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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Timely Critique
'Alone Together' is the third volume in a trilogy produced over three decades by Sherry Turkle, a psychoanalyst based at MIT, the preceding volumes being 'The Second Self' (1984) and 'Life on the Screen' (1995). I read each one soon after publication and found them engrossing, thought-provoking and well-illustrated with illuminating case-studies and insightful...
Published on 20 Mar 2011 by dr_sign

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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Didn't live up to it's potential... Academically quite unconvincing.
I really wanted to like this book. Honestly I did, it deals with a fascinating topic. Sadly however, I found this far too anecdotal, repetitive and bias. Her point felt laboured, the anti-technology rhetoric was tiring and she seldom gets into any great depth on an issue. I felt she was able to point out a fairly evident phenomenon such as people texting more and calling...
Published 15 months ago by ChrisE


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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Timely Critique, 20 Mar 2011
By 
dr_sign (Ceredigion, Wales) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Alone Together (Hardcover)
'Alone Together' is the third volume in a trilogy produced over three decades by Sherry Turkle, a psychoanalyst based at MIT, the preceding volumes being 'The Second Self' (1984) and 'Life on the Screen' (1995). I read each one soon after publication and found them engrossing, thought-provoking and well-illustrated with illuminating case-studies and insightful observations. The current volume is in two parts: the first develops themes from 'The Second Self' (here related to `sociable robots'), the second from 'Life on the Screen' (which focused on the construction of identities online). Because of the limitations of space, my comments here focus on Part Two. Whereas the earlier volumes were relatively upbeat about the implications of new technologies, the tone of the current volume feels markedly more jaundiced, alerting us to some potential social costs of `social media'.

Provocatively, the main refrain is that in an online culture we are always connected (Turkle says `tethered'), but are rarely (meaningfully) connecting. Although (somewhat ironically) one may hear the same sentiment in a current commercial for a well-known matchmaking website, Turkle's nuanced stance `is not romantically nostalgic, not Luddite in the least'; indeed, she remains `cautiously optimistic'. This is a seriously reflective work well-informed by extensive ethnographic studies. The focus on authenticity and intimacy recalls the concerns voiced by Socrates in Plato's 'Phaedrus' about an earlier technological development--publishing one's ideas in written form--in particular the fear that communication at a distance would undermine genuine (face-to-face) human discourse. This has been a recurrent anxiety throughout the history of communication technologies. As the title suggests, this book reveals and explores unresolved tensions and contradictions in our attitudes and behaviour in relation to the latest manifestations of these technologies.

Distance communication in all of its forms (print media, broadcasting, telecommunications, online) tends to facilitate what the sociologists call `weak (or loose) ties'. One sociological argument is that society at large depends on the maintenance of loose ties between distant acquaintances and those we know only indirectly, functioning as a sort of social glue, in addition to the strong ties and commitments that bind us rather more closely to our `immediate' family and `close' friends. As a psychoanalyst, however, the author argues that the personal cost may be that we are coming to rely too much on online communication with relative strangers at the expense of intimacy with, and commitment to the people we know from face-to-face interaction. For instance, her earlier enthusiasm for online worlds as `identity workshops' is tempered by a concern that the mediation of a screen encourages more premeditated behaviour, which has in turn led many teenagers to prefer texting to speaking on the phone because speech `reveals too much'.

Ethnographic approaches are particularly useful in highlighting illuminating instances that may raise broader issues. Although such studies do not enable global generalizations, they can help to frame hypotheses for further research and reflection. This is indeed a book to be read and re-read. Sherry Turkle's timely critique reminds me of Marshall McLuhan's caveat that `we are all robots when uncritically involved with our technologies.' The always accessible style of her writing encourages engagement rather than closure, so that anyone who has paused to reflect on the implications of Facebook for friendship or of mobile phones for solitude is likely to find themselves entering into an imaginary debate with the author, countering the Platonic anxiety that reading is antisocial, and thus reminding us that whatever the apparent affordances of a particular technology, maintaining a well-informed critical perspective can reduce our vulnerabilities.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A disturbing examination of the need to be human in a technological world..., 19 Jun 2011
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Dr. G. SPORTON "groggery1" (Birmingham UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Alone Together (Hardcover)
Turkle's excellent book attempts to balance the flow of enthusiasm for digital technology and techno-boosterism of sci-fi style futures by examining how humans as social actors engage with technology. It is a forlorn hope that some symmetry could be achieved with the raging determinism of the technology corporates with their blythe dismissal of most of Turkle's objections, but this joins a growing list of critical works about the ethics and implications of technology as determined by technologists. It certainly seems clear from this book that creative, empathetic, intelligent and enquiring minds are developing the very technologies that will reduce these qualities in the rest of us.

