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The Big Answer


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

a book by Sherry Turkle

(our site's book review)

The More Connected, the More Alone

Technology has become the architect of our intimacies. Online, we fall prey to the illusion of companionship, gathering thousands of Twitter and Facebook friends, and confusing tweets and wall posts with authentic communication. See Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?. But this relentless connection leads to a deep solitude. MIT professor Sherry Turkle argues that as technology ramps up, our emotional lives ramp down. Based on hundreds of interviews and with a new introduction taking us to the present day, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other describes changing, unsettling relationships between friends, lovers, and families. And The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Your Children Are Under Attack, and Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.

As technology ramps up, our emotional lives ramp down
As technology ramps up, our emotional lives ramp down

People Are Increasingly Functioning without Face-to-Face Contact

"Turkle argues that people are increasingly functioning without face-to-face contact. For all the talk of convenience and connection derived from texting, e-mailing, and social networking, Turkle reaffirms that what humans still instinctively need is each other, and she encounters dissatisfaction and alienation among users: teenagers whose identities are shaped not by self-exploration but by how they are perceived by the online collective, mothers who feel texting makes communicating with their children more frequent yet less substantive, Facebook users who feel shallow status updates devalue the true intimacies of friendships. Turkle 's prescient book makes a strong case that what was meant to be a way to facilitate communications has pushed people closer to their machines and further away from each other."—Publishers Weekly

Facebook encourages false-self actualization, not real self-actualization; and connections, not bonds
Facebook encourages false-self actualization, not real self-actualization; and connections, not bonds

"Turkle paints a sobering and paradoxical portrait of human disconnectedness in the face of expanding virtual connections in cell-phone, intelligent machine, and Internet usage."—Booklist

Apple iPhone is great for texting, but is texting great for humans?
Apple iPhone is great for texting, but is texting great for humans?


Social networks don’t create relationships or fill the void from lack of relationships—they often make lonely or friendless people feel more depressed and lonely
Social networks don’t create relationships or fill the void from lack of relationships—they often make lonely or friendless people feel more depressed and lonely


Depression rate in the U.S. in 2011
Depression rate in the U.S. in 2011

Conversation, the Most Human and Humanizing Thing We Do, Is the Talking Cure for Lack of Empathy

In Turkle's Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, she argues that there is an assault on empathy that is affecting our personal and work lives and that conversation, the most human and humanizing thing we do, is the talking cure. It analyzes a contemporary flight from conversation and charts the way back to using face-to-face communication to find each other and find ourselves.

Turkle analyzes a contemporary flight from conversation and charts the way back to using face-to-face communication to find each other and find ourselves
Turkle analyzes a contemporary flight from conversation and charts the way back to using face-to-face communication to find each other and find ourselves

Facebook Helps Us Form Connections, But Not Bonds

Turkle explores Facebook and social media in general as spheres for identity development that allow for some experimentation but that also cause intense anxiety for users as they worry about how others will see them online and how that vision will impact real-world interactions. Facebook becomes for many a place of performance, selective sharing, and tension, rather than of depth and meaningful interaction. The second section of the book also looks at online lives (Second Life, World of Warcraft, etc.) and how those lives provide places of escape from the real world. Her work provides the basis for personal reflection on what technologies provide, but also on what they take away if we’re not careful.

A robot caregiver
A robot caregiver

Turkle explores how both kids and the elderly are using robots as companions, which is cheaper and easier than utilizing paid humans or expecting families to take care of their own while working two jobs already. "Dependence on a robot presents itself as risk free. But when one becomes accustomed to 'companionship' without demands, life with people may seem overwhelming. Dependence on a person is risky—it makes us subject to rejection—but it also opens us to deeply knowing another," says Turkle. Continuing, she says: "Networked, we are together, but so lessened are our expectations of each other that we feel utterly alone. And there is a risk that we come to see others as objects to be accessed—and only for the parts we find useful, comforting, or amusing." Her book is a frightening look at what the future holds for humanity, as the life of the screen takes over our brains. And it's here, now.

Are technological naysayers Chicken Little shouting that 'the sky is falling!' or are there truly some negative aspects of technology adoption that warrant further consideration?
Are technological naysayers Chicken Little shouting that 'the sky is falling!' or are there truly some negative aspects of technology adoption that warrant further consideration?

Turkle Poses Some Difficult Questions about Technology Making Us More Distant and Dehumanized

Are technological naysayers Chicken Little shouting that "the sky is falling!" or are there truly some negative aspects of technology adoption that warrant further consideration? Turkle's book explores intimacy, solitude, communion, companionship, anxiety, betrayal, connectedness, disconnectedness, multitasking, separation, identity, and personal development. Her book isn't about being a luddite, but, instead, it poses some difficult questions to how technology is making us more distant and dehumanized. It is long on observations, but it is short on analyses and recommendations for the way forward. I,e., she could have suggested ways in which society might learn from those that do handle technology well.

