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 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 9 : On the Internet (Virtuality and Its Discontents) | Summary

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Key Takeaways

  • In her introduction to this chapter, Turkle suggests that we have experienced a major series of changes during the brief history of computer culture. What American anthropologist Ray Roldenburg called the "great good places"—the local bar, bistro, and coffee shops—have given way to life on the screen.
  • According to Turkle, optimists believe that technology will counteract the social trends of fragmentation and atomization. But she poses the question of whether or not it is reasonable to think that sitting alone in one's room can revitalize a sense of community.
  • The virtual and the real provide different things, says Turkle. Consider a Disney crocodile robot and a real crocodile. The "Disneyland effect" is the transformation of denatured and artificial experiences, making them seem real. The "artificial crocodile effect" makes the simulated seem more compelling than the real. Certain studies, says Turkle, have established that vivid nature programming on TV and on the computer has diminished the impact of real-life wildlife experiences for children. An additional effect of this "virtuality" is that it may persuade us that it is more fulfilling than it actually is.
  • In the next subsection, Turkle considers the possibility that participation in virtual worlds may help deliver a sense of participation in the American dream. She illustrates her discussion with anecdotes from her informants. Likewise, she comments, cyberspace may offer young people a political voice when they feel they lack one.
  • Turkle then turns to consider some contemporary studies of the outlets afforded by romance novels and TV shows. She cites arguments that these forms of media help people challenge "the stultifying categories of everyday life." They afford people not so much an escape from reality as an alternate reality. The Internet has become a center for grassroots movement on both the political right and the political left. MUDs, Turkle claims, offer people a chance to work through personal problems in a constructive way. However, a debate persists between those who believe that virtual reality may help to overcome social fragmentation and those who skeptically suspect that technology may produce more negative effects.
  • In the subsection that follows, Turkle references the Panopticon envisioned by British social philosopher Jeremy Bentham. With this device, a prison guard might survey all prisoners without being seen. The mere chance that a person was under surveillance was sufficient to make him or her behave cooperatively.
  • Finally in this chapter, Turkle turns to a consideration of violent behavior, including rape and murder, in the virtual world. What sorts of ethical criteria should be applied to such a situation? Turkle reaches no definite conclusion here, although she acknowledges that virtuality affords opportunities for irresponsibility.
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