In effect, this is two books. The first half deals with the kind of interactive robotics that can be introduced precisely because of our neglect of one another: comfort robots for the elderly and interactive ones for kids. The stories that emerge from Turkle's observations of interactions between people and machines in this context are unquestionably disturbing. The common justification is that, given most people working in old age or child care don't bring their human qualities to bear in their work, so what if a robot replaces them? So, here we have the best minds of the age working in well funded labs to design robots that will release us from our obligations towards one another. Robots, Turkle warns, will turn out even better than humans as they won't ever let us down, and the idea clearly alarms her.

The second section is about how the always-on network has altered our perception of social engagement with one another. Turkle seems perfectly aware that her nostalgia for letter writing, or for hard copy photos, is little more than that, and though she can't help missing them, she also shows how their replacements have us all working overtime to keep up. Groups of young people offer up their experiences of growing up with digital tech determining their environment, and their caution about the meaning of these technologies is actually quite heartening. Whether they will prove capable of holding out against the onslaught of techological corporatism is another matter, and not an uncomplicated one.

A must read for anyone concerned about the nature and impact of technology on our encounters with one another.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars thought-provoking and insightful, 25 Jan 2013
By 
D&D - See all my reviews
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Turkle describes herself as a psychoanalytically trained psychologist who works as an anthropologist at MIT. She offers fascinating early insights in the ways technology is changing society. Her book is well-written and jargon-free: her thoughtful views of what she learned in over a decade of combining research and personal interviews describe a new world that's simply alien to babyboomers like me who are proud of the way we've mastered the computer, email, IM, iphone, ipad, kindle, websearching, shopping online - many of us have even created our own websites.

The first half of the book is about robot pets, an insight into toys that can learn and seem alive, and how humans - especially children and the elderly - treat them and are affected by them. The second half of the book is about social media. I was shocked (but somehow not surprised) at what she has learned about our new ways of relating:

- the astounding way children and the elderly react to these latest robot pets, who seem real, make demands (suffer when not looked after well) and appear to learn - how they speak to, and treat, these robots - invariably as if they are living creatures - as well as how these robots are meeting many needs for "human" contact;
- the intent is to create ever-more-sophisticated robots who will be used for babysitting and to caretake the infirm - Turkle even discusses marriage between human-like robots and humans as a real possibility, although she expresses her concerns about the inevitable loss of intimacy and authenticity;
- so many ignored children, whose parents text all the way through family dinners and even when collecting them from school (to the extent that they even fail to say hello as the child gets into the car!) - most parents don't much seem to like their children (just take a good long look around in family restaurants if you doubt this, most children are either ignored or being scolded for something);
- how strongly attached the young are to their phones, to the extent that among many of them it is absolutely expected that you must respond in less than 5 minutes - the possibility of ignoring your phone or (horrors) turning it off simply does not exist (and how emails are old-fashioned to them, used mainly for school/job applications and the like);
- the research showing that children receive over 3000 texts a month, and send as many; that's 200 a day! They are addicted to checking their phones every few seconds which has much higher priority than spending "live" time together even with the very friends they text so often. They are also unused to speaking on their phones, so avoid doing so as much as possible and the teenagers also resent the way it enables their parents to always know where they are. Even children are complaining about lack of online privacy which affects their real lives.
- the way so many adults, as well as children, are living more intensely in virtual worlds online than in their real lives.

The author covers many ways in which communication technology and robot pets create alienation and fuzzy thinking. She shows how, as we continue to expect more from technology, we expect less from each other. We think we are together - because we're in the same room or the same office (where most people now avoid actually speaking to each other in favour of exchanging emails) but are really alone with all our new technology which we use to fill a void that, in a vicious circle, that very technology is making even larger.

Turkle points out that we know now that our brains are rewired every time we use a phone to search or surf or multitask. As we try to reclaim our concentration, we are literally at war with ourselves. Yet, no matter how difficult, it is time to look again towards the virtues of solitude, deliberateness and living fully in the moment. She suggests beginning to take action in very simple ways like talking to collages down the hall, no phones at dinner, on the playground, in the car or in company (how many people do you know who would simply refuse, for whatever reason? would YOU be prepared to make these simple steps, really just reclaiming good manners, a requirement in your presence?).

