In the spring of 1977, when Sherry Turkle was a young professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Steve Jobs visited. While he toured the campus and met her colleagues, Turkle was cleaning her apartment and worrying about the dinner menu she agreed to host.
It took almost 50 years, when she wrote her memoir, “The Empathy Diaries,” that she realized how angry that had made her. She’s in the early stages of a career documenting how technology affects our lives, but isn’t asked to join her colleagues as they spend the day with the Apple co-founder.
“Why not me?” she said in a video interview last month. It took her decades to come up with that question, and it reflects her desire to direct the ethnographer’s gaze inward, to examine herself the way she studied the subjects. my study for a long time. That’s the focus of her new book, she says: “This is the practical use of what it means to talk to yourself.”
Turkle, 72, loves talking. In her 2015 book, “Reclaiming Conversation,” she argues that old-fashioned voice-chat is a powerful antidote to life on screen. A licensed clinical psychologist with a general doctorate in psychology and sociology from Harvard, she scrutinizes what our relationship with technology reveals about us, about what we feel is lacking in our lives, what we imagine the technology can provide.
Her daughter, Rebecca Sherman, says she and her friends are subject to occasional inquiries from her mother. For example, when is looking at your phone considered acceptable? It was Sherman, 29, and her friends who explained to Turkle the “rule of three”: As long as there are at least three other people involved in the conversation, you can disappear (temporarily) into the conversation. one screen.
“The Empathy Diaries”, which Penguin Press publishes on March 2, tracks Turkle’s progress from the working-class childhood in Brooklyn to professor who finished at MIT during the first few years of his life. She lives in a one bedroom apartment with her mother, aunt and grandparents. She slept in a crib between her grandparents’ single beds. Her father is almost completely absent.
Her family could not afford tickets for the Great Holy Days at the local synagogue, so instead, they dressed and greeted their neighbors on the temple steps, carefully implying that they were will attend services elsewhere. But they recognize Turkle’s intelligence and do not ask her to do housework, just like her to sit and read. Years later, when she graduated from Radcliffe on a scholarship, her grandfather attended.
Turkle also writes about the relationships that have shaped her. One of them was with her stepfather, Milton Turkle, whose arrival interrupted Turkle’s early life and the name her mother instructed her to make her own – and never revealed to you. Her classmate or sister that she was born to be someone’s daughter. other. Her father is rarely mentioned, his name is taboo.
“I have been turned into an outsider who can see that things are not always what they look like, because I am not always like me,” says Turkle.
When Turkle first started publishing and gaining recognition, she was asked personal questions, the kind of questions she asked about her subject. But she was empty-handed. She still carries her mother’s secrets, her real name, many years after her mother’s death. So when she appears in public, she insists that the individual is without limits, that she will only comment on her work, despite the fact that one of the arguments drives the job. Her thoughts and feelings are inseparable, and work and the people behind work are intertwined. She remembers that moment very well: she turned off the phone when asked to reveal who she really was.
“That really started my journey and the arc started a conversation with itself,” she said.
But Turkle has long been interested in memoirs, and she teaches a class on the subject at MIT.She was surprised that scientists, engineers, and designers often present their work. in purely intellectual terms, when they speak, “they are infatuated by their life, infatuated with their childhood, infatuated by a rock they found on the beach made them think, ”she said. “Everything about my research when I started interviewing scientists showed that their work in life was ignited by the subjects, the people, the relationships that brought them to work. mine.”
Part of her motivation, she added, was to motivate her students to see their work and their lives interrelated. And she set a special goal to bond the two ropes while writing her own memoir.
In her book, Turkle describes being denied a term at MIT, a decision she struggled with and successfully reversed. Now she could laugh at it (“What does a good woman have to do to get a job here?”), But she feels marked by experience.
Her colleague for nearly 50 years, Kenneth Manning, remembers the episode very well. Turkle, he says, is “smart and creative”, but “she has taken a whole new approach to looking at computer culture and she comes from a background in psychoanalysis. People don’t quite understand that. “When he gave her a party to celebrate her term, some of her colleagues did not attend,” he said.
Turkle now functions as some sort of “in-house critic,” as she imagines her colleagues can see her, write about technology and its dissatisfaction from within an organization where it is. is part of the name. “As her work becomes more digitally important, there are certainly a lot of people at MIT who aren’t satisfied with that,” said David Thorburn, professor of literature at MIT, said David Thorburn, a professor of literature at MIT. literature at MIT
The title of her new book reflects one of Turkle’s concerns. As we disappear into our lives on screen, spend less time in reflective solitude and less time converse with others, empathy, as Turkle sees, is one in the casualties. The word she defines as “ability to not only put oneself in the shoes of others, but also to put oneself in the shoes of others. problem, ”Not just a concern for Turkle, it’s a special kind: She was even called into the women’s emergency sympathy group by a school where teachers found that with With the increase of the screen, their pupils seem less and less likely to put themselves in a different perspective.
One of Turkle’s hopes for this special moment is that the pandemic has given us insight into each other’s problems and vulnerabilities in a way that we may not have had as much access to as before. During the first few months of the lockdown, Turkle switched her MIT classes to Zoom. “You can see where people live,” she said. “It opened up a conversation about disparities in our circumstances. Something that a ‘college experience’ hides. “
In many ways, Turkle believes that a pandemic is a “nominal” moment, in the words of writer and anthropologist Victor Turner, a moment when we “come together”, a disaster with a chance. made available to recreate. “In these nominal stages are possibilities of change,” she said. “I think we are living through a period, both in our social lives but also in the way we deal with our technology, where we are willing to think of very different behavior. “
Turkle is not against technology. She “proudly” watches a lot of TVs and loves to write on her tiny MacBook, the kind they no longer produce. But she’s against the lure of internet-connected vulnerabilities. “I’m very aware of how I’m being manipulated by the screen,” she said, “and I’m not interested in talking to Alexa and Siri.
She has spent most of the past year at her home in Provincetown, Mass., And so it was inevitable that Henry David Thoreau appeared. The famous naturalist and philosopher once walked 25 miles of beach connecting Provincetown to the top of Cape Cod.
“You know, Thoreau, his important thing is not to be alone,” says Turkle. “His important thing is: I want to live deliberately. I think we have an opportunity with technology to live purposefully.