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Running head: Alone Together 1

Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other

Book Summary

EDUC 5306

Houston Baptist University

Spring 2014

Dez Monique Johnson

Darcelle Lofton

Yolanda Plear

Lorena Hobdari
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Chapter 1:

In Chapter 1 Turkle discusses how children and the elderly began to rely on robotics such

as ELIZA, Zhu Zhu robot hamsters, and even talking sex robots for companionship. She feels

that“singularity” will occur and lead to a technological rapture. Singularity is when machine

intelligence crosses a tipping point. Turkle wants us to understand the difference between

connection and relationship, involvement with an object and engagement with a subject. She

believes a trend began with Tamagotchis and Furbies, the first computers that asked for

love.Devices such as these support the idea that it is appropriate to mourn the “digital”.

Chapter 2:

Turkle goes into more details about the requirements for taking care of Furbies, and

Tamagotchis. Children became more connected to these devices because unlike a regular doll,

these robotics, (such as the furby) “have their own ideas”. They are more “people-like” than a

regular pet. Turkle believes “We are to the point of seeing digital objects as both creatures and

machines. “ She discusses My Real Baby, a robot doll that acted like a real baby. After

conducting research and observing children with these devices, Turkle feels toys such as the

furby and my real baby create a new ethical landscape. She feels people will begin to expect

more from robots and find themselves “vulnerable”.

Chapter 3:

The AIBO is a robotic dog discussed in this chapter. Some people prefer this robotic

device because you‟re actually “interacting” with something. Turkle however suggests that this

device creates a fantasy in which “we cheapen the notion of companionship.” She says this

companionship with a robot can lead to “alterity”, the ability to see the world through the eyes of

another. In her opinion, without alterity there can be no empathy. Through her research, Turkle
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discovers that children prefer robotic devices because they are “more real” and “go through all

the stages”. Turkle is concerned that children are getting comfortable with the idea that a robot‟s

companionship is even close to a replacement for a person.

Chapter 4: Imagining Robots in Everyday Life

Turkle describes an MIT event where a woman experiences the My Real Baby robot.

When asked how she felt about the experience with the robot and her excitement about owning

her own My Real Baby, the consumer responds, “No reason, it just gives me a good feeling.”

Turkle says that the concept of the robot dog and baby causes individuals to imagine a life where

robots “effectively” take care of us and respond to our needs. In the absence of working class

parents, even children, Turkle presents, have come to find the constancy of the robot to be a

bridge for these emotional gaps. Turkle does an outstanding job of comparing the past depiction

of robots as terrifying and uncontrollable ( Frankenstein, Chucky), to more updated ideas of

robots as helpmates and caregivers (R2D2 of Star Wars, WAL-E, 9, and AI: Artificial

Intelligence) .

Finally, in Chapter 4, Turkle examines the “litmus test” used to determine general

attitudes towards the robot seen as a necessity for children. Turkle finds in her observations and

studies, that the attitude towards these My Real Babysitters, etc. is dependent upon the current

babysitter or caregiver in the child‟s life. If the child has a good and nurturing relationship with

the baby sitter or grandparent, then the robot “relationship” is one of disinterest. However if a

child has a boring or unenthusiastic baby sitter or caregiver, then interest in the robot will be

significantly increased.
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Chapter 5: Upgrading Artificial Intelligence

In chapter 5 we are introduced to Cog a mechanical toddler with artificial intelligence and

created to respond (complex behavior) to its environment. Created in the 1990s, Turkle admits

that the introduction to this robot “changed” her conversation and perception to artificial

intelligence. In an adjacent laboratory, another robot child named Kismet is created. This toddler

was created like Cog to respond to external stimuli, but also to evoke responses. Kismet babbles

and cries like a toddler in order to cause a reaction from those it encounters. As Turkle continues

the chapter, her summation is again that these robots are continuing to evolve as technology

evolves. Turkle states that these robots are not “toys”, they have their own toys. Most

importantly, these robots form relationships with both the children and adults to whom they

belong. Emotional expressions, such as “Kismet loves me”, demonstrates the level of the

relationships created with these robots. Turkle introduces the idea of I and Thou, meaning mind

and heart respectively. As she concludes the chapter Turkle describes the “heart” relationship

with these robots with respect to the body, face and voice, caring, and disappointment and anger.

