Sherry Turkle

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Sherry Turkle
Sherry Turkle.jpg
Born (1948-06-18) June 18, 1948 (age 69)[1]
New York City, New York, U.S.[1]
Nationality American

Ph.D. in Sociology and Personality Psychology

BA in Social Studies
Known for Social Studies of Science and Technology
Notable work The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit",[2] Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other

Sherry Turkle (born June 18, 1948) is the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She obtained a BA in Social Studies and later a Ph.D. in Sociology and Personality Psychology at Harvard University. She now focuses her research on psychoanalysis and human-technology interaction. She has written several books focusing on the psychology of human relationships with technology, especially in the realm of how people relate to computational objects.

In The Second Self, originally published in 1984, Turkle writes about how computers are not tools as much as they are a part of our social and psychological lives. “‘Technology,’ she writes, ‘catalyzes changes not only in what we do but in how we think.’”[3] She goes on using Jean Piaget's psychology discourse to discuss how children learn about computers and how this affects their minds. The Second Self was received well by critics and was praised for being “a very thorough and ambitious study.”[4]

In Life on the Screen, Turkle discusses how emerging technology, specifically computers, affect the way we think and see ourselves as humans. She presents to us the different ways in which computers affect us, and how it has led us to the now prevalent use of "cyberspace." Turkle suggests that assuming different personal identities in a MUD (i.e. computer fantasy game) may be therapeutic. She also considers the problems that arise when using MUDs. Turkle discusses what she calls women's "non-linear" approach to the technology, calling it "soft mastery" and "bricolage" (as opposed to the "hard mastery" of linear, abstract thinking and computer programming). She discusses problems that arise when children pose as adults online.

Turkle also explores the psychological and societal impact of such "relational artifacts" as social robots, and how these and other technologies are changing attitudes about human life and living things generally. One result may be a devaluation of authentic experience in a relationship. Together with Seymour Papert she wrote the influential paper "Epistemological Pluralism and the Revaluation of the Concrete."[5] Turkle has written numerous articles on psychoanalysis and culture and on the "subjective side" of people's relationships with technology, especially computers. She is engaged in active study of robots, digital pets, and simulated creatures, particularly those designed for children and the elderly as well as in a study of mobile cellular technologies. Profiles of Turkle have appeared in such publications as The New York Times, Scientific American, and Wired Magazine. She is a featured media commentator on the effects of technology for CNN, NBC, ABC, and NPR, including appearances on such programs as Nightline and 20/20.

Turkle has begun to assess the adverse effects of rapidly advancing technology on human social behavior. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other was published in 2011 and when discussing the topic she speaks about the need to limit the use of popular technological devices because of these adverse effects.[6]

Early life and education

Sherry Turkle was born in Brooklyn on June 18, 1948. After she graduated as a valedictorian from Abraham Lincoln High School in 1965, she began her studies at Radcliffe College. After a few years at Radcliffe, Turkle took time off from college to live and work in France. During this time she had a glimpse of France's era of social and intellectual unrest. In the early 1970s, she returned to the United States and graduated with a Bachelors in Social Studies from Radcliffe College. She then received a Masters in Sociology at Harvard University in 1973. She went on to earn a Doctorate in Sociology and Personality Psychology from Harvard University in 1976. Inspired by her time in France during her undergraduate years, she did her dissertation research in France, "writing about the relationship between Freudian thought and the modern French revolutionary movements."[1] This relationship was also the subject of her first book, Psychoanalytic Politics: Jacques Lacan and Freud's French Revolution.

The Second Self

In The Second Self, Turkle defines the computer as more than just a tool, but part of our everyday personal and psychological lives. She looks at how the computer affects the way we look at ourselves and our relationships with others, claiming that technology defines the way we think and act. Turkle's book allows us to view and reevaluate our own relationships with technology.

In her process of evaluating our relationships with computers, Turkle interviews children, college students, engineers, AI scientists, hackers and personal computer owners in order to further understand our relationships with computers and how we interact with them on a personal level. The interviews showed that computers are both a part of our selves as well as part of the external world. In this book, Turkle tries to figure out why we think of computers in such psychological terms, how this happens and what this means for all of us.[7]

Life on the Screen

In Life on the Screen, Turkle presents a study of how people's use of the computer has evolved over time, and the profound effect that this machine has on its users. The computer, which connects millions of people across the world together, is changing the way we think and see ourselves. Although it was originally intended to serve as a tool to help us to write and communicate with others, it has more recently transformed into a means of providing us with virtual worlds which we can step into and interact with other people. The book discusses how our everyday interactions with computers affect our minds and the way we think about ourselves.

