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 15, 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 15, 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 8 : On the Internet (TinySex and Gender Trouble) | Summary

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Key Takeaways

  • Turkle opens this chapter by confessing that when she began to construct an online personae, she thought of being a virtual man rather than a virtual woman. Using gender plays a great part in shaping human relationships, she declares. In MUDs, characters other than male or female can be disturbing and evocative. Conventions are simultaneously strengthened and transgressed when boundaries are crossed. Research has revealed that many users of virtual reality are "virtually cross-dressing."
  • TinySex (sexual encounters in cyberspace) offers the chance to "have sex" as a creature of a different gender—something that appeals to many people seeking to expand their horizons. Turkle illustrates this point by means of an extended anecdote involving Case, a 34-year-old industrial designer.
  • In the next subsection, Turkle offers a relevant and incisive analysis of gender roles and role-playing in British playwright William Shakespeare's comedy As You Like It (1598–1600). In this play the heroine, Rosalind, dresses up as a young man. Shakespeare underlines the power of the theater as a metaphor for life in a famous soliloquy, "All the world's a stage." The action of Shakespeare's comedy should be seen within the context of the convention in 16th-century Elizabethan drama of male actors playing female roles. In a supplementary pair of anecdotes, Turkle compares and contrasts the experiences of Case and Garrett, a 28-year-old computer programmer. Both young men have chosen to "impersonate" females in their activities on MUDs, but for very different reasons.
  • In addition, Turkle discusses the outlook of her informant Zoe, a 34-year-old woman who, in contrast to Case, views aggression as acceptable only in men. Turkle concludes that, as for Rosalind in Shakespeare's play, "gender is constructed."
  • Turkle defines "virtual sex" at the beginning of the next subsection. Virtual sex involves "two or more players typing descriptions of physical actions, verbal statements, and emotional reactions." They do this on the computer keyboard. Turkle claims that such activity is not just common, but the "centerpiece" of computer experience for many users. She discusses the case of Martin and Beth, a married couple with four children. Martin's experimentation with MUDs is accepted by his wife Beth. Other couples, though, do not share this attitude.
  • Turkle challenges readers with the assertion that TinySex "poses the question of what is at the heart of sex and fidelity."
  • In the subsection that follows, Turkle tackles the thorny issue of children and "netsex." One of Turkle's informants, age 13, explains that she finds it easier to establish relationships online and then pursue them offline. Turkle exhorts parents to learn enough about computers and cyberspace so that they can guide their children effectively.
  • Turkle devotes the next subsection to the topic of deception. Considering the anonymity of MUDs, it is very easy for participants to present themselves as something other than what they really are. A number of participants insist on a certain degree of "shape-shifting" as normal and predictable. However, some of Turkle's research suggests that there is a substantial backlash against deception among computer users.
  • In the chapter's final subsection, Turkle claims that we have learned two lessons. First, we can move fluidly through multiple identities. Second, we can embrace (or be trapped by) cyberspace as a way of life.
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