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Alone Together

22 June 2011

I just finished Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together. This is a very interesting book, which echoes Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows and William Powers’s Hamlet’s BlackBerry.  Alone Together is the culmination of years of her ethnographic research done by hundreds of interviews and observations. The first part of the book describes social robots and people’s emotional attachments to their robots. Unlike dolls, some social robots need the care or nurture of their users (e.g., Tamagotchi, My Real Baby, Furby, etc.). Other social robots make eye contact and react to human motions (e.g., Cog) or are huggable (e.g., Paro).  While social robots don’t have emotions at all, people who interact with their robots feel as if they had emotions!  Turkle precisely remarks that humans love what they nurture, and humans want to nurture what they love. At the same time, she points out the critical differences between our relationships with fellow humans and relationships with robots:  No demands, no disappointments or no risks of getting hurt in relationships with robots!

I found the first part to be interesting and insightful.  Nonetheless, some questions came to my mind. Aren’t we attached to objects that evoke certain memories? Isn’t it uncommon for one to talk to an object (e.g, doll, picture, pen, etc.) as if it heard her/him?  Social robots probably have some negative social consequences and I agree with some of her concerns. However,   I don’t think that social robots would profoundly change or destroy the ways we develop relationships or expect from our fellow humans.

The second part discusses our addiction to the Internet and too-connected digital lives. This is a familiar domain. People are distracted with their digital devices all the time and don’t give their full attention to the person(s) with whom they are together.  Indeed, they are mentally and psychologically alone! Teens are afraid of the telephone and prefer a text message to a call because they think that a call is too intrusive and too open.  Some adults feel the same. At the same time, they feel pressure to respond to a text message immediately. Everything is a performance on Facebook, which promotes narcissism. Teens feel exhausted and anxious about Facebook due to constant needs for performances…

This book is worthwhile to read! As far as we are aware of some negative consequences of new technologies and work on such problems, our future wouldn’t be that dark.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Hong, SI permalink
    11 July 2011 9:19 pm

    숙아, 달리 짧은 인사를 달 공간이 없어 이곳에 남긴다. 잘 지내지…?
    시간이 좀 있어 즐겨찾기를 뒤지던 중 네 블로그를 발견했다…ㅎ
    “Alone Together” 나도 흥미있을 것 같은 생각이야…

    어제 한가한지 일을 한가지 벌였어…
    우리 과 1기 근조기를 만든 것…ㅎ
    시기가 시기인지라 유용하게 쓰일 것 같아 제안했는데 모두 찬성이네…ㅎ
    너도 알고 있어라~ 제작비용은 인당 1만원…^^

  2. 12 July 2011 3:30 pm

    언니 반가워~
    나 일주일간 내 연구과제로 메디슨에 갔다 왔어.
    올 여름은 좀 덥지만, 여기 여름 (세인폴이나 메디슨)은 서울에 비하면 환상적이지. 세인폴에 살기 시작한 이후로, 나는 정말 여름을 좋아하게 되었어. 날씨도 좋고, 내가 하고 싶은 일을 아무 부담감 없이 할 수 있기 때문이지. 특히 읽고 싶는 책을 마음껏 읽을 수 있어서 좋아. Alone Together, 재미 있는 책이야. 언니도 시간 나면 읽어 봐. 쉽게 읽을 수 있는 책이야. 우리 나라에 우리 말로 소개판이 나오려면 한 일년 정도 걸리겠지?

    그런데, 근조기가 뭐야? 상조사? 언니가 하는 일이까, 좋은 일이겠지만 말야.
    어쨌든 언니도 건강하게 잘지내…

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