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." Course Hero. 1 May 2020. Web. 18 June 2021. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Life-on-the-Screen-Identity-in-the-Age-of-the-Internet/>.

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Course Hero. (2020, May 1). Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved June 18, 2021, from 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 18, 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 18, 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 3, Chapter 7 : On the Internet (Aspects of the Self) | Summary

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Key Takeaways

  • Turkle's goal in the chapter is to elaborate on and discuss "rapid alternations of identity" in cyberspace. She reiterates that the short history of computer culture has included both acceptance and rejection of analogies of humans to machines. She points out that, for humans as social beings, many of the traditional gathering places that used to bring people together (such as town meetings, union halls, and main streets) are now in decline. Many people spend hours of their day alone in front of a screen.
  • In the age of postmodernism, multiple identities are no longer viewed skeptically or dismissively, Turkle asserts. She returns to the topic of MUDs and defines virtual reality as "metaphorical space that arises only via interaction with the computer." People navigate this space by using special equipment: headgear, bodysuits, goggles, and data gloves.
  • Two basic types of MUD are accessible on the Internet: adventure games and "relatively open spaces." The characters a user creates for a MUD are called "personae" (the Latin word for actors' masks). Turkle notes the similarities and differences between participating in MUDs and watching television. As with television, MUD users are involved with the screen, but MUDs are interactive. MUDs share much in common with psychodrama. Anonymity in MUDs offers users the chance to explore new parts of themselves.
  • Role-playing in MUDs stands between the real and the simulated or artificial. MUDs might be considered a "psychological adjunct" to real life, Turkle remarks. MUD players may consider their sense of self as a "work in progress." Turkle sums up her discussion of MUDs by declaring that these computer outlets blur the line "between self and game, self and role, self and simulation."
  • Turkle opens the next section of her analysis by referencing the story of Pygmalion in Greek mythology. Pygmalion was a sculptor who created a statue of a woman who was so beautiful and realistic that he fell in love with her. This narrative, Turkle observes, appeals to a powerful human fantasy: we are not limited by our history. She offers an anecdote featuring Stewart, a 23-year-old graduate student in physics who spends 40 hours a week in MUDs. Stewart's personae is named Achilles. Although he has not traveled much in real life, his participation in MUDs has offered him access to many people of various nationalities. To Stewart, MUDs serve as a "medium for the projection of fantasy." Stewart has even enjoyed a romantic relationship as well as a wedding in virtual reality. However, his MUD experience ultimately resulted in a lowering of his self-esteem.
  • Turkle remarks that the issue of computer use as psychotherapy versus addiction is exceedingly complex. She comments that Stewart seems to have used MUD participation to "act out" rather than "work through" his troubles.
  • Turkle counterbalances her account of Stewart with the story of Robert, a MUD user who appeared to achieve significant personal growth. Turkle comments that MUDs provided Robert with what American psychoanalyst Erik Erikson defined as a "psychosocial moratorium."
  • In the final subsection of this chapter, Turkle considers whether or not, in the end, MUDs are psychotherapeutic. She concludes that MUDs do, indeed, have such potential, particularly if the user is also in psychotherapy in real life.
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