Turkle's book isn't about being a luddite, but, instead, it poses some difficult questions to how technology is making us more distant and dehumanized
Turkle's book isn't about being a luddite (pictured), but, instead, it poses some difficult questions to how technology is making us more distant and dehumanized

Roxxxy the sex robot is emblematic of a larger danger, in which the prevalence of robots makes us unwilling to put in the work required by real human relationships. Roxxxy is a $7,000 to $9,000 talking sex robot that comes preloaded with six different girlfriend personalities, from Frigid Farrah to Wild Wendy, Young Yoko, or S&M Susan. Whatever floats your boat and blows your hair back.


"After exploring the often disturbing world of social robots — we treat these objects like people — Turkle abruptly pivots to the online world, in which we have 'invented ways of being with people that turn them into something close to objects.' She rejects the thesis she embraced 15 years earlier, as she notes that the online world is no longer a space of freedom and re­invention. Instead, we have been trapped by Facebook profiles and Google cache, in which verbs like 'delete' and 'erase' are mostly metaphorical." (That is because what you do online is eternal—it will stay there forever.) . . . "One recurring theme to emerge from much of this research is that most people, at least so far, are primarily using the online world to enhance their offline relationships, not supplant them. . . . 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 . . ." (Source: We, Robots, Jonah Lehrer, NY Times)

Turkle details the ways technology has redefined our perceptions of intimacy and solitude—and warns of the perils of embracing such pseudo-techno relationships in place of lasting emotional connections
Turkle details the ways technology has redefined our perceptions of intimacy and solitude—and warns of the perils of embracing such pseudo-techno relationships in place of lasting emotional connections

Turkle Warns of the Perils of Embracing Pseudo-Techno Relationships in Place of Lasting Emotional Connections

"The advantage to all that gadgetry, of course, is connectedness: email lets us respond on the go, and we are in touch with more people during more hours of the day than at any other time in history. But is it possible we're more lonely than ever, too? That's what MIT professor Sherry Turkle observes in her new book, Alone Together': Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, a fascinating portrait of our changing relationship with technology. The result of nearly 15 years of study (and interviews with hundreds of subjects), Turkle details the ways technology has redefined our perceptions of intimacy and solitude—and warns of the perils of embracing such pseudo-techno relationships in place of lasting emotional connections." (Source: 'Alone Together': Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, Jessica Bennett, Newsweek)

BlackBerry 8820, BlackBerry Bold 9900 and BlackBerry Classic
What is so seductive about texting, about keeping that phone on, about that little red light on the BlackBerry, is you want to know who wants you

"What is so seductive about texting, about keeping that phone on, about that little red light on the BlackBerry, is you want to know who wants you," Turkle says. ". . . this is what I think is so ironic about Facebook being called Facebook, because we are not face to face on Facebook."—NPR


We Recreate Ourselves as Online Personae and Give Ourselves New Bodies, Homes, Jobs and Romances, Yet We Feel Alone

Female Human Avatar
Second Life character

Turkle tells us that: "The advertising for Second Life, a virtual world where you get to build an avatar, a house, a family, and a social life, basically says, 'Finally, a place to love your body, love your friends, and love your life.' We recreate ourselves as online personae and give ourselves new bodies, homes, jobs and romances. Yet, suddenly, in the half-light of virtual community, we may feel utterly alone."


We've Become Goldilockses, People Who Take Comfort in Being in Touch with a Lot of People Whom They Also Keep at Bay

Texting puts people not too close, not too far, but at just the right distance. The world is now full of modern Goldilockses, people who take comfort in being in touch with a lot of people whom they also keep at bay
Texting puts people not too close, not too far, but at just the right distance. The world is now full of modern Goldilockses, people who take comfort in being in touch with a lot of people whom they also keep at bay

She goes on: "A thirteen-year-old tells me she 'hates the phone and never listens to voicemail.' Texting offers just the right amount of access, just the right amount of control. She is a modern Goldilocks: for her, texting puts people not too close, not too far, but at just the right distance. The world is now full of modern Goldilockses, people who take comfort in being in touch with a lot of people whom they also keep at bay." (Source: Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, Alternet)

Freud points out that advances in science and technology have been, at best, a mixed blessing for human happiness—Turkle's point exactly
Freud points out that advances in science and technology have been, at best, a mixed blessing for human happiness—Turkle's point exactly

More Turkle:"Technology reshapes the landscape of our emotional lives, but is it offering us the lives we want to lead? . . . Technology makes it easy to communicate when we wish and to disengage at will. . . . I thought of how Sigmund Freud considered the power of communities both to shape and to subvert us, and a psychoanalytic pun came to mind: 'connectivity and its discontents.'" (Pun of Freud's book Civilization and Its Discontents, which postulates what he sees as the fundamental tensions between civilization and the individual. The primary friction stems from the individual's quest for instinctive freedom and civilization's contrary demand for conformity and repression of instincts. Interestingly, in his book Freud points out that advances in science and technology have been, at best, a mixed blessing for human happiness—Turkle's point exactly.)

