Posted by: soniahs | August 31, 2010

Exam reading: “Life on the screen”

In “Life on the Screen,” Sherry Turkle builds on many interviews with MOO participants (which really is a step back in time) to look at the psychology of computer use:

Summary: Turkle explores ideas about the computer both as a new medium of interaction and as a model for the human mind. The computer provides spaces to explore our own identities: taking on virtual personae and different genders, forming online relationships, and working through psychological problems in a virtual space. For Turkle, computers are an iconic postmodern technology, providing us “objects to think with” and simulate reality (in contrast to earlier notions of the computer as a modernist, hierarchically-programmed tool). Additive models for computer programming (complexity emerges from lower-level parts) have been incorporated into ideas of how the human mind works (“connectionism”). Acceptance of this decentralized mindset is leading us from ideas of the unitary self to a more multiple, fluid self-identity (e.g., there are blurry boundaries between avatars and our real-life personae). We see computers as capable of intention and intelligence, but still draw a sharp line at calling them living. Our comfort at describing ourselves in machine terms and computers in human terms is helping mainstream the idea that humans are programmed “meat machines.” She also discusses drawbacks of increasing virtual experience: loss of the public sphere, devaluation of real experience, and privacy and accountability issues.

Comments: Discussion of specific programs (esp. MUDs), technologies, and trends in AI research is obviously dated, but many of her general observations still apply. Other authors touch on the drawbacks of virtual space more fully; Turkle’s emphasis is on the psychology of computers & virtual spaces.

Links to: Hayles (model of mind); Haraway (multiple identities); Gee (learning by exploration)


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