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Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other

Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other

3.6 35
by Sherry Turkle

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Consider Facebook—it’s human contact, only easier to engage with and easier to avoid. Developing technology promises closeness. Sometimes it delivers, but much of our modern life leaves us less connected with people and more connected to simulations of them.

In Alone Together, MIT technology and society professor Sherry Turkle explores the power


Consider Facebook—it’s human contact, only easier to engage with and easier to avoid. Developing technology promises closeness. Sometimes it delivers, but much of our modern life leaves us less connected with people and more connected to simulations of them.

In Alone Together, MIT technology and society professor Sherry Turkle explores the power of our new tools and toys to dramatically alter our social lives. It’s a nuanced exploration of what we are looking for—and sacrificing—in a world of electronic companions and social networking tools, and an argument that, despite the hand-waving of today’s self-described prophets of the future, it will be the next generation who will chart the path between isolation and connectivity.

Editorial Reviews

Michiko Kakutani
…perceptive…[Turkle] has spent decades examining how people interact with computers and other devices…and by situating her findings in historical perspective, she is able to lend contextual ballast to her case studies.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
As the digital age sparks increasing debate about what new technologies and increased connectivity are doing to our brains, comes this chilling examination of what our iPods and iPads are doing to our relationships from MIT professor Turkle (Simulation and Its Discontents). In this third in a trilogy that explores the relationship between humans and technology, Turkle argues that people are increasingly functioning without face-to-face contact. For all the talk of convenience and connection derived from texting, e-mailing, and social networking, Turkle reaffirms that what humans still instinctively need is each other, and she encounters dissatisfaction and alienation among users: teenagers whose identities are shaped not by self-exploration but by how they are perceived by the online collective, mothers who feel texting makes communicating with their children more frequent yet less substantive, Facebook users who feel shallow status updates devalue the true intimacies of friendships. Turkle 's prescient book makes a strong case that what was meant to be a way to facilitate communications has pushed people closer to their machines and further away from each other. (Jan.)
From the Publisher

"[T]his incisive, challenging pop-psychology look at the behavioral effects of social networking on human relationships [has] made a bona-fide pundit out of M.I.T.'s Turkle."

"Highly recommended."
-Management Issues


"Nobody has ever articulated so passionately and intelligently what we're doing to ourselves by substituting technologically mediated social interaction.... Equipped with penetrating intelligence and a sense of humor, Turkle surveys the front lines of the social-digital transformation."
-Lev Grossman, Time Magazine

"Savvy and insightful."
-New York Times

"[Turkle] summarizes her new view of things with typical eloquence... fascinating, readable."
-New York Times Book Review

"What [Turkle] brings to the topic that is new is more than a decade of interviews with teens and college students in which she plumbs the psychological effect of our brave new devices on the generation that seems most comfortable with them."
-Wall Street Journal

"Turkle is a sensitive interviewer and an elegant writer."

"Vivid, even lurid, in its depictions of where we are headed... [an] engrossing study."
-Washington Post

"In this beautifully written, provocative and worrying book, Turkle, a professor at MIT, a clinical psychologist and, perhaps, the world's leading expert on the social and psychological effects of technology, argues that internet use has as much power to isolate and destroy relationships as it has to bring us together."
-Financial Times

"Alarming...Turkle is not a luddite, nor is Alone Together a salvo in some analogue counter-reformation. But it does add to a growing body of cyber-sceptic literature."
-Observer (UK)

"Subtle and interesting."
-The Guardian (UK)

"Perhaps the world's leading authority on the impact of gadgetry on our lives... Turkle is brilliant-and brilliantly disturbing."
-Sunday Times (UK)

"Important.... Admirably personal.... [Turkle's] book will spark useful debate."
-The Boston Globe

"A fascinating portrait of our changing relationship with technology."

"A fascinating, insightful and disquieting 'intimate ethnography' of our digital, robotic moment in history."
-Natural History Magazine

"Worth talking about."
-History News Network

"Amidst the deluge of propaganda, technophilia and idolatry that masquerades as objective assessment of digital culture, Turkle offers us galoshes and a sump pump.... [S]he gives a clear-eyed, reflective and wise assessment of what we gain and lose in the current configurations of digital culture."
-Christian Century

"Readers will find this book a useful resource as they begin conversations about how to negotiate and critically engage the technology that suffuses our lives."
-National Catholic Reporter

"Turkle is a gifted and imaginative writer... [who] pushes interesting arguments with an engaging style."
-American Prospect

"Alone Together offers a wealth of information about the numerous uses being made of new technologies."

