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

Sherry Turkle

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Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet | Part 2, Chapter 4 : Of Dreams and Beasts (Taking Things at Interface Value) | Summary

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Key Takeaways

  • Although we know that computers are not sentient, we are increasingly likely to blur the boundaries between objects and people. For example, Turkle says that she gave her first Apple Macintosh computer a pet name that she also used for her daughter. During the 1980s "a new nonchalance" developed. People began to accept the notion that they could become emotionally and culturally involved with computers. A new pragmatism came into being as well. Taking things at interface value is defined by Turkle as the recognition of computer programs as "social actors" that people can "do business with," provided that they work.
  • Turkle discusses the accomplishments and changing outlook of Joseph Weizenbaum, an American artificial intelligence researcher at MIT. Weizenbaum created the ELIZA computer program in 1966. ELIZA, resembling if not incarnating a psychotherapist, tested the limits of computers' conversational ability. The popular press pitted Weizenbaum against his collaborator on the program, Kenneth Colby, a psychiatrist who extolled the capacities of computer science. Weizenbaum came to emphasize the limitations of computer science.
  • During the 1970s and early 1980s the issue of whether or not computers should function as psychotherapists provoked intense debate. The issue became even more complex in the 1990s with the advent of psychopharmacology.
  • Beginning in the 1990s the popular press carried numerous stories about the use of computers as a technological cure for depression. Among the available programs was DEPRESSION 2.0 released in 1992 and coauthored by Kenneth Colby. Turkle cites Colby as remarking, "The computer doesn't burn out, look down on you, or try to have sex with you."
  • Intrigued by the new pragmatism concerning computer psychotherapy, Turkle says that she decided to focus more of her research on this unfolding topic. She interviewed people in a broad range of fields, including nurses, doctors, lawyers, accountants, carpenters, salespeople, and homemakers. She reports her results in a series of brief anecdotes.
  • The claim that computers may be useful in treating depression relies on the theory that the disorder arises from victims' relentless self-criticism and unrealistic expectations for themselves. If the self can be reprogrammed, so the theory goes, depression can be alleviated. DEPRESSION 2.0 utilizes a series of tutorials to make the user more aware of self-defeating attitudes. Turkle discusses a test case: the situation and reactions of Roger, a 37-year-old small businessman.
  • Turkle begins her final subsection in this chapter by stating that the "idea of an intelligent machine has long been an affront to people's sense of themselves." In the 1980s and early 1990s, however, people gradually but steadily came to terms with this idea. Turkle points out that familiarity and utility have greatly influenced the human-computer relationship. For instance, during the 1980s, computers became people's bank tellers, as well as their tax advisors and file managers.
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