She finishes with: we have agreed to an experiment in which we are the human subjects. Actually, we have agreed to a series of experiments: robots for children and the elderly, technologies that denigrate and deny privacy, seductive simulations that propose themselves as places to live. We deserve better. When we remind ourselves that it is we who decide how to keep technology busy, we shall have better.

A very enjoyable book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars What we all know as parents, 27 Mar 2014
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What we all really know but are a little afraid to admit.
Whilst Sherry Turckle - may not have all the answers, this book, no doubt, will ultimately be seen as an important catalyst for further debate and may just give us the strength to put our own collective heads above the parapet out say out loud that developments and modernity are not always 'for the best'.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Scrupulously researched and wholly convincing, 5 July 2013
By 
mojohand (Cornwall, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Alone Together (Paperback)
A refreshing antidote to the slack-jawed utopianism of so much that is written about the Web and its impact on our lives. Unlike the droves of vacuous cheerleaders for the 'always on' culture. Turkle draws on many years of scrupulously conducted research, and it is fascinating to see how her earlier, much more positive views have been modified to reflect her findings. The fact that she also includes elements of personal anecdote from her own life adds greatly to the book's readability, and to the power of its message.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and informative, 12 April 2013
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If you love the way technology has influenced society you will love this book. I could read it again and again/
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5.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly interesting !!, 3 Aug 2012
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I decided to buy this book after watching Sherry Turkle for TED talks! This is the first book i have read by her and I find it absolutely interesting and quite life changing!
It is very straightforward and her researches are easy to follow! I love books from which you can learn something! And this one teach you more about our mad super technology-based era!
I would recommend it to anyone interested in cultural and social studies!
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Didn't live up to it's potential... Academically quite unconvincing., 23 Jun 2013
By 
ChrisE (Yorkshire, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Alone Together (Paperback)
I really wanted to like this book. Honestly I did, it deals with a fascinating topic. Sadly however, I found this far too anecdotal, repetitive and bias. Her point felt laboured, the anti-technology rhetoric was tiring and she seldom gets into any great depth on an issue. I felt she was able to point out a fairly evident phenomenon such as people texting more and calling less but failed to deeply analyse it beyond showing the angst and frustrations it brought teenagers. I do believe "we are all cyborgs now", as a young person I can see our behaviour is changing, our generation is different, this book just never really showed me the fundamental psychological changes that are occuring or where they will lead, beyond the somewhat ludicrous suggestion that we will all want to marry robots in 2020.

Although her anecdotal evidence is considerable, I seldom found it convincing as an argument for anything in a general sense. What's more, many of the problems she pointed to, weren't shown to be explicitly caused or exacerbated by our connectivity or technology. The teenagers she interviews sound like stereotypical teenagers, with stereotypical problems about identity, sex, image etc. She doesn't show that facebook is the problem, rather than just a new way to express and work with their problems. For example she quotes "Adam", an addicted video gamer, who admits he doesn't really like his job. Without doubt he is a sad example of addiction and the power of very clever video designers, but to me the example says more about Adam, and the problems with his real life, than the omnipotent pervasive technology. In another age perhaps he would have been an alcoholic, a drug user, or a problem gambler.

Finally, the anecdotes and her own personal references made her line of argument at times incoherent and unclear. You had to flip back a couple of pages, to figure out exactly where she was going with a particular story of teenage trauma.

Basically a lot of what she claims may be true, some of it sounds dubious, I was just expecting a more thorough treatment of the topic, there were very few moments which were truly thought provoking or original.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sherry Turkle vintage, 24 Feb 2011
By 
Leandro Herrero (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Alone Together (Hardcover)
Sherry Turkle is one of the most interesting minds in the world of interfaces, our world, that is: technology and society, human mind and computers, psychology and the computer screen. Her trilogy is seminal work. This book hits many nails and represents a reflective platform to understand the world of relationships, connectivity (not the same), time and space in the digital era etc. Her voice is very much needed, and one can hear clear and loud - unusual qualities for a psychoanalyst! She has done it again, and it;s a pleasure to follow her thoughts, her reflections and her postulates. Ah, I forgot, the best is the epilogue
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2 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pensamiento crítico sobre impacto tecnologías sociales, 4 Mar 2011
This review is from: Alone Together (Hardcover)
Las nuevas tecnologías 2.0 (blogosfera, Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, buscadores sociales, etc.) no nos hacen por sí mismas ni más inteligentes ni más estúpidos, pero un uso indebido de las mismas puede hacernos más ignorantes.
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