MIT Professor Examines Impact of iPods, iPads and Facebook on Human Relationships

Originally posted: March 9, 2011

CHESTERTOWN, MD—In the brave new world of Facebook, “smart phones” and Twitter, where both teens and adults would rather type than talk, are we more in touch but more isolated than ever before?

Psychologist Sherry Turkle, who has researched technology’s effects on society for more than three decades, explores this seeming contradiction in her new book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, released earlier this year by Basic Books. She will share her insights (face-to-face!) in a talk Thursday, March 24 at Washington College.

Sponsored by the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, the event will begin at 6:30 p.m. with a book signing, followed by a 7 p.m. talk in Decker Theatre, Gibson Center for the Arts, on the College campus, 300 Washington Avenue. (Turkle was originally scheduled to visit Chestertown in early February, but had to postpone her trip because of extreme weather.)

Tagged “an important, controversial new book” by the Boston Globe, Turkle’s provocative work has generated a great deal of media buzz, recently winning its author a guest appearance on The Colbert Report. The Guardian (UK) highlighted the book as a “cri de coeur” for putting down the BlackBerry, ignoring Facebook, and shunning Twitter, applauding it for its success in sparking debate about the merits of social networking.

Turkle is Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and also the founder and director of MIT’s Initiative on Technology and Self. Dubbed “the Margaret Mead of digital culture” by an MIT colleague, she has been profiled in the New York Times, Scientific American, and Wired Magazine and has been a featured media commentator for CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, and NPR.

“Anxiety is part of the new connectivity,” Turkle finds, and these “anxieties migrate, proliferate.” Places like Facebook foster self-expression, but that self is often a fabrication. The same is true in social networking games such as Second Life, where participants create avatars that are better-looking, smarter, and more accomplished than themselves. This constant and intense connectedness often gets in the way of building a more real, face-to-face network of friendships, and may even interference with psychological development. Turkle argues that this generation of teenagers, accustomed to interacting with others through machines, are less empathetic than their predecessors, less mindful of the feelings of those around them.

“Social media has become an ingrained part of most of our lives,” says Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience. “But as Sherry Turkle reminds us, it’s not something we should embrace without question.”

The talk and book signing are free and open to the public. Co-sponsors include the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, the Department of Psychology, and two student groups, Psychology Club and Psi Chi, the Washington College chapter of the national psychology honor society. For more on Alone Together, visit http://www.alonetogetherbook.com.

About the Starr Center

Based in the Custom House along Chestertown’s colonial waterfront, the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Washington College fosters the art of written history and explores our nation’s past – particularly the legacy of its Founding era – in innovative ways, through educational programs, scholarship and public outreach. For more information on the Center, visit http://starrcenter.washcoll.edu.

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