This week I muscled through Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together – Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (Basic Books, 2011/Affiliate link). It explores our increasingly perverse relationship with technology and how it impacts us psychologically. This book falls into what I call the contratech genre, an evolving niche critical of technology’s runaway popularity.
Turkle’s message is that we are evolving to prefer technology over people. We are expecting less from one another personally. Alone Together is heavily laced with real-life examples drawn from Turkle’s work as a sociologist at MIT. The first half of the book covers robotics and the latter half deals with social networking, simulation, email and other modern day preoccupations.
For its message, I found Alone Together lengthy and perhaps better positioned for an academic audience. The book’s examples are supported by extensive quotes and vignettes which are interpreted in the tradition of psychoanalysis. As someone who knows little about psychoanalysis, I found this exhausting at times. The conclusion was perhaps the most engaging part of Alone Together.
Here’s a question worth thinking about: Had this author been alive at the time of Gutenberg, would she have claimed that books lead us to expect more from paper than one another? Technology elicits fear of the unknown. And dystopian pessimism has a way of making headlines.
But Turkle suggests that “technologies, in every generation, present opportunities to reflect on our values and direction.” Perhaps Alone Together marks a time of opportunity. I believe that the issue of our evolving relationship with technology needs frank discussion. As a technophile I’m excited about our future. Yet as the father of two young children I have concerns that came through quite clearly in Alone Together. This book made me think but it didn’t change my mind. It left me wanting in some way. I would not call this an easy read and would recommend it only for those seriously interested in a deep dive in technology and humanity.
I’m going to put Turkle on my list of people to invite to dinner. Agree with her or not, her voice is important. We’ll see if she accepts.