In each description, Turkle provides examples of how relationships with the robots provides

caring and comfort “heart perspective” for the children that have relationships with them.

Chapter 6: Love‟s Labor Lost

In chapter 6, Turkle examines the usefulness of robots used in the nursing home. The idea

is that the robots would simulate the elderly, by giving the My Real Baby to those in nursing

homes something to care for. The demand was so high for My Real Baby in one nursing home,

that the nurses sought out the robots on eBay to meet the demand. Children also felt the robots

would help their elderly grandparents, as Turkle states was an overwhelming belief of a group of
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5th graders. However, the note of concern remained whether the sociable robots would take the

place of people? The idea of the caring machine has continued to flourish according to Turkle,

who cites Japan as leading the way for advancement and creation of “caring machines” in

response to decline of individuals available to care for the aging population. By 2005,

symposiums on the effectiveness of these caring machines are being and leading into the notions

that not only can

machines care, but also cure.

Chapter 7

In chapter 7, the relationships between humans and robots are explored. Several students

of robotics from MIT are discussing their feelings on the relationships that people can build with

robots, and how they should get used to having them around in the future. Several robots that

have been created as companions are seen in this chapter. For example, Kismet, a robot who can

mimic human mannerisms, and the tester, Rich, who begins to feel a romantic bond between

himself and the robot. Also, the idea of being able to go inside the mind of a human to transfer

feelings and program them at just the right timing into the robot‟s responses, so that the human

using the robot as a companion does not feel as though the relationship is one sided and cold.

The robots created go from having just sounds that respond to speech, to actual movements in

their facial features and sometimes going as far as to develop personalities.

Chapter 8

Chapter 8 opens up by giving a glimpse into MIT‟s cyborg group. This group committed

to walking through life completely connected to technology at all times through a device on their

glasses lens in the early 90‟s, at a time before Iphones and Androids. There was a cyborg who

even felt alone and at a loss for words without being connected to technology. However, as the
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time went on and smartphones became popular, it was not so much taboo to be seen as a cyborg,

because according to the book, we are all cyborgs now as we are constantly connected through

technology somewhere in our lives. “Online, like MIT‟s cyborgs, we feel enhanced (178). The

joy of a new email, the mystery behind the Facebook message symbol, the anticipation of the

next Tweet, all keep us wanting more and unwilling to step away from our mini windows to the

digital world.

Chapter 9

Growing up Tethered, the 9th chapter sheds light on the relationships children and

adolescents have now compared to the same age group of past generations. Whereas teens of the

past came to an age where there was a rite of passage into adulthood, teens now are not as

independent, the author suggests, because of their technological dependence on parents. If the

child wants a contract phone, they have to agree to the terms...never ignoring their parent‟s call

(199). With this string still attached, the child knows mom and dad are always a call away, and

may never quite gain that same sense of aloneness that builds independence experienced by their

parents and generations past. The idea of independence for these teens is merely not answering a

text or call, or even more risky, leaving their phones at home. The group of students also

expressed how a lack of response on the opposite end can set the tone for their whole day. One

student said when she‟s happy, she texts it. When she is sad, she texts it to her friends as well.

But when the response is not one she hoped for, it can make her feel worse than when she

originally shared her feelings through text (202). Computers and phones offer a sense of

community and family no matter what is going on in the world around a young adolescent (205).
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Chapter 10

Chapter 10 is a chapter that is becoming easier and easier to relate to as we see the impact

of a heavily technologically influenced generation grow up around us. No Need to Call is a

chapter that examines the fact that people are becoming more comfortable speaking online even

though some of them may never speak a word in public to those they do not know. It is easy for

one to hide behind their Tweets and post pictures to Instagram that are filtered until perfect.

