Monday, January 24, 2011

Author of Alone Together Examines How Texting, Tweeting and Facebook Affect Our Relationships

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 this month by Basic Books. She will share her insights (face-to-face!) in a rescheduled presentation on Thursday, March 24 at Washington College. The event will begin at 6:30 p.m. with a book signing, followed by a 7:00 p.m. talk in Decker Theatre, Gibson Center for the Arts, on the College campus, 300 Washington Avenue.

"Alone Together," which the Boston Globe called "an important, controversial new book," has received a deal of buzz in the media. The Guardian (UK) noted that the book is 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, as well as a recent guest on The Colbert Report.

“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 interfere with pyschological 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.

In addition to examining the ways in which our virtual worlds are affecting our real-world relationships, Turkle has spent decades observing how the younger generation is being affected by seemingly benign robotic creatures that promise love and comfort—from Furbies to increasingly sophisticated machines such as Cog and Kismet. “The prospect of loving, or being loved, by a machine changes what love can be,” she writes. Turkle promises no easy answers, but she does remind the reader that we humans should determine how to keep technology busy, not vice versa.

"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, which is sponsoring the event. "But as Sherry Turkle reminds us, it's not something we should embrace without question."

The lecture 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 information on Turkle’s visit, please contact the Starr Center at 410-810-7161. For more on the book, visit

Check out Sherry Turkle on The Colbert Report.

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. Its guiding principle is that now more than ever, a wider understanding of our shared past is fundamental to the continuing success of America's democratic experiment. For more information on the Center, visit

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