Why Turkle may be right after all…

As you saw from my previous blog posts, I am not very impressed with Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together book. Her robotic moment seemed unlikely and her research was, in my opinion, presented in a very one-sided manner.

 

That being said, I am pleasantly surprised with Turkle’s second half of the book : Networked. I seem to identify myself more with the youth interviewed in the book : i am always glued to my phone, check my work emails intensively and check Facebook whenever I’m bored as a habit. I also think that her observations are applicable to a wider audience then the peculiar relationships some developped with their robots.

 

I am Lucky enough to have spent most  of my summers at a French summer camp down in the States. Ever since the age of 7, I have been leaving for months at a time to get back to the Fundamentals of « fun » : camping, outdoors sports, swimming in a lake, sitting around a fire while singing along with a few guitars, and mostly, by spending time to truly know someone. During my summers as a kid, I wouldn’t even THINK about cellphones, computers, ipods : in fact, they were banned for everyone at camp, campers AND staff.

However, as I turned 17, I started working at the camp for the entire summer. I spent 5 summers working there, and over the years, I witnessed a shift in the staffs behaviour. iPods are now permitted for the staff’s personal use. Laptops can be used to watch movies in our rooms. Cellphones can be used a tour own billing risks. And, mostly, the staff has access to a desktop computer that is connected to the internet.

 

What used to be an intimate experience with oneself of réflexion and deep friendship quickly became slightly tainted by the use of Technology. Not that we stay alone in our room all the time, but there is something sad about someone sitting around other people with earbuds in his ears, listening to The Beatles instead of participating in a group discussion. We used to send letters to our parents and our friends, through Snail Mail. Now, a few lines by email to say we are doing well is more then enough.

 

Technology isn’t all bad, but I think we are using it without realizing what it’s taking away from us.

I like this book, as I can find out more about what it’s taking from me and hopefully make my choices accordingly. I have always felt better out in the woods then here in the city, but I never stopped to think of whether or not it has to do with Internet, Apple, Texting, Twitter, and all the new « important»  stuff in life…

 

 

Turkle’s Unrealistic Reality

According to Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together, Robots are taking away from our human relationships. Although I am not as extremist in my opinion as my work partner Adrien, I agree with him to some extent. Though Turkle’s observations and work is quite extensive, I do think that her opinions are not applicable to every one in America. She seems to try to apply her findings to all individuals, but in my opinion, the attitude of people who are more « taken » by the robots are mostly comon in one type of individual : lonely people, vulnerable people.

Although Turkle does mention this idea in the 6th Chapter of her book, I don’t think she explains it enough: in fact, her whole novel is dedicated to people and society, but her title is misleading. « Why we expect more from technology and less from eachother » makes it sound like society is sick, whereas her observations that are in accordance with this idea are generally more vulnerable and more lonely. That being said, I do think she asks certain ethical questions in regards to this branch of people.

 

Would having robots around to take care of our elderly make us feel less guilty about leaving them in geriatric hospitals and old folks home? Would this encourage us to abandon our parents more easily? Or, would a lonely child who feels unwanted would feel better about himself with a robot as a companion? What about when these robots malfunction and abandon the child? What effects would this have on his development?

 

I feel like trying to answer these questions is irrelevant: robots can be good, until they are used to replace people who care, who love. I think that a healthy, well-rounded person would not grow attached to a robot the way Turkle thinks they would, but that a more sensitive, lonely person would.

 

So to me, our time would be better spent trying to find a way for these lonely people to feel loved, rather then by providing them with a perfectly cold, unempathetic robot friend…

I am anxious to see what Turkle has in store in the rest of her book for us: perhaps a technology that is more accessible to everyone has a higher impact on our relationships then the elusive “robot”.

Is it true that our human relationships are suffering because of technology?

Last Wednesday in class, we discussed briefly the introduction and the first few pages of Sherry Turkle’s Along Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. According to Turkle, Tamagotchis, Furbies and toy seals are all forms of technology that we consider “almost alive”. Mr. Strangelove also asked the class whether or not we think that technology is harmful to our interpersonal relationships.

This wasn’t the first time I was asked the question : as a young adult, I have often been asked by my parents, my parents friends and older colleagues at work whether or not I think new media, especially Facebook and YouTube, are toxic in their own way for our social life. As usual, my first thought was “Of course not !” For many, Facebook is a great way to keep friendships alive despite distance or lack of time to hang out, and a way for your family to know what is going on in your life. However, after reading the first two chapters of Turkle’s book, my position shifted a little. I use Facebook to talk to my friends, to let them know what I’m up to, to see how their doing, and to catch up once in a while. I have 560 friends on facebook, and speak to about 5-10 a week, often the same 5-10. I have another portion of friends, say, 25, with whom I’ll chat or send a message now and then to know how they are. I ‘’creep’’ a lot of my facebook friends’ profiles when I am bored or procrastinating, and I don’t know what is going on in the lives of at least half the people I have on Facebook.

So why do we feel like having Facebook is keeping our relationships alive ? On the contrary, we are now hiding behing a computer to speak once every blue moon instead of sending Christmas cards or picking up the phone to ask, ‘’How are you? How is your life ?’’

I am anxious to see how Turkle’s book will change, or confirm, the way I feel about Technology, or robots, as she calls the.

The Active Post-Television Audience

This week in class we talked about the Post-Television audience. In Watching YouTube, you say « The online audience is active in a fundamentally different way from twentieth-century conceptions of the active audience » (Watching YouTube, p. 163) It’s true that the new ways we use media have increased our level of activity as far as communication goes. For the first time, the audience is able to interact, react, and discuss current affairs with just a few clicks. We are far from Shannon & Weaver’s linear  model – instead, we are bombarding the media with Feedback. Video responses are posted on YouTube, fan pages and activist groups form on Feedback, and the thoughts people would have kept for a dinner conversations are now being tweeted and retweeted For the media industry, this should be a tool to consider exploiting fully !

On top of this type of feedback, the Post-TV audience is constantly communicating what they like simply through their viewing habits. Watching our favourite shows streaming live online to avoid commercials or to fit our schedules says loud and clear what we want and what we expect from television. The fact that YouTube videos or Bloggers are now social references for the new audience is also a sign of where we are and where we are headed: perhaps the amateur-genre the authenticity is truly what we are looking for.

Although consuming new media is essentially a one-person activity (surfing Facebook, watching videos, reading message boards, etc), the act of using New Media still has us interact with other people. We are an active audience through our personal habits as we communicate within the Internet community and interact with people from all over the world, engaging in dialogues that we may otherwise have never had.

The Post-Television audience is active, alive and only beginning.