There are infinite chances to type and retype and edit and undo before an email or Instant

Message is sent, each time possibly allowing the author to sound more confident or upfront than

they actually are in real life.

However, as stated in the chapter, this is only an illusion of privacy. This is evident

through the rise in exposure and opportunities dropped due to Facebook posts or wrongly

directed pictures. Many of the people who spoke in this chapter felt like actually talking on the

phone was a burden and added stress, although texting and email made them feel as though they

had more control over what they discuss throughout their day, and to whom and when. Audrey, a

junior in high school, speaks in this chapter about how her phone is the glue that holds her life

together. However, Audrey is shy; therefore that glue is held with Facebook adhesive, not so

much phone call conversations. Audrey feels protected by her text conversations because she

feels phone calls can too easily get out of control and what the other person says cannot be

controlled. Whereas with a text, every message is thought out and calculated as to be able to

steer conversations in almost any direction with just a reply. Audrey admits to portraying herself

as more lively and flirtatious online, even though in person, she is usually quiet so as not to

disturb her mother‟s own texting and social networking obligations. Audrey feels like Facebook

is a vital part of her second, edited life.


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Chapter 11

In chapter 11, Turkle characterizes our relationship with technology as two-sided. This

two-sided relationship is as follows: the web offers us the promise of companionship without the

demands of a relationship. We turn to technology to feel connected in ways we can comfortably

control. In chapter 11, the author shows her fear of technology and the effects it has on

relationships. She gives examples of different cases where people become so involved in their

virtual lives to the point where they are neglecting their real world. First she talks about Joel, a

computer programmer who doesn‟t have time to explore his artistic side and uses Second Life to

do that.

The second case study is Adam, a 43 year-old bachelor shy man, who dreams of

becoming a singer and song writer but is currently working as a tech to support himself. He

spends sleepless nights online playing simulation games such as Quake and Civilization. Adams

case supports her overall thesis that technology connects us but at the same time it makes us feel

alone because it lessens the expectations we have of other people.

Chapter 12

In chapter 12, Turkle talks about confessional websites. There are different online sites

that encourage people to confess their feelings, guilt, and thought to unknown number of readers

that are anonymous. Sometimes the posts receive responses, which are positive or negative,

giving the illusion of personal interaction. Turkle fears that this is another factor that shows why

we are beginning to rely more on technology and less on each other: “Confessing to a friend

might bring disapproval. But disapproval, while hard to take, can be part of an ongoing and

sustaining relationship…None of this happens in an online confession to strangers…” (231).


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In this chapter, the author also talks about the difference between confessing and

apologizing. To confess is to say that you did something wrong, while to apologize is to say you

are sorry. Turkle‟s concern is that confessional sites will change the definition of a relationship.

The online readers start to become more valuable than real friends.

Chapter 13

In the 13th chapter of the book, Sherry Turkle talks about how the internet and various

new technologies tend to bring people different levels of anxiety. Technology definitely enables

people to better manage stresses in their lives, such as being able to keep electronic calendars, or

being able to get ahold of their loved ones at any time. But it also brings new stresses in that the

online world is a new social environment where one strives to be accepted and liked, especially

among adolescents and young adults. One of the case studies Turkle talks about in this chapter is

Brad, who is 18-year-old. Brad expresses this fear: “…he no longer sees online life as a place to

relax and be himself „because things get recorded…It‟s just another thing you have to keep in the

back of your mind that you have to do things very carefully” (257). This causes new anxieties

over privacy and fear that people will be able to find everything we‟ve ever said online. Turkle

fears that in today‟s society, people are relying too much on technology to solve problems and

anxieties and less on relationships with people that are real and present in our lives.

Chapter 14

The author concludes the novel with the topic of nostalgia. She talks about how people

still look back and remember the good memories they had during the days prior to the Internet

and Smartphones. Teenagers as well as adults speak longingly of the days where letters and even

phone calls were the norm. Now those kinds of method of communication are being replaced by

text messages, emails, and blog updates. Turkle also talks about how sad it is that many
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teenagers now days have never received a written letter and they don‟t know the feeling of it.

