Technology is seductive when what it offers meets our human vulnerabilities. And as it turns out, we are very vulnerable indeed. We are lonely but fearful of intimacy. Digital connections and the sociable robot may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other. We’d rather text than talk.
This is a very thought engaging book, looking how communication technology changes our social interconnections. It is more than social media, the book looks at how people text instead of talk, hide behind an avatar, interact in video games, comment anonymously, have virtual pets and number hundreds of online friends.
In the first part, the book focuses more on social robots and how they help people: the elderly, to deal with attachment, loss of friends and isolation, children being in other countries or cities; and the children, for whom social robots are virtual pets. In the second part, the book looks at social networks and how mobile communication technologies are affecting human communication today.
The book is a well-researched, well-reasoned account, much based on interviews, of the changes that communication technology brings on social level. Some things are well-known, such as the profundity of the communication diminishes with the distance and complexity. For example, text says less than a phone call, and both less than a video. But there is more to that: a letter takes time and thought, while a quick SMS, which is also a text, gives much less information to receiver.
The author, Sherry Turkle, is an MIT technology and society professor, specialized in the effects of these new communication technologies and social robots on humans. She writes in consecutive books on these topics and the results of her interviews. You can watch some of her ideas on TED Talks as well.
In a way, the author long anticipated the problems with fake news, cognitive bias and confirmation bias that we are confronting today. She looks systematically at what could be the root causes of these dangerous symptoms.
This is a book that I really recommend reading for the insightful conclusions that her interviews show.
[Feature photo by Fraser Smith]