Alone Together

I have just finished reading Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. I would recommend that you read it but I expected more new insights from it, to be honest. I guess it deals with an area of our lives that changes all the time (and has already changed again since publication of the book) and a lot of things are common sense; some example situations I have experienced myself in one form or another; some examples were more telling because of people’s background (e.g. missing relationships) and I think they would have found something to distance/distract themselves from the real world even before advanced robots and digital worlds they can flee into.

In the book, the author shares her own experiences and experiments with new toys and tools, that alter out social lives and behaviour. Here are my notes:

  • “Technology is seductive when what it offers meets our human vulnerabilities.”
  • “But if we are always on, we may deny ourselves the rewards of solitude.”
  • Robots and computers don’t have shared experiences with humans.
  • Creating an avatar enables you to explore your self, e.g. by choosing different age or gender. Time spent online is time that you could have spent differently, e.g. with family.
  • “echnology makes it easy to communicate when we wish and disengage at will.”
  • Which attachments and feelings are evoked in humans when using machines/robots? Users can fool themselves into thinking there’s a relationship
  • Humans happy to fill in the blanks when a robot or computer leaves gaps of behaviour. Children see robots as “kind of alive”
  • Tamagotchis and Furbies. Children know they are robots but give them human traits. They can’t necessarily work out what makes Furbies different from humans.
  • “upside-down test”: how long can you hold a Barbie doll, a Ferby (that cries and says “me scared” when held upside diwn) or a gerbil upside down. People feel guilt even though they know Furby is a robot toy.
  • Can a computer/robot be a better confidante than a human because it’s “knowledge”/”experience” (database) is larger? -> I don’t think so!
  • Inner states can lead to same outward appearance, e.g. Happy smile or fake smile. Does inside state matter then? Children seem confused
  • “With robot pets, children can give enough to feel attached, but then they can turn away. They are learning a way of feeling connected on which they have permission to think only of themselves.”
  • “Dependence on a robot presents itself as risk free. But when one becomes accustomed to “companionship” without demands, life with people may seem overwhelming.” “the loveable as safe and made to measure”
  • Japanese people might hire actors to visit their parents instead of visiting their parents themselves. Why not use robots? -> really?!?
  • “Children imagine sociable machines as substitutes for the people missing in their lives.” “What we ask of robots shows us what we need.”
  • Case studies of elderly: some might prefer interaction with robots as robots have fewer demands than people
  • Japan: robots as companions for elderly, as there are not enough people to take care of them. Robots are also more patient
  • Talking to pets is thinking out loud. Most owners realise that. People treat robots more like humans. Robots offer opportunity to talk privately, voice thoughts. -> therapeutic
  • Robot for self-reflection, people will adapt their actions to fit robot’s capabilities
  • People can pretend to care but robots can’t care and therefore only (!) pretend.
  • Japanese culture sees a life-force in inanimate things. Japanese accept that mobiles etc create social isolation. They see robots as “facilitators of human contact”
  • The Internet gives us a free space to explore identity. -> try different roles
  • By being connected via phone or Internet all the time we never leave home, might miss out on experiences that way.
  • “When someone holds a phone, it can be hard to know if you have that person’s attention.” People can be “paused” -> eg conversation stops when phone rings
  • Multitasking feels more efficient but isn’t.
  • Work-life balance disappears when you’re expected to be online/available all the time. People feel they need to hide on vacation, to have a good “excuse” to be offline
  • Enquiries have changed to allow quick response, complicated problems often not given space for consideration -> have noticed that in work already
  • People deny themselves “downtime” or “thinking time” – time is filled with doing stuff on mobiles etc.
  • People don’t have/need patience.
  • technology sets expectations about speed
  • “In solitude we don’t reject the world but have the space to think our own thoughts.”
  • Objects=people. People=objects?
  • Independence used to equal being grown up. Now parents are only a call/text away – always. Also hinders independence!
  • Videogames/mobiles/emails -> evoke similar behaviour to gambling addiction
  • examples: Chatroulette, confessional websites
  • “Venting feelings comes to feel like sharing them.”
  • Empathetic “transactions” become less
  • Anonymity doesn’t protect from emotional investment
  • Online it’s easy to bully
  • “confessional sites are often taken as therapy and they are not”
  • Facebook etc. are more like clubs, not communities (not broad enough)
  • Online you can never be sure who you are talking to
  • Reading online always invites you to explore places outside the text: links, networks, etc. – interruptions. “Normal” books invite personal views, thinking and associations
  • Trauma of 9/11 childhood: “to feel safe, you have to be connected”
  • “As teenagers turn stalking into part of their lives, they become resigned to incursions into their privacy.”
  • Teens/people not necessarily aware of what protection/privacy they are “entitled” to, what is “over the line”
  • Will digital memory that can’t be erased create a more tolerant society because everyone has indiscretions online?
  • People think Facebook will do whatever it wants anyway -> Given up? Don’t care?
  • Online is never private, can always be recorded and brought back up
  • Being able to easily stay in touch with people from all your life stages: new but can’t leave behind as easily and take on new identities
  • Less attention is paid to other individuals, stuff is often shared as blog/wall post/etc.
  • Online communication (can be) impersonal. People forget how to “read” others, e.g. expressions, faces
  • Simulation doesn’t work for human relationships
  • “loneliness is failed solitude”
  • Stillness makes people “trained by the Net” (i.e. “digital natives”) anxious -> renewed interest in meditation, yoga, slowness, religions
  • Necessary: finding a new balance, room for reflection – rather than just “slowing down”
  • Do we really want to dump memories into computers rather than keep memories in our heads?
  • Microsoft’s “Life Browser” watches your behaviour and concludes who you are based on what you do. -> Google uses a similar thing, I believe
  • People want to document their lives -> examples
  • “To live most fully, perhaps we need at least the fiction that we are not archiving. For surely, in the archived life, we begin to live for the record, for how we shall be seen.”
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