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A disturbing examination of the need to be human in a technological world...,
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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.