The Internet has wonderful as well as terrible potentials—as does parenting, so keep kids safe and informed
The Internet has wonderful as well as terrible potentials—as does parenting, so keep kids safe and informed

She relates that it helps to distinguish between what psychologists call acting out and working through. In acting out, you take the conflicts you have in the physical realm and express them again and again in the virtual. There is much repetition and little growth. In working through, use the materials of online life to confront the conflict of the real and search for new resolutions. E.g., a hammer can build a house or aid in a homicide. Your lover has been crying for a nice house to live in so you resolve the issue by using the hammer and building her one—or by stilling her annoying complaints via fatal brute force trauma using the hammer. It's been suggested that people go online to escape problems, not confront them. If they act them out, they may cyberbully. If they work through them, they find a good "listener" with good guidance to offer and this leads to working through their issues. However, we and Turkle suggest f2f irl communications instead of cyber-solutions.

If kids act out their problems, they may cyberbully—if they work through them, they'll find a good 'listener' with good guidance to offer
If kids act out their problems, they may cyberbully (which may end up involving cops or lawyers)—if they work through them, they'll find a good 'listener' with good guidance to offer

Fake Life? Our Relationships Are Superficial by Choice So We Needn't Take the Risks of Real Relationships

Turkle poses some difficult questions. Technology has generated convenient, well-entertained lives for us but in the process changed us into alienated, lonely, naive, superficial beings of a new species: homo sapiens technicus. Is this tradeoff really what we want? Are these new beings, afraid to really be with one another, truly the beings we wish to become? Or are they the unintended consequences of technological evolution without concomitant social evolution—a.k.a. the cultural lag. The term cultural lag refers to the notion that culture takes time to catch up with technological innovations, and that social problems and conflicts are caused by this lag.

The cultural lag causes problems such as stunted emotional growth, inability to relate well, and the attempt to replace real, irl f2f community with its counterfeit: cybercommunity. See Why Do We Need Communities?. We have IRL communities that are not succeeding in their job of supporting civic health and democracy and we have cybercommunity that is working well to connect people with similar interests but poorly to build true bonds that real community needs. So let's quit trying to get cyber to replace IRL and connections to replace bonds. It reflects poorly on our wisdom and our judgment and our social planning.

Our self-expression, intimate talking, close-knit community and neighborhood relationships, and relationship with others of our species in general have suffered greatly in our modern world, due to technology, computers, email, virtual community, urbanization, printing, hyper-individualism, media, TV, etc. We are becoming technological geniuses but social idiots. Technology has helped increase the cultural lag at a time when a century (the 20th) of bloody warfare says we desperately need to decrease this lag. Culture and social reality degenerating at the same speed that technology and media evolve is a certain recipe for disaster. So few of our technological innovations bring us closer together and help us communicate more sensitively and insightfully, more thoughtfully and with more feeling. (The PSB is about the only exception we can think of. See PSB and Social Networking and PSBs in MCs.)

As Philip Slater and Richard Louv (et al.) call for re-socialization, reconnection, and reweaving the vital social web, and Don E. Eberly and Robert Bellah (et al.) warn that healthy community is the prerequisite for the preservation of democracy and freedom, it becomes more and more blatantly obvious that many people in advanced societies have made the mistake of confusing freedom from needing others in the area of physical needs with freedom from needing others in the area of social needs. See Toward a Psychology of Being.

All children know that no matter how many monitors watch them, phones talk to them, and email screens write to them, it is the direct physical presence of real, alive, and warm human mothers and fathers (and ideally others as well) that fills their needs, comforts them, provides for their genuine security, and nurtures them. Social network communication is mostly mundane, superficial, entertainment centered, consumption centered, and seeking the approval of others—which often utilizes a false self to make the best impression.

PSB™s, on the other hand, are about what people are currently doing, needing, feeling, where they want to or need to go, rides needed or offered, nurturing and/or childcare, scheduling get-togethers, and other real-world activities and concerns. Once users learn to update frequently, they see a quantum leap in social effectiveness and efficiency that empowers social connectedness, parenting, and ultimately social evolution. They become meaningfully connected rather than meaninglessly caught up with the current popular culture trends.

Even though PSB™s can be a huge empowerment tool for friends who rarely if ever meet irl and f2f, leveraging connectedness and greatly increasing the quality of what is shared, their most important use for facilitation of lifestyles that really work and contribute greatly to social evolution is when they get applied to MC living. See MC.

"Technology reshapes the landscape of our emotional lives, but is it offering us the lives we want to lead?" asks Turkle. As the graph shows, as technology ramps up, our emotional lives ramp down. Being numb, feelingless, paralyzed, superficial, alienated, and depressed is far from optimal—or even happy. It's mere survival. This unintended consequence of technological progress called the cultural lag is no one's fault. This website contains the specifics of a plan that puts technology in its place and focuses on what's important in life: love, meaning, self-actualization, achieving autonomy, becoming at cause as opposed to at effect, creating a community that is irl f2f rather than cyber. Here is more info: