Rabindra Dave Ramkirath
May 9, 2013
Assignment #4
Course # SEYS 753/12184

Critical Review of an Educational Technology book

Name of Book: Alone Together
Name of Author: Sherry Turkle

Turkle’s “Alone Together,” is a commentary of human commitment and attachment to the digital world and the gradual drifting apart from their fellow humans. The goal of the book is to alert humans to the fact that in order to have maximum benefits from technology, great and firm discipline must be employed in using them, in other words, humans must be in control at all times. Should humans exercise lack of discipline, then instead of being in control, technology will become in charge. Humans will become the servant and technology will be the master. The writer warns that should this happen, then technology will triumph and humans will be defeated by their own inventions.  Technology promises and allows us to do anything from anywhere with anyone, but at the same time it saps and drains us as we try to do everything everywhere. We begin to feel overwhelmed and depleted by the lives technology makes possible. Yes, it gives us the freedom to work from anywhere, but it also infects us and makes us prone to being lonely everywhere. We tend to lose companionship with other human and in time we find ourselves acting just like a piece of machine. “Alone Together,” focuses on the young, the digital natives growing up with cell phones and toys that they love. As a result of insecurity in our relationships and our anxiety for intimacy, we look to technology for ways to be in a relationship and to protect ourselves at the same time. In the introduction to “Alone Together,” Turkle writes,
        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. p. 1
When Turkle went to her local synagogue for Yiskor, the special Yon Kippur service that remembers the dead, she heard the Rabbi delivered a sermon about the importance of talking to the deceased and communicating four messages to them: “I’m sorry. Thank You. I forgive you. I love you.” This is what separates human from machine. It is this human feeling together with our knowledge of morality and our experience of the cycle of life that make us understand and appreciate this simply message, “I’m sorry. Thank You. I forgive you. I love you.” These are the most touching and intimate words we can say to another human and it is this that distinguishes us as human and not just cold piece of machine. Here Turkle shows strength and weakness. Strength in human as opposed to weakness in robot. Human has the ability to feel and experience pain and sadness and can express feelings of emotion, robot on the other hand cannot feel or experience pain and is incapable of showing any form of emotion.
    Alone Together is the culmination of years of empirical research. Turkle has watched people interact with machines and socialize on digital networks. The average American teenager sends thousands of text messages every month and spends hours each day on Instant Messenger, My Space, and Facebook. None of these existed a generation ago and the sad fact is that adults are competing with their children to master the digital world. Many adults today appear to find simulation of life more alluring than life itself. It is true that machine will not complain, but human will, yet this in itself should not serve as an excuse to become immersed in technology to the extent that we ignore what we know about life.
    Flesh and blood people with their untidy impulses are unreliable and a source of stress, machines are not affected by these human frailties. As machines become more and more reliable, there is evidence that humanity is nearing a robotic moment. We already filter companionship through machines, the next stage is to accept machines as companions. Soon, robots will be employed in caring roles, entertaining children, or nursing the elderly. Machines will replace humans in factories, hospitals, schools, etc. and life will become a monotonous drill, robbed of human touch and warmth.
    The argument in Alone Together unfolds in two parts. The first deals with objects that imitate living things. Turkle’s subjects, mostly children and the elderly are given robot companions for varying lengths of time, then a bond is formed. The bond becomes so strong that an emotional attachment develops. What is alarming is that we are busy in the mass production of these robots. Soon we will see mechanical nurses in the hospitals and pet robots giving comfort to lonely residents of care homes. The central point in Turkle’s book is that more and more people are projecting human qualities in robots, digital toys like the Furby and computerized companions like the Paro are designed to provide entertainment and comfort. Scientist developing the latest robots, report feelings of pseudo-parental attachment. They hate leaving the machines alone in empty laboratories at night.
    The second part deals with our addiction to the web. Turkle has interviewed people of all ages and from a wide range of social backgrounds and finds identical patterns of compulsive behavior. We start with the illusion that technology will give us control, but end up being controlled by technology. We get Blackberries to better manage our emails, but find ourselves cradling them in bed first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Without realizing it, we have allowed ourselves to become slaves to technology. In both parts of the book, Turkle produces interviews by children and adults along with data to show the benefits and setbacks that technology can provide. Human can find comfort and strength in the proper usages of technology and also be aware of the weakness and danger in its misuse.
    Children today, are absorbed in the digital world in a way that older generations can hardly comprehend. Turkle interviews teenagers who are morbidly afraid of the telephone. They find the telephone very upsetting. A phone call requires spontaneous performance, text messages and Facebook can create the illusion of spontaneity. Turkle comments,
        These days, being connected depends not on our distance from each
        other but from available communications technology. Most of the
        time, we carry that technology with us. In fact, being alone can
        start to seem like a precondition for being together because it is
        easier to communicate if you can focus, without interruption,
        on your screen. p. 155
    One major weakness in the book is that technology is portrayed in an unfair manner. Technology is not performing on its own, it does not have the intelligence to do so. It is human that dictates the ways that technology works. When human fails, then technology will malfunction. If teachers should become dependent on technology in their classrooms, then this will also encourage their students to become dependent on it as well. This will not promote logical thinking and when technology fails, so will the teachers and their students. Yes, technology is a vital learning tool to scaffold students’ knowledge and understanding of new material, but if it is being used too much by the teachers and their students, then it will rob them of their critical and logical thinking that is necessary in today’s workplace. In this context, the book “Alone Together” can serve a useful purpose in the classroom.
Finally, it is my humble opinion that we have travelled a long distance down the digital road, so far, that we have almost become consumed by the technologies. The further we go, the more consumed we will become, only to find ourselves lost in the digital world, far removed from human companionship.

Turkle, S. (2012). Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other. Basic Books.