Turkle describes this in terms of two friends, Robin and Joanne. Joanne went abroad to do

research for her dissertation and while she was away she sent personalized letters to Robin with

the details of her trip. The next time Joanne went abroad, she simply updated a blog that she

posted to her Facebook for anyone to read. Robin felt cheated in that now everyone was could

read Joanne‟s updates and she lost that special connection that she felt when receiving a letter

meant just for her.

Citations

Citation: Chapters 1-3

Behr, R.(2011, January 29). Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less

from Each Other-Review. Retrieved from

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/jan/30/alone-together-sherry-turkle-review

In this review the author, Rafael Behr says and I quote, “Turkle is a psychoanalyst by

training and her instinct is to describe unfamiliar social habits as pathologies. She tends to revel

in the more neurotic cases among her subjects and to gloss over happier experiences of

technology, although she rarely lets clinical jargon infect her prose. The focus on psychology

also neglects wider social and economic forces. Western civilization was probably on a trajectory

of atomization, loneliness and narcissism before the invention of the internet. But that does not

invalidate the diagnosis. The robotic moment is not a point in history but a threshold in ethics. It

is the decision we make to put our faith in technology as the antidote to human frailty, when

acceptance of frailty is what makes us human.” Behr goes into detail about the first few chapters

of the book. He describes the robots as “imitating” living things. Most of the subjects Turkle
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used for her research were children or elderly, and after a while with the same device a bond was

usually formed. Behr believes Turkle has a background in analyzing people psychologically. He

mentions that she only used her most “neurotic” cases, which means her research is not

completely valid.

Citation: Chapters 4-6

Lehrer, J. (2011, January 22). We, Robots. Retrieved from

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/23/books/review/Lehrer-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

In his review of Turkle‟s “ Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and

Less from Each Other”, author Jonah Lehrer is quoted as saying “I certainly don‟t expect Turkle

to have all the answers, but her ethnographic portraits would have benefited from a more probing

investigation of such questions. The teenagers she quotes complain about everything — phones,

texting, e-mail, Skype. And yet, virtually none of them seem willing to turn off the digital

spigot…… Needless to say, the portrait painted by these studies is very different from the one in

Turkle‟s fascinating, readable and one-sided book. We are so eager to take sides on technology,

to describe the Web in utopian or dystopian terms, but maybe that‟s the problem. In the end, it‟s

just another tool, an accessory that allows us to do what we‟ve always done: interact with one

other. The form of these interactions is always changing. But the conversation remains.” Lerner

sees Turkle‟s book as a tale of “two cities”. Lerner agrees that there is some credence to the

author‟s observations, but states that her novel is “one-sided” in its observation of technology.

Rather than creating isolation, Lerner states that technology is merely a tool to assist us in what

we have always done…. interact with each other.


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Citation: Chapters 7-10

Stadermann, A. L. (2011, September 18). Book Review on Sherry Turkle: Alone Together.

Retrieved from Masters of Media: http://mastersofmedia.hum.uva.nl/2011/09/18/book-review-

on-sherry-turkle-alone-together/

Stadermann reviewed Alone Together by Sherry Turkle, and in response to the book, she

expressed that she feels Turkle‟s book is very one sided and typical for a person of Turkle‟s age.

She agrees that the points made by Turkle are valid, but that her message toward our future

society, which will no doubt be technologically advanced as much as it is now, if not more, is

unfair and negative. As far as Turkle‟s opinion about adolescents being dependent on parents and

lacking maturity because of their digital connectedness, Stadermann feels that Turkle is losing

sight of learning from experience. Stadermann feels that if one chooses to text and message and

Facebook all night, they will eventually feel the effects of less sleep and a lack of energy, and

learn from their experience to prioritize their time. Stadermann goes on to state that we all have

freedom of choice, online and off, and it is up to the individual to prioritize and manage their

time, because technology enriches lives and encourages self-development.


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REFLECTIONS

Chapters 1-3

While some may feel new robotic inventions, such as the tamagotchis are very clever.