"A thorough look at how devices affect our relationships by a psychologist with decades in the field... lucid, well-written analysis."
-Bloomberg BusinessWeek, 4-star review

"Disturbing. Compelling. Powerful."
-Seattle Times "

The picture that arises from [Alone Together] is not particularly comforting but it is always compelling and helps explain many behaviors one sees at play in society at large these days, especially among the young."
-Jewish Exponent

"Turkle... delivers a dark cautionary tale...Her unplug-before-it's-too-late message is stark enough to make you reach for a land line and call someone you love."
-Las Vegas Business Press

"Alone Together serves as an efficient... overview of the problems we confront in the digital age."
-Buffalo News

"A carefully researched and well-thought book."
-Deseret News

"No one has thought more deeply nor researched more thoroughly human-computer relations [than Turkle]. Her book Alone Together is an immensely satisfying read."
-Sherbrooke Record

"[A] must-read."
-Albany Times Union

"[Turkle's] interviews with teens and young adults who've grown up online are fascinating and her conclusions are provocative."

"Alone Together, a book that could not have been written by a robot, presciently probes the question: will we be technology's willing slave or guiding master. Highly recommended reading."
-ETC: A Review of General Semantics

"Alone Together offers tremendous insight and eloquently qualifies longing for genuine, nurturing relationships in the network culture."
-Banana Moments

"Read Alone Together. And then talk about it with your colleagues, your students, and your friends-face-to-face."
-Continuing Higher Education Review

"Sherry Turkle has distinguished herself as an astute observer of the subjective side of the relationship between people and technology... Turkle does an excellent job of bringing out the important questions behind the technologies with which she deals... Turkle is an engaging writer, and her stories are interesting, accessible, and thought provoking."
-Journal of Technology, Theology, and Religion

"Alone Together effectively chronicles many of the psychological effects of modern technology and connectivity. Turkle illuminates the central themes of modern life: loneliness, control, communication, and image."
-Technology Uninhibited (blog)

"Alone Together... is packed with creative observations on our machine-mediated lives and what this all means for intimacy, solitude, and being connected."
-Spirituality and Practice

"Turkle is clearly passionate in describing what she sees as the looming social isolation being wrought by the new technology.... Alone Together does offer a needed counter to the wholesale adoption of the social media and social robot."

"Alone Together stands as an entirely accessible, tantalizingly thought-provoking read.... Books like this and researchers like Turkle lending their expertise to the debate are absolute necessities."
-Online Education Database

-Rightly Understood blog, Big Think

"Turkle is too smart and hard-working to see technology solely as a cause of social or psychological disorders: this is not the book to read for shallow complaints that young people don't care about privacy or for scare stories about internet addiction."

-Library Hot blog

"Clear-eyed, even-keeled."
-Touch Points blog

"Alone Together is a mighty fine layperson's introduction to where we are as a technological and social media society."

"[Turkle's] decades of teaching technology and daily living add authority to her fine survey!"

"A thorough and interesting analysis of our curious relationship with electronic and digital technologies."
-Ordained Servant

"Incisive and provocative... a provocation towards the kind of human and engaged conversations that she rightly insists we nurture."
-Fortnightly Weekly

"A compelling argument against non-stop virtual living."
-Montreal Mirror (Canada)

-Globe and Mail (Canada)

-Irish Times

"Highly recommended."

"Despite her reliance on research observations, Turkle's emphasis on personal stories from computer gadgetry's front lines keeps her prose engaging and her message to the human species-to restrain ourselves from becoming technology's willing slaves instead of its guiding masters-loud and clear."

