technology and less from each other. . . . Overwhelmed, we have been drawn to connections that seem low risk and always at hand: Facebook friends, avatars, IRC chat partners. If convenience and control continue to be our priorities, we shall be tempted by sociable robots, where, like gamblers at their slot machines, we are promised excitement programmed in, just enough to keep us in the game. At the robotic moment, we have to be concerned that the simplification and reduction of relationship is no longer something we complain about. It may become what we expect, even desire." (


John Hagel:

"Sherry repeatedly returns to this paradox: "With sociable robots, we imagine objects as people. Online, we invent ways of being with people that turn them into something close to objects."

The first section of the book describes the trajectory we seem to be pursuing with regard to robots: "In talking about sociable robots, I described an arc that went from seeing simulation as better than nothing to simply better, as offering companions that could meet one’s exact emotional requirements."

While I found this section intriguing, I was most deeply engaged by the second part of the narrative: the role of technology in diluting our personal relationships while seeming to enrich and expand them. Her message is simple: the very technologies that seem to offer more flexibility and scale in connecting with others – texting, online social networks and discussion forums – actually undermine the richness required for true intimacy to develop. While enhancing the appearance of intimacy, we are actually becoming more isolated and alone. There appears to be a Gresham’s Law of communication: weak forms of communication, left unchecked, can drive out strong forms over time.

Sherry drives these points home with deep stories of individuals wrestling with the consequences of these new communication technologies. Those who come to this book looking for rich statistical data will be disappointed. This is a powerful ethnographic study that makes its points come alive with individual stories and experiences. It is up to the readers to decide how representative these stories are in terms of their own experience and the experiences of the people they know. For me, the stories were powerful and rang true." (