I have rarely read a non-fiction book that was more engrossing than this one -- Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, by Sherry Turkle.
Admittedly, it took me a while to get through it, but that's because I've had some preoccupations. But every spare moment I could afford, I wanted to get back to it. Finished it Saturday night.
The book is broken into two parts, the first dealing with the history of robotics. Turkle, a licensed clinical psychologist and expert in all things cyber-techno, begins by recounting the rise of robot technology in the 1980's and '90's. She describes the effects of things like the Tamagotchis, the "MyRealBabies" and other robot toys that introduced a generation of children to the concept of ascribing a sort of "living" value to things that were essentially inanimate. Her premise is that the interactive abilities of these toys introduced new sensibilities foreign to children of previous generations, who possessed completely "lifeless" dolls to which a child had to [more creatively] attribute [verb-form] lifelike qualities. The most those old dolls could do was maybe wet their pants, or close their eyes as you horizontally tipped them. I am oversimplifying for the sake of brevity -- but Turkle explores so many other areas of how animated robots have affected society -- as in the case of the care of the elderly.
What I appreciate about her assessment is that she is not out to demonize the [alleged] progress made in all these areas, but rather, she raises very pertinent issues regarding how these developments have affected our "real" interactions with each other. Our relationships.
Having skimmed not one iota of this first section [so intriguing was it all], I must admit that it was really the second part of the book that I could not wait to get around to reading.
And I was not disappointed.
Part Two is entitled Networked: In Intimacy, New Solitudes -- and here, Turkle delineates what is going on with the whole phenomenon of texting -- and things like Facebook.
Forget regular e-mail, or phone calls.
My God -- these are the activities of dinosaurs. [Like me, by the way!]
We've come to a place in time where even e-mail is too… detailed of an affair. And a phone call too intrusive, and [horrors] -- too involved.
And why would you write a hand-written letter to someone you texted 40 times in that same day?
Who thinks in terms of paragraphs any more?
We are in the throes of a generation trying to abbreviate previous…. abbreviations.
The word of the day is get something across… to someone… as fast as possible, and move the hell on.
And like, "Holy ****, in the interim I myself have received 35 messages."
If you are like me at all, and have ever felt that perhaps the rudest thing in the entire world is sitting around with someone and finding that they are not really there with you at all, but are rather with pretty much everyone else in the world that is not in the same room -- this is the book for you.
Not because Turkle pokes fun at those people, or denigrates them. But because she explains WHY they are doing it. And what it is doing to them, as human beings… or is potentially doing to what we formerly thought of as the people right next to us. The ones that are breathing next to us.
What happens to a society, when the people that are most present, are not even there?
Quit texting someone long enough to read this book, and find out.
It is startling. It is so well-written, so well-researched and documented.
Let us just hope the book is not out-dated even as we read it, because the next step is to say, "No. Don't call me. No. Don't e-mail me. No. Don't text me. Just…. just… just…. don't be."