worry piece

I’m the first to admit that coming up with new material to write on a regular basis can be really tough. I also think that important arguments bear repeating. So I’m not mad when I see multiple versions of essentially the same story pop up in op-eds and essays. But I do feel the need to step in when stories that repeat themselves, repeatedly get something wrong. Such is the case with what I call the worry piece.

The worry piece is a particular brand of techno-skeptism. It addresses technology as an overwhelming force that on balance, changes people and relationships for the worse. It is concerned with the very nature of humanity and saturated with visceral anxiety. It is personal, and meant to shame you, but in a collective-we-should-all-be-ashamed kind of way. One can (and should) be skeptical and critical of technology for a host of reasons—mostly with regard to patterns of exploitation from its production, distribution, and use. The worry piece is less concerned with these structural issues and instead, occupied by the loss of dinnertime conversation and the influx of content to which readers can presumably pay only fleeting attention.   more...

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Sherry Turkle has been very successful lately. She is still touring the country giving high-profile talks and her best-selling books are assigned in college classrooms all across the country. The quotes on her books’ dustjackets are from respected authors and thinkers. She is a senior faculty member at an elite east coast university. She is by all accounts someone with an ostensibly left-of-center perspective that is popular while still pushing audiences to consider the ramifications of their actions. Turkle, through her critical analysis of social media and portable digital devices, wants people to think twice about the unintended consequences of their actions; how individual choices often aggregate into undesirable interpersonal dynamics. This is important work worthy of public debate but, precisely because it is so important, it is worth asking who benefits from Turkle’s particular brand of mindfulness.

Critiques of Turkle are too few, but the ones that exist are spot on. Focusing on individuals’ technology use, according to Nathan Jurgenson, not only turns the subjects of Turkle’s analysis into broken subhumans, it also gives the reader the opportunity to feel superior simply by fretting over when and how a device comes out of their pocket. Her work also misses, according to Zeynep Tufeci and Alexandra Samuel all the ways social media is a way of reclaiming some form of sociality in a world dominated by televisions, the suburbs, long work hours, and life circumstances that geographically separate us. Taken together we might understand the shortcomings of Turkle’s work as primarily one of digital dualism, i.e. that she considers non-mediated, in-person interaction as inherently more real or authentic compared to anything done through digital networks. What has been left unsaid, and what I want to focus on here, is how Turkle contradicts herself and, in so doing, reveals a bias toward authority and socially conservative political institutions. Turkle selectively deploys her analysis in such a way that traditional sources of authority are left unchallenged. more...

Zombie cyborg
Image credit

The New York Times editors, as Claude Fisher wrote yesterday, “have their meme and they will ride it hard.” That meme is Sherry Turkle, the MIT psychologist that has built a cottage industry (a far away disconnected cottage on the shores of Cape Cod no doubt) around pathologizing the bad feelings people get when everyone around them are on their phones. Fisher does a really supurb job of laying out what is wrong with this latest round of Turkle fanfare so you should go read his piece on his blog, but I want to draw out and add to one point that he makes about the “death of conversation” being an evergreen topic for decades.

I have an article coming out in First Monday in about a month but there is a section that I want to quote from just because I think it is especially relevant to this issue of conversation, attention, and their vulnerability to new technologies. The article argues that online/offline states should be seen as social relationships among groups and not the binary states of an individual. To that point I show how cultural, political, and economic reactions to railroad lines mirror the experiences we have with the Internet today. What follows is a small section about what sorts of social and cultural effects were attributed to railroads: more...

rousseau spiderman

Just about every one of our contributing authors has written a piece that challenges or refutes the claims made by tech journalists, industry pundits, or fellow academics. Part of the problem is technological determinism- the notion that technology has a unidirectional impact on society. (i.e. Google makes us stupid, cell phones make us lonely.) Popular discussions of digital technologies take on a very particular flavor of technological determinism, wherein the author makes the claim that social activity on/in/through Friendster/New MySpace/ Google+/ Snapchat/ Bing is inherently separate from the physical world. Nathan Jurgenson has given a name to this fallacy: digital dualism. Ever since Nathan posted Digital dualism versus augmented reality I have been preoccupied with a singular question: where did this thinking come from? Its too pervasive and readily accepted as truth to be a trendy idea or even a generational divide. Every one of Cyborgology’s regular contributors (and some of our guest authors) hear digital dualist rhetoric coming from their students. The so-called “digital natives” lament their peers’ neglect of “the real world.” Digital dualism’s roots run deep and can be found at the very core of modern thought.  Indeed, digital dualism seems to predate the very technologies that it inaccurately portrays. more...


