I did a stupid thing…. I let my emotions run free when I publicly responded to a statement at a master class of Sherry Turkle. Not only is my English a bit rusty, I was very nervous as well. Not a good combination when you are trying to make a point… Especially when you are surrounded with master’s students, scientists and Turkle lovers! The longer she spoke about the dangers of the digital revolution and the madness of Facebook and Twitter, the more I developed a feeling of anger that I needed to share. Probably because I had a strong feeling she was talking about ME when she said people get narrow minded when they are connected with the rest of the world through mobile devices. I do not consider myself narrow-minded…And I could not help thinking that Mrs. Turkle herself is a bit narrow-minded.
Sherry Turkle is Professor of Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a sociologist. She was born in New York City in 1948 and she has focused her research on psychoanalysis and culture and on the psychology of people’s relationship with technology, especially computer technology and computer addiction. She discusses problems that arise when children pose as adults online. Turkle also explores the psychological and social impact of such “relational artifacts” as sociable robots, and how these and other technologies are changing attitudes of human life and living things generally. She talks about a devaluation of authentic experience in a relationship and seems to be convinced that the Internet is a treat to social cohesion (source: Wikipedia).
When I studied Sociology at the University of Tilburg I had loads of interesting discussions with my professors about the effects of the digital evolution on individualization. Most of my professors were, just like Turkle, convinced that the Internet would increase individualization and would set us more apart. According to Turkle people who use mobile devices – that able them to be connected with the rest of the world – are hiding, are constantly distracted, are bailing out and even live in a fantasy world.
You are probably not surprised that I do not agree. Of course I am well aware of the risks and I know that a lot of people are indeed disconnected with themselves because of the virtual reality they live in. It is absolutely worrying when people are getting so obsessed by their virtual lives in their second life that they forget to live in the real world. I have even heard a story about a Chinese couple that lost their baby because they were to busy nurturing their virtual baby. I do agree that it is absolutely necessary to educate people and make them aware of the risks and dangers of this virtual world… But are we not forgetting something here?
Are there not two sides to the story? Are you really an objective scientist when you are just focusing on the dangers and the risks and do not seem to acknowledge the amazing things we did achieve because of the Internet – like the revolutions in the Arabic countries for instance!? Turkle is concerned about the way we communicate; she thinks it is outrageous that young people prefer mailing or texting instead of having face to face contact. But does she realize that our frequency of communication increased tremendously since we are connected through the Internet? Is it really always necessary to communicate while you are in the same physical world? The diversity of our ways of communication expanded; which – luckily – made it possible to postpone live contact. If I take a look at myself I am really glad that I am able to do a lot of my communication throughout the Internet or phone instead of meeting everyone live.
When I left the master class I was annoyed, probably because I felt that I made a fool of myself because I couldn’t find the words to convince Turkle to focus on education instead of fear. I decided to write a blog directed to Sherry Turkle in which I would explain my vision. As I could not find the words during the master class, I could not find them when I was trying to come up with a proper blog. A week later I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a master class of Joseph Pine .. and there he was; my translator…
I found the ‘guy’ who could go in debate with Turkle!
Joseph Pine – author of a.o. the “Experience Economy” came over to the Netherlands to talk about a model named Multidiverse. He defines the universe by 3 axes: time, matter and space and expands these axes with the opposites: no-time, no-matter and no-space. Pine takes us through all of the dimensions that define the Multiverse, such as augmented reality, alternate reality and warped reality.
Instead of talking about fear, Pine talks about the infinite possibilities of the digital evolution. I understand the fear that underlines Turkle’s story; she is an American citizen brought up in an era after the world war, raising a daughter in a complex and rapidly changing time. Her parents learned to be cautious and valued privacy as the most important asset of their existence. After 2001 a lot has changed in America. Fear has become a daily thing. I understand! But in my opinion letting fear taking the overhand is even a more dangerous development!! We are facing some serious challenges. Our planet seems to be fed up with our abuse and is changing rapidly. The worldwide economy is fragile and there are too many pointless/futile/immoral.. wars about religion, politics & natural resources.
Getting connected and sharing our thoughts, ideas and experiences about how we are going to deal with these challenges is – in my opinion – the most important task we are facing.
Yes, our online reputation is biased because we just share our most ideal and positive thoughts, experiences, snapshots and updates but I have learned that if you focus on the good things, good things will happen.
The online and the offline world can live together as long as we are conscious of the dangers and get educated about the possibilities.
To me Turkle has become a narrow-minded scientist that does not practice what she preaches. If she was as connected and compassionate as she claim’s to be, she would know she was in Tilburg instead of Amsterdam and would make a connection with the people who asked her questions after the master class. Instead she nodded as if she heard the question a master student asked her and went back to the person who gave her a cd nobody was waiting for.
After Pine’s master class I asked him wether he had met Turkle before and if they have had a debate yet. He told me that they have not had the chance yet because of their hectic agendas. Due to the fact that my mother tong is not English but Dutch, I sincerely hope they eventually will debate and will share their magnificent knowledge in order to educate the world on the digital evolution.