Alone Together – Sherry Turkle

A green thought bubbleHere are some comments about Together Alone. I wrote them in response to a query about Sherry Turkle’s book “Alone Together.” They got to be way too long for the class forum, so I’ve put them here. The comments were prompted by the paper by Frank Pasquale “The Algorithmic Self:” Pasquale, F. (2015). The algorithmic self. The Hedgehog Review, 17(1). Available at:

Alone Together by Sherry Turkle goes in two directions. The first direction is in discussing emotional technology–technology that can affect human emotions and attitudes. Examples go from the primitive, but compelling “therapist” ELIZA to a Furby and beyond. She’s dubious on the wisdom of them.

Paro is a seal-like emotive robot that was designed to comfort elderly people, which it can be successful at. It uses comforting sounds and interactions to help the person’s anxiety and loneliness. Sherry Turkle is appalled by that; She feels strongly that people who are in the end stages of their life deserve someone who can understand and share meaning with them instead of a piece of machinery that provides comfort through synthetic trickery, but shares no meaning. (Part of her attitude that led to the book started when she and other MIT researchers were testing Paro. The others were enthusiastic and excited while Sherry was turned away from that line of research based on, to her, the repugnance of the experience.)

Partly from her discussion and partly my opinionated part, The Algorithmic Self’s argument “If there really is no alternative, no human or animal available to show concern or affection, isn’t the Paro better than nothing?” is a false dichotomy. There are people who could care and support individuals, society just doesn’t value it. It could a service just as important as home health care workers and volunteers who support younger people that can’t meet all of their own needs.

People don’t see the elderly in a nursing home or those needing advanced support, so they can ignore the problem. The comment that “care needs could easily overwhelm private means and public coffers” should be shocking in that once people reach a certain level of disability, they’re not important enough to get human comfort and attention. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” would be a relevant cliche.

The second part of the book is interviews about people who communicate with technology such as texting, social media and email and don’t deal with the messy person to person contact directly or through voice conversations. She considers the technologial dependency a psychological symptom from a psychoanalytic perspective. She reports on interviews and individuals’ ambivalence to the technologies, while still not being able to pull away from. Many couldn’t complete the thought that maybe it would be ok to do something different. Some people she interviewed weren’t comfortable, but didn’t see an alternative.

The subtitle of the book is “Why we expect more from technology and less from each other.” Her conclusion discusses the connection with her mother through saved correspondence. She hopes for something similar with her distant daughter. “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.”

Everyone can be scientists

ThoughtsOne things scientists do is to perform experiments.

Some experiments are really technical. Measuring the position of atoms or the properties of a supernova. Determining what nutrients an amoeba needs to thrive and how to diagnose prostate cancer.

I don’t know how to do any of these. I know that there are people trained to find the answers. As experts in their field, they have experience and skills that are more trustworthy than my friends.

Even so, my friends and I can all do experiments. We don’t need to pick up a ruler or pencil. No paper, measuring cup or calculator needed. You can do the same.

The most powerful experiments are thought experiments. Human minds have intense abilities to imagine.

A thought experiment uses that imagination to reveal the truth.

What if ….

The almost empty glass of the Spectacular Age

Thought bubbleThe question of the day is “is the glass almost empty or is it almost full?”

The lens that identified a glass as half empty or half full hardly seems relevant. Such subtle semantic differences don’t matter in the Spectacular Age we are in.

I noticed a bumper sticker today. “Refugees Welcome” with the outline of Indiana. I suggested to a friend that it was really a good message. My friend was concerned that we’re running out and can’t afford such people.

It made me think about how much American perceptions are disassociated.

One can look at the glass and see that it is almost full. We have enough creativity, dedication, courage and hope to solve the problems facing the world.

Or, one can see an almost empty glass. The government is too expensive, the cost of doing business is excessive, society is about to collapse and only radical action can help.

I don’t know how to find a way to pour from my almost full glass to help relieve the thirst of the almost empty glasses. Do you?


Recently, Pandora put on one of my feeds “Year of the Cat” by Al Stewart.

I hadn’t heard the song for a long time and after hearing it a few times, I decided I wanted more like it.

I created a Year of the Cat channel and have been rewarded with a lot of nostalgia.

With my tablet playing it, I get all of the late 70s music I could ever ask for.

Some of it is pretty awful, but I get a lot of nice memories from the non-awful stuff.