Pretty sure this is 'shopped. Original artist, as far as I can tell, can be found here.

Recently, I started following a new podcast from Slate.com called Lexicon Valley. The half hour-long, weekly podcast by Bob Garfield and Mike Vuolo covers a variety of topics but all of the episodes center around changes in language and the power of words. Their June 4th episode was devoted to Abraham Lincoln and his Gettysburg Address and I highly recommend giving it a listen. While Vuolo and Garfield conclude that the Gettysburg Address closely follows the structure of an ancient Greek funeral oration, they also note that the brevity of the address was both rhetorically deft and politically pragmatic. The address was reprinted verbatim on the front page of most major newspapers and was easily reproducible in every format imaginable– from pamphlets to marble plaques. Today, we can share huge amounts of information with little-to-no effort, yet the art of keeping it brief seems to hold sway. What are some of the unique properties of brevity that makes it so alluring and what can we expect to achieve with it? more...

The following is a  review of Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman’s new book Networked: The New Social Operating System (MIT Press).

Broad Summary
Rainie and Wellman, using scores of data, argue that we live in a networked operating system characterized by networked individualism. They describe the triple revolution (networked revolution, internet revolution, and mobile revolution) that got us here, and discuss the repercussions of this triple revolution within various arenas of social life (e.g. the family, relationships, work, information spread). They conclude with an empirically informed guess at the future of the new social operating system of networked individualism, indulging augmented fantasies and dystopic potentials. Importantly, much of the book is set up as a larger argument against technologically deterministic claims about the deleterious effects of new information communication technologies (ICTs).
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Reason #15,926 I love the Internet: it allows us to bypass our insane leaders israelovesiran.com

— allisonkilkenny (@allisonkilkenny) April 22, 2012

Sherry Turkle
Sherry Turkle, Author of Alone Together and a New York Times opinion piece on our unhealthy relationship to technology.

Sherry Turkle published an op-ed in the Opinion Pages of the New York Times’ Sunday Review that decries our collective move from “conversation” to “connection.” Its the same argument she made in her latest book Alone Together, and has roots in her previous books Life on the Screen and Second Self. Her argument is straightforward and can be summarized in a few bullet points:

  • Our world has more “technology” in it than ever before and it is taking up more and more hours of our day.
  • We use this technology to structure/control/select the kinds of conversations we have with certain people.
  • These communication technologies compete with “the world around us” in a zero-sum game for our attention.
  • We are substituting “real conversations” with shallower, “dumbed-down” connections that give us a false sense of security. Similarly, we are capable of presenting ourselves in a very particular way that hides our faults and exaggerates our better qualities.

Turkle is probably the longest-standing, most outspoken proponent of what we at Cyborgology call digital dualism. The separation of physical and virtual selves and the privileging of one over the other is not only theoretically contradictory, but also empirically unsubstantiated.  more...

We’re not living fully in our lives.  We’re living a little bit in our lives and a little bit in our Facebook lives.

Sherry Turkle has never failed to be a provocative and insightful theorist of human-technology interaction, but on this point, I could not disagree more.  Unfortunately, Turkle continues to reify the false dichotomy between the digital and material worlds.  We are NOT half in the digital and half in the virtual world.  Instead, we are all fully immersed into an augmented reality.

Moreover, I would argue that Second Life has become red herring in the digital/material debate.  Most Internet users don’t even know what Second Life is.  The paradigmatic example of online-offline interaction, at this historical moment, is Facebook, particularly Facebook mobile apps.

In any case, you can read the interview here and judge for yourself.