Tag Archives: book signing

alone together

sherry-turkle-phd

Sherry Turkle has been researching and studying: technology; our relationships with technology; and our relationships with each other through technology — as an expert singularly focused on the fascinating psychology of technology, she’s been on the case for decades now — along the way she’s published her findings in the books:

needless to say, i’m one of her biggest fans

without her critical, observation-based body of psychological research at MIT in the psychology of Sciences, Technology and our Devices i do not think we’d have such a cohesive and thoughtful collective of intellectual material that really reports from the front-lines of these matters with such an objective sense of discovering the nuanced facts of the matter

i recently had the pleasure of coming out to the Boston Athenaeum to a promotional lecture for her most recent book Alone Together — and more than the talk itself, more than the questions and answers, i found the micro-conversation i had with Turkle to be the most intriguing part of the event

i eagerly waited in line with my friend’s book in hand for the author to sign — i wasn’t sure if i had the courage to bring it up, but i had an important question based upon some of the feelings and thoughts i personally experienced in the middle of reading Alone Together just months prior to this event — this seemed to be my only chance to find out if the author herself might have the same notions regarding the research she conducts as i was having regarding rather dark discoveries about the current state of humanity and our relationships with and through technologies

i finally got to the front of the line in this rather illustrious neo-classical, intellectual and academic library setting

Turkle asked who to make the signature out to and started to quickly ink in her John Hancock on the title page of the open book — and while she scribbled away the instant sentimentality of this anonymously scribed autograph, i started to ask my question — i described the personal horror i felt midway through the reading of Alone Together, these frightening discoveries and extremely deep philosophical questions that arose in me due to the very material of her critical research in the book that she wrote and was now in the middle of signing

here’s the gist of what i asked { in summary, as best as i can recall it at this point }:

i wanted to ask you about some thoughts that came to my mind in reading about sociable robotics — i found it fascinating, the kind of deep and real emotional relationships you described developing between people and machines — there was a section of the book, you visited these isolated, lonely elderly people in their retirement and care facilities and, after deciding that it might be difficult, if not impossible, for the elderly to enjoy the companionship and company of a real pet, such as a dog or a cat or some other small animal, you introduced the simulation of a pet into their living environment, this robotic seal

i think you reported that after introducing the seal to the elderly person and leaving it with them in their home, that it only took about a week for them to develop a real relationship with their new pet — although shy at first when talking with you in the company of the robotic seal, within the course of an hour you observed affectionate behavior and genuine interaction between the new owner and the seal

the owner conversed with the seal in the same way one might with a real pet and all of the ways in which they interacted with the robotic seal indicated that this simulation of being accompanied almost seemed good enough to introduce love, companionship and a reduced sense of loneliness with these elderly people living out the end of their lives

this, of course, brought up a ton of questions — some ethical, some psychological and some philosophical

the main question that came up for me might have something to do with the psychological nature of attachment, i’m not sure

but basically, i wondered — if it seems that easy for someone to form a genuine, human, loving relationship with a robotic seal, what does that say about our real relationships to each other as human beings? do we simply project and imagine love onto each other? are we, as the title of your book suggests { if only in very Freudian Slipped-like ways }, truly Alone Together?

Turkle finished signing the book and looked up at me, almost as if she were disgusted by my presence now, and replied:

No, no, no — that’s not what the book is about at all

and the conversation was over — she might as well have said, ‘NEXT!’ at that point because the book in front of her closed, she handed it back and we were simply done with these dark discoveries and intriguing philosophical questions i felt might at least be implied by Turkle’s oeuvre of critical research, perhaps even the more important and deeper meaning behind the surface of the kind of psychological self-analysis we’re all conducting now through the things we use to think with that are now the things we also feel with

i just put in an order for one of those robotic seals, should be coming in the mail any day now

i might just have a more empathic conversation with it than i did with Sherry Turkle

i heard it only takes less than a week to really get properly bonded with my new pet

seal