Turkle also discusses the way our human identity is changing due to the fading boundary between humans and computers, and how people now have trouble distinguishing between humans and machines. It used to be thought that humans were nothing like machines, because humans had feelings and machines did not. However, as technology has improved, computers have become more and more human-like, and these boundaries had to be redrawn. People now compare their own minds to machines, and talk to them freely without any shame or embarrassment. Turkle questions our ethics in defining and differentiating between real life and simulated life.[8]

Alone Together

In Alone Together, Turkle explores where technology is taking us and how society adapts to answer new questions brought on by the rise of mobile technologies, robots, computers, and other electronic gadgets. In particular, Turkle raises concerns about the way in which genuine, organic social interactions become degraded through constant exposure to illusory meaningful exchanges with artificial intelligence. Underlying Turkle's central argument is the fact that the technological developments which have most contributed to the rise of inter-connectivity have at the same time bolstered a sense of alienation between people. The alienation involves links between social networks favouring those of proper conversations.

Turkle's main argument in the first part of the book is that our interactions with robots that simulate emotion pose serious threats to our ability to relate to one another properly. Turkle discusses robots that have been designed to interact with humans on an emotional level; she fears that they may then replace other humans and animals in these emotional roles. Turkle is concerned that we often attribute certain qualities to robots that the robots do not in fact possess, and that our emotional interactions with other humans become eroded as a direct result. Turkle's concern is that our appreciation for human interaction may become eroded.

The second part of the book examines the nature of online social interactions, and the way in which social media has changed how people, particularly younger people, connect with one another. Turkle argues that because people in interpersonal social situations, particularly young people, are often distracted by their phones, they will pay insufficient attention to one another, creating increasingly shallow relationships. Turkle argues that teenagers' reliance on friends' advice prevents self-reflection, leading to less personal independence.

Turkle talks about the nature of privacy in the post 9/11 world, arguing that privacy was sacrificed in exchange for safety. Turkle argues that because they have grown up as part of a world in which privacy is regarded as increasingly tenuous, children do not always appreciate the full value of privacy, which in turn causes them to share even more personal details on the web. This further depreciates the value of privacy in a self-perpetuating cycle.

Turkle gave a TED talk on the subject of Alone Together in February 2012, under the title “Connected, but alone?”[9]


Papers and reports

  • Sherry Turkle, Will Taggart, Cory D. Kidd, and Olivia Dasté. (December 2006). "Relational Artifacts with Children and Elders: The Complexities of Cybercompanionship," Connection Science, 18(4):347-361.
  • Sherry Turkle, (July 2006). "A Nascent Robotics Culture: New Complicities for Companionship," AAAI Technical Report Series.
  • Sherry Turkle. (January 1996). "Who Am We? : We are moving from modernist calculation toward postmodernist simulation, where the self is a multiple, distributed system," Wired Magazine, Issue 4.01, January 1996.


  • Liz Else, Sherry Turkle. "Living online: I'll have to ask my friends", New Scientist, issue 2569, 20 September 2006. (interview; subscription needed for full article)
  • Colbert Report, Jan. 17th, 2011.
  • Fischetti, M. (2014). THE NETWORKED PRIMATE. Scientific American, 311 (3). 82-85. [2]

Awards and honors

Turkle is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Rockefeller Humanities Fellowship, the Harvard Centennial Medal, and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[citation needed]

Turkle has been named "woman of the year" by Ms. Magazine and among the "forty under forty" who are changing the nation by Esquire.[citation needed]

In May 2015, Turkle received an Honorary Degree, Doctor of Science, from Franklin & Marshall College.

In June 2016, Turkle received an honorary doctorate degree from Concordia University.[11]


  1. ^ a b c Henderson, Harry. Encyclopedia of Computer Science and Technology. 2009. p. 482.
  2. ^ Turkle, Sherry. MIT Profile
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-12-25. Retrieved 2011-12-08. 
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ Turkle, Sherry; Papert, Seymour (1992). "Epistemological Pluralism and Revaluation of the Concrete". Journal of Mathematical Behavior. 11 (1). 
  6. ^ Sherry Turkle on Being Alone Together, Moyers & Company, October 18, 2013
  7. ^ "The Second Self"
  8. ^ Turkle, Sherry. Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York.
  9. ^ Turkle, Sherry. "Connected, but alone?" TED
  10. ^ Turkle, Sherry (2015). Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age. New York, New York: Penguin Press. ISBN 9780143109792. 
  11. ^


  • Meneses, J. (2006). Ten Years of (Everyday) Life on the Screen: A Critical Re-reading of the Proposal of Sherry Turkle

External links

  • Sherry Turkle's homepage
  • Turkle's article "Virtuality and Its Discontents: Searching for Community in Cyberspace" (1996).
  • Interview
  • Detailed interview at at the Wayback Machine (archived August 6, 2006)
  • Interview with Sherry Turkle Silicon Valley Radio
  • Sherry Turkle Playlist Appearance on WMBR's Dinnertime Sampler radio show February 9, 2005
  • Lecture about Alone Together (MP3) London School of Economics, 2 June 2011
  • Sherry Turkle on Being Alone Together, Moyers & Company, October 18, 2013
  • Making The Case For Face To Face In An Era Of Digital Conversation, interview on Weekend Edition Saturday on NPR, September 27, 2015
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