MIT Psychology Professor Talks About New Book

At a gathering at the Barker Center yesterday, MIT Psychology Professor Sherry Turkle—whose work has focused on the psychological impact of technology—said that despite technology’s potential to bring society together, its users often feel isolated.

The Harvard Society for Mind, Brain, and Behavior invited Turkle to speak about her recent book, “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.”

Turkle said that “Alone Together” is actually the third book in a trilogy—also including 1984’s “The Second Self” and 1995’s “Life on the Screen”—that records the arc of society’s relationship with technology.

As a psychologist, Turkle said she was drawn to the world of technology when she first arrived at MIT.

She said she realized that technology—and computers in particular—had a psychological impact that received little attention at the time.

“It was a mind machine and people had a connection with this mind machine,” Turkle said.

In her research, she has followed technology’s expanding role in society.

Today, despite the apparent evidence, Turkle said she does not like to talk about technology “addiction.”

She said she has heard of mothers texting or checking their e-mail while breast feeding infants, and parents who would check their Blackberries while driving with children in the backseat.

Even so, Turkle said, she avoids the word addiction and instead uses “vulnerability” because addiction assumes that the only solution is to completely cut out the problem.

“Technology is our partner,” she said, adding that it would be impossible to entirely give it up.

Instead, she said, we should consider how technology interacts with our social values and the values we transmit to our children.

Turkle said she had seen many examples of children who have complained of their parents’ overuse of technology.

“If you don’t teach your children how to be alone, they’ll always only know how to be lonely,” she added.

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