"Turkle's prescient book makes a strong case that what was meant to be a way to facilitate communications has pushed people closer to their machines and further away from each other."
-Publishers Weekly

"Alone Together is a brilliant, profound, stirring, and often disturbing portrait of the future by America's leading expert on how computers affect us as humans. She reveals the secrets of 'Walden 2.0' and tells us that we deserve better than caring robots. Grab this book, then turn off your smart phones and absorb Sherry Turkle's powerful message."
-Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business School professor and author of Evolve!, Confidence, and SuperCorp

"Based on an ambitious research program, and written in a clear and beguiling style, this book will captivate both scholar and general reader and it will be a landmark in the study of the impact of social media."
-Jill Conway, President emerita, Smith College, and author of The Road from Coorain

"Sherry Turkle is the Margaret Mead of digital culture. Parents and teachers: If you want to understand (and support) your children as they navigate the emotional undercurrents in today's technological world, this is the book you need to read. Every chapter is full of great insights and great writing."
-Mitchel Resnick, LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research and head of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Laboratory

"No one has a better handle on how we are using material technology to transform our immaterial 'self' than Sherry Turkle. She is our techno-Freud, illuminating our inner transformation long before we are able see it. This immensely satisfying book is a deep journey to our future selves."
-Kevin Kelly, author of What Technology Wants

"Alone Together is a deep yet accessible, bold yet gentle, frightening yet reassuring account of how people continue to find one another in an increasingly mediated landscape. If the net and humanity could have a couples therapist, it would be Sherry Turkle."
-Douglas Rushkoff, author of Program or Be Programmed

"Sherry Turkle has observed more widely and thought more deeply about human-computer relations than any other scholar. Her book is essential reading for all who hope to understand our changing relation to technology."
-Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Library Journal
Clinical psychologist—and sociologist of the Internet—Turkle (social studies of science & technology, MIT; Simulation and Its Discontents) presents a cautionary tale about what she calls the "robotic moment," i.e., our current state of technological connection and societal disconnection that makes us willing to consider robots for true companionship. She tells two stories—of her research observing people with interactive but still rudimentary machines like Furbies and Paros and her experiences interviewing people (including many adolescents) about their digital habits and tools (e.g., texting, IM'ing, and Facebook). Although she tries to conclude on an up note, insisting we still have time to think carefully about how we use computers and connect to one another in an always-connected world, her tales of seniors ready to accept robot companions and kids seeking attention from parents addicted to their own Blackberries make for sobering reading. VERDICT Turkle's findings are engaging and her conclusions thoughtful (she's been called "Margaret Mead in cyberspace"). Her book is best for serious readers because those seeking livelier popular science writing might find her style here a bit dry.—Sarah Statz Cords, The Reader's Advisor Online, Middleton, WI
Kirkus Reviews

A clinical psychologist takes a critical and sometimes disturbing look at the psycho-social dangers of mixing technology and human intimacy.

Turkle (Social Studies of Science and Technology/MIT; Simulation and Its Discontents, 2009, etc.) paints a bleak picture of a robotically enhanced future in which humans become increasingly emotionally dependent on technology. As this dependency on technology for meaningful social interaction increases, writes the author, the more humans will lose their ability to have authentic and meaningful relationships with one another. Turkle begins her study with possibly the creepiest findings from her fieldwork: the ongoing development and acceptance of "sex robots," and the zeal of the scientific community's crackpots who'd like to exalt robots to equal relational status with human beings. Essentially this means programming robots as not only a sexual supplement to humans' sex lives but also as an actual surrogate for an intimate bedfellow. From there, the author's examples of a society gone technologically wild can only seem tame: children getting robotic pets and cell phones before they hit puberty; insecure teens seeking a new self through avatars and virtual-reality games; young Facebookers afraid of the permanency and nakedness of their information on the Internet. Turkle advances the notion that Internet-based social networking and communication via texting and e-mail can only lead to alienation and awkwardness when facing inevitable person-to-person confrontations. But the author is careful not to blame technology and its handlers for corrupting the easily corruptible. Many of the technological slaves that Turkle profiles are—one hopes—exceptional examples. The author seems confident that human instinct will eventually intervene and prompt us into evasive action as soon as technology begins to increasingly dominate our lives. This cautious optimism is admirable, but it can't quite brighten the dystopic pallor the book ultimately casts on the future of human relationships.

Despite the dry, clinical writing, Turkle provides potentially valuable social research.