Turkle feels that society is replacing these robots and/or devices for real human interaction. The

more “human-like” qualities the device has, the more popular it is. She feels that if we continue

to rely on such devices it could lead to trouble. If we are all consumed with our pet robots, or

began talking to a machine to the point where we no longer rely on human interaction, could this

lead to our demise as a people? In my opinion such devices could be beneficial for a person that

is lonely or wants a listening ear. They could also be used as a teaching tool for children.

Although Turkle seems to think we are headed for the “technological rapture”, I feel she seems

to neglect the positives of robotics.

Chapters 4-6

The author goes to great length to explore the benefits of robot and their increasingly

“more human qualities”. As the robot become more “life-like”, and are interact with humans on a

more natural level, Turkle advocates their use and overgeneralizes their benefits in my opinion.

Turkle praises the development of AI robots and even gives them grandiose healing power, and

the ability to “connect” on a mental and to some extent spiritual level with the humans they

encounter. Turkle goes so far as to suggest the discontinued use of the robots in one particular

nursing home was caused by the “partiality” of the robot and its user over the nurses of the

home. While I believe there are some definite benefits to the use of robots in any and all
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situations, the idea of robots as preferential to a human connection seems to be over exploited in

these 3 chapters.

Chapters 7-10

Thinking about life with robots and how much people are connected to their technology

was quite eye opening. Although many people cannot fathom life without their phones this day

and age, it is amazing to think about how robots may replace pets, maids, and nurses in the not so

far off future. Personally, I could not see myself getting acclimated to life with a robot as a

friend. However, when Turkle spoke of the connectedness people feel with their phones, I almost

immediately was able to relate. My friends and I have a messaging group that we have

continuously chatted in from morning (5am on a work day) tonight (as late as 2am some nights).

This is how we stay connected. These are my friends from high school and college whom I could

not imagine not talking to everyday…through the chat. Some of my friends are not even in my

phone‟s call log, yet we chat in that group day in and day out. When one person is out of touch

with “The Group,” for more than a few hours, we may eventually start to call, just in case, to see

where they have been. I feel that Turkle was very accurate in the way she analyzed the behaviors

of those consumed with technology today. I do feel that a few of her statements were more in

line with the Digital Immigrant point of view than a Digital Native who may find her opinions to

be old fashioned and not with the times.


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Chapters 11-14

In these chapters the author goes to great length to talk about internet addiction. In the

reduction and betrayal chapter, many people are playing Virtual Games which helps them escape

from reality. If they do it in moderation and still stay in touch with reality I think it‟s a good

thing because it has helped some people come out of their shell and be themselves. When

simulation games take over people‟s lives and their meaningful relationships, it becomes a

serious problem. In the anxiety chapter, I agree with the author‟s point of view. Technology does

help people stay connected for example Skype. My family lives in Albania and I use Skype all

the time to stay in touch with them. I love it because it‟s free and it feels like I am there because I

can see them. I like Facebook also to a certain extend. If it‟s used in moderation it‟s healthy but

if you spend more than half of your day trying to please people and be someone else it becomes

unhealthy. As far as the nostalgia chapter, I feel like the disappearance of letters it‟s not a good

thing. Just like Turkle mentioned, when you receive a personal letter from a loved one, it makes

you feel more special than when you read a post on Facebook that everyone can see.
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REFERENCES

Behr, R.(2011, January 29). Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less
from Each Other-Review. Retrieved from

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/jan/30/alone-together-sherry-turkle-review

Lehrer, J. (2011, January 22). We, Robots. Retrieved from

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/23/books/review/Lehrer-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Stadermann, A. L. (2011, September 18). Book Review on Sherry Turkle: Alone Together.

Retrieved from Masters of Media: http://mastersofmedia.hum.uva.nl/2011/09/18/book-

review-on-sherry-turkle-alone-together/

Turkle, S. (2011). Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each
other. New York: Basic Books.

Welcome to the Purdue OWL. (n.d.). Retrieved from

https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01/