If you were around during the early days of the Internet, you might remember search engines like Archie and Veronica, MUDS, and the writer Sherry Turkle. As our generation grappled with our lives being dramatically altered by new ways of interacting with machines, communications, and wasting time, Turkle was putting in real brain power to the issues.
Wanting to catch up on my Turkle, I placed an order for one of her seven books, Life on the Screen. While it was published 15 years ago, much of it is relevant and enlightening.
The book reminds me of just how disruptive the computer revolution has been. But at the same time, how much they (computers) have become ingrained in our culture – and that a few of these early dialogues are moot. The book is packed with phrases like “the triumph of the Macintosh simulation aesthetic is part of a larger cultural shift in the meaning of transparency”. In the early days of the web, many computer users approached computers the way car owners did in the 50’s – as things t be tinkered with, like a hot rod. Other users preferred to be shielded from the guts of the machine. But let’s face it; the shift has occurred. We accept the simulation of reality as reality and work within that sphere. Opacity has won the field.
This is most certainly not a book that is to be skimmed. Whole passages (at least to my mind) deserve careful reading, and sometimes re-reading. Topics can seem obtuse, like “Pluralism in a Culture of Simulation”, but if you dig in, the thinking behind it all is worthwhile. More than anything, I wish – would give my eye teeth if – I could hear Turkle taking on Social Media. I think a lot of similar issues exist – but somehow have taken the interactions to another plain. As Turkle wrote, “Multiple viewpoints call forth a new moral discourse. I have said that 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.”