Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet | Study Guide

Sherry Turkle

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Course Hero. "Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet Study Guide." May 1, 2020. Accessed June 20, 2021. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Life-on-the-Screen-Identity-in-the-Age-of-the-Internet/.

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Course Hero, "Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet Study Guide," May 1, 2020, accessed June 20, 2021, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Life-on-the-Screen-Identity-in-the-Age-of-the-Internet/.

Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet | Part 1, Chapter 1 : The Seductions of the Interface (A Tale of Two Aesthetics) | Summary

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Key Takeaways

  • Turkle begins this chapter with a brief discussion of the electronic writing environment. As she writes, she declares that she experiences "a conversation" with her computer. This is one example of "computer holding power" and the "seductions of the interface."
  • Next, Turkle offers brief comments on the "hacker" and "hobbyist" computer subcultures of the late 1970s—the early days of the personal computer. She describes the "mystique" and magic of the Apple Macintosh. This personal computer's "interface"—its screen, really—was a forerunner of virtual reality in that it simulated (in two dimensions) a real office desk. Intuition and exploration were the name of the game with the Macintosh. Owners learned how to use the machine by direct action. The computer screen had been made into "a world unto itself."
  • Turkle now elaborates on the "two aesthetics" of this chapter's title. The IBM personal computer of the late 1980s is analogized to a modernist aesthetic, while the more intuitive and "friendly" Macintosh is compared to a postmodernist aesthetic. Here, Turkle includes a brief anecdote recounting the feelings of an advertising executive she interviewed on the subject of his new Macintosh. The sleekness of the machine made him feel as if he were flying. The interviewee regularly spent 15 hours a day on his computer. Turkle follows up this story with several more anecdotes. This is a prominent characteristic of her method throughout the book, sometimes with the addition of direct quotations from her interviewees.
  • In Turkle's opinion, the period 1985 to 1995 marked a shift to a "simulation aesthetic" in the digital world. People were no longer interested in what made their personal computers work behind the scenes. Instead, they were content to enjoy the navigation of screen simulations. This shift was marked by a change in the meaning of "transparency." This word came to signify a style of easy-to-interpret icons that represented programs and documents.
  • Turkle singles out American-Canadian science fiction writer William Gibson's novel Neuromancer (1984) as a cultural landmark. She mentions that the book's hero, a futuristic hacker, longed to fully inhabit cyberspace—a word coined by Gibson and now a byword for the sphere of digital activity and communication.
  • Turkle comments in considerable detail on the analysis of postmodernism by American literary critic and philosopher Fredric Jameson. She asserts that close parallels exist between Jameson's characterization of postmodernism and the new computer aesthetic. In a 1984 paper, Jameson stressed postmodernism's emphasis on surface over depth, play over seriousness, and simulation over the "real." The world of cyberspace, in Turkle's view, has made Jameson's somewhat abstract analysis of postmodernism "newly accessible, even consumable."
  • In this chapter's final section, Turkle reiterates that technology in our everyday lives changes our perspective on the world. The culture of simulation fostered by computers is also a suitable environment for tinkering, or what French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss termed "bricolage." Turkle offers a number of parallels in the history of ideas for her notion that computers are "objects-to-think-with." For example, British anthropologist Mary Douglas skillfully linked the separation of foods in Jewish dietary laws with the fundamental belief in Judaism that holiness is order. French psychoanalytic theorist Jacques Lacan simulated the workings of the unconscious in the knots he created from bits of string. Turkle concludes that "understanding is less likely to proceed through analysis than by navigation through virtual space."
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