Currently 1 visitor is viewing this site.

Life on the Screen:
Identity in the Age of the Internet,
Sherry Turkle,
New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995
347 pages

A fabulous book, full of insight, surprising thoughts, great conclusions and deductions (or should we rather call them speculations?). Whatever, I recommend it strongly.

She writes (though in the context of gaming):
"What is real? [...] What are we willing to count as real? What do our models allow us to see as real? To what degree are we willing to take simulations for reality? How do we keep a sense that theres is a reality distinct from simulation? Would that sense be itslelf an illusion?"

Jochen Claussen-Finks, one of my mentors, and to whom i owe much, used to say "It is only the dying gesture that shows its true designation." (Quoting i-don't know whom: Norbert Elias? Mircea Eliade?). I am often reminded of that quote; usually in very diverse contexts. I used to believe, that the romantic stories of E.T.A. Hoffmann where the child of different times - but actually these where already modern days. His dark and mysterious tales where written when the electric light was being invented - and not in dark and mediaviel times. So his enlivend forests, spooky shadows and mysterious darknesses are a farewell song, perhaps an unconscious one, a swan song, to the dis-appearance of the days when fear was everywhere in magical objects. Sherry Turkle is describing the same in ways how childern perceive computers and construct them into their worldview as a psychological phenomena.

Peter Walters reminded me that Turkle also has some strong critical position: "The culture of simulation may help us achieve a vision of a multiple but integrated identity whose flexibility, resilience, and capacity for joy comes from having access to our many selves. But if we have lost reality in the process, we shall have struck a poor bargain. In Wim Wenders's film Until the End of the World, a scientist develops a device that translates the electrochemical activity of the brain into digital images. He gives this technology to his family and closest friends, who are now able to hold small battery-driven monitors and watch their dreams. At first, they are charmed. They see their treasured fantasies, their secret selves. They see the images they otherwise would forget, the scenes they otherwise would repress. As with the personae one can play in a MUD, watching dreams on a screen opens up new aspects of the self.

"However, the story soon turns dark. The images seduce. They are richer and more compelling than the real life around them. Wenders's characters fall in love with their dreams, become addicted to them. People wander about with blankets over their heads the better to see the monitors from which they cannot bear to be parted. They are imprisoned by the screens, imprisoned by the keys to their past that the screens seem to hold.

"We, too, are vulnerable to using our screens in these ways. People can get lost in virtual worlds." (pp 268-269)

And here she quotes the critical views of one user on a discussion group on the WELL (1993):

"For example, virtuality seems to me to represent the culmination of a several-thousand-year-old trend in Western culture to separate the mind from the body, thought from physicality, man from nature. This trend lies behind the environmental problems we're facing right now, IMO. Virtuality seems to portend an even greater disregard for the physical environment which nevertheless still does sustains us, and I don't think that's good at all.

"Virtuality also implies to me a privileging of the global at the expense of the local. Yes, it's great to be able to get to know people from all over the planet, without regard for their geographic location. I really do think that's good. But it seems to me that in the process of creating virtual "neighbourhoods" we are withdrawing from our own very real localities. To me this is a continuation of a seven-decades-long trend in American society toward the withdrawal of the upper and middle classes from the public sphere i.e. the streets and parks of our cities and towns. At the same time the on-line community is growing, real communities are collapsing. Most people don't even know their neighbours ... this is not good for democracy or the people of this country as a whole...

"Nor do I think that this medium, while it is great as a *supplement* to f2f [face-to-face] interactions, would be very healthy, or emotionally satisfying way to conduct *most* of our interactions - which seems to be a goal of at least some of the more rabid VR [virtual reality] advocates. I mean, I don't want to see my friends over a real-time video system, I want to be with them personally.

"Virtual sex? How repugnant - even the most intimate of human experiences now mediated through a machine? Not for me, thanks. The ultimate in alienation... "
(pp 315,316)

last update: 4/20/02010 15:48

About Contact Disclaimer Glossary Index