Product Details

Basic Books
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Hachette Digital, Inc.
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File size:
585 KB
Age Range:
13 - 18 Years

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"Turkle's prescient book makes a strong case that what was meant to be a way to facilitate communications has pushed people closer to their machines and further away from each other." —-Publishers Weekly Starred Review

Meet the Author

Sherry Turkle is the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT. She is frequently interviewed in Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal, on NBC News, and more. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

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Alone Together 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 36 reviews.
HecubaYH More than 1 year ago
This is an intelligent, readable analysis of how our technology (texting, IM, e-mail, etc.) is shaping our human interactions. The chapters on how children and teenagers are affected are particularly fascinating and often sad. While this isn't "lite" reading, it's far from being a boring textbook and more than worth the time. I wish parents and teachers as well as children and caregivers of the elderly everywhere would take the time to read this and consider the broader implications of her research.
caribird More than 1 year ago
It is a wake-up call for us parents of this generation of technology users. It puts it out there for us to see - the research of what is happening to our kids and how they connect to the world. It is helpful to see the history of research in this area and be able to put it to good use. Obviously, it is not the only factor in how our kids relate to others but it is an eye-opener. This was recommended to me and I'm glad I bought it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Turkel again delivers an accessible book of enduring value. The exploration of what it is to be human in the age of increasingly intelligent machines is important for all of us. Turkel helps us down that road with her insightful research and accessible writing stlye.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Sherry Turkle, the well-known author of The Second Self (1984) and Life on the Screen (1995), has given us another key work in Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (New York: Basic Books, 2011). In her current book she focuses on individuals from 5 to 20 years of age, discerning how this group often rely on technology to fill in voids in their relationships. While we have seen some amazing achievements with the use of robots and other technologies to help kids and senior citizens, Turkle also argues that our use makes us change in certain profound ways. While we turn to technology, as well, to help save us time, the technology often makes us busier. "It is easy to become so immersed in technology that we ignore what we know about life" (p. 101), and we apply this notion to many aspects of our lives.
VJDJR More than 1 year ago
I'd first borrowed this book from our public library. About 1/3 through, I realized I would want my own copy. It's that good. I've highlighted (thank you, nook) passages all over the place. It's a worthwhile look at how the technology that was to have given us more free time has actually taken more of it. How trends are pulling toward situations where we are all at the same social setting (meeting, dinner table, city park) with our own connected gadget(s), each of us alone, but together. And it is also about how we use facebook, IM, texting to become more abbreviated with each other, sharing each other with other friends/texts/twitters/apps so that it is becoming increasingly rare where anyone has all of another's attention. And finally, it is about the trend toward social robots. So far, just toys, but toys programmed to pull out an emotional response from the user. So that the goal amongst some roboticists is to create a "companion" robot to, say, help the elderly not merely by doing things to help them, but by performing as a companion: someone or something to talk to or share with. But, Turkle suggests, is it "sharing" if there is no-body there, merely a program? I found her observations fascinating, even if I didn't always agree with her summations. I also found it worth sharing, both in social mediums and in conversation (with people, not robots).
catwak More than 1 year ago
Last summer I took a week-long vacation to a place with limited wireless access. The best thing about that week was not hearing the chirp of a "smart" phone even once! As excellent as this book is, I suspect (nay, even fervently hope) that the twisted world of obsessively detached communication among the young that Ms. Turkle describes is at best a regional phenomenon, most common among households in urban areas and blessed with more money than sense. If there's one thing missing from this book, it's some nationwide statistics.
PVF More than 1 year ago
Sherry Turkle should be captured in a bottle and put in a very safe place. This book is fabulous. It answers questions that I've had for the past decade, and it introduced me to the whole world of social media--both its upsides and considerable downsides. She is a moral voice for humanity as it tries to integrate high technology into its identity without damaging or reducing the elements that have always made us uniquely human. I would recommend this book to everyone who thinks for him/herself.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book does an interesting job of showing how our interactions with others are modified by the technological means we use to connect.  It's written in a manner that is both accessible and yet intelligent.   Definitely makes you wonder about the tradeoffs involved in the so'-called convenience in digital progress.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Book brought me up to date @ many electronic gadgets.
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