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 17, 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 17, 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 | Summary

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Summary

Introduction and Part 1

The first part of Sherry Turkle's book Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet consists of the Introduction and the first two chapters. In the Introduction, Turkle states her thesis: the Internet is changing our habits of mind and the way we see ourselves. Furthermore, computer technology has permitted us to enter virtual worlds. Technology is no longer transparent, in the sense that we can see inside machines to learn how they operate. Instead, technology is opaque, meaning that we are now accustomed to dealing with a machine's "interface," or intermediary between the object and the user. We have learned to accept the interface as reality. We are also increasingly comfortable with challenging traditional barriers between simulation and reality. Turkle continues this theme in Chapter 1 by comparing and contrasting the early days of computers with the new era ushered in by the personal computer and the popularity of the World Wide Web. Turkle draws a parallel between these two profiles of computer technology with the shift from a modernist to a postmodernist aesthetic. The concept of computers as giant calculators was replaced with a more nuanced and complex perspective on computers. This new profile is broader and more welcoming to a pluralist group of users with distinctive and varying responses to technology.

Part 2

In Chapter 3 Turkle emphasizes the importance of children's cognition in the development of computer technology. She cites the early research of Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget. Over the years, many children have stopped worrying about the boundaries between machines and humans. Many adults have come to share this trend, as research into artificial intelligence (AI) and artificial life (A-Life) has proliferated and deepened. Chapter 4 emphasizes a new pragmatism in people's attitudes toward computers. Turkle broadened her own research to include the topic of whether computers could (or should) function as psychotherapists, especially for depression disorders. Turkle illustrates her results with several anecdotes, or case studies. In Chapter 5 Turkle turns her attention to the quality of emergence, which is associated with learning from experience. She discusses two wings, or groups, in the growing research on AI. The first group championed top-down, rule-based information processing. The second group supported a bottom-up approach, which included "bricolage," or tinkering. Turkle compares emergent AI to the structure of ant colonies and the organization of the human immune system. Chapter 6 is devoted to the history and development of research into A-Life. Rather surprisingly, there has been less hostility to the concept of A-Life than to AI.

Epilogue and Part 3

Chapter 7 focuses on the issue of multiple identities, especially as computer users create them in MUDs (Multi-User Domains) on the Internet. This subject leads Turkle to consider computer use as psychotherapy. In Chapter 8 she discusses simulated personas in which people adopt the opposite gender. She also deals with virtual sex. In Chapter 9 Turkle offers a balanced discussion of the pros and cons of "virtuality." In Turkle's opinion, virtual worlds may afford computer users an alternative space in which to work out problems. In Chapter 10 Turkle observes that we now live in an epoch when flexibility is a byword for psychological well-being. Many people have come to accept the concept of multiple selves. In a brief epilogue titled "A Note on Method: The Inner History of Technology," the author comments on the ethnographic (related to the study of peoples and their cultures) and clinical dimensions of her research for this book.

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