Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Going Academic on Turkle (Reading, Thinking, and Reflecting #9)

Alone Together, Chapters 11-end: 

I have to admit: Reading, Thinking, and Reflecting #8 is a much more satisfying post -- I really enjoyed that week and enjoyed capturing it in a new blog form for me.  This week it is a return to academics.  Ultimately, I will present this book to my class, so I want to start getting my head around what Turkle says about our core course concepts (garnered from New Media: The Key Concepts and Lingua Fracta). Here go the ones I have played with so far, and I have found constant overlapping in the robotic and digital environments Turkle is studying.

Turkle’s view of the digital archive is one that goes against what many others have envisioned.  The generally held notion of the digital archive is one that equalizes the playing field and allows exciting new possibilities.  Gane and Beer do recognize that the digital archive might become unwieldy, possibly losing much of its meaning is if becomes a “mass archiving of the everyday” (Gane and Beer 78).  Turkle turns her attention away from what is archived to we who are doing the archiving.  Her concern is: "When we know that everything in our lives is captured, will we begin to live the life that we hope to have archived?" (Turkle 300).  In other words, will we live (perform) a life with one eye on archiving it to control the perspective, the way we want to be perceived online?  Will we take only certain photos and even stage (perform) photos for example?  To imagine the urge of digital archiving taking over people’s off-line lives might sound extreme, but the evidence Turkle gives for the constant drive for performance online makes one realize this fear is much more real than we might want to know.

Turkle studies in depth the interactivity of robots.  This ties closely to her findings about simulation; here we will focus specifically on the overall drive of interacting with such robots.  Turkle’s ultimate finding is that “people's eagerness to interact with robots ‘reveal[s] their reluctance to talk to other people’" (282).  In other words, the interactivity of a robot, and in turn digital social connections in general, are taking the place of real time interaction between people. Yet, "the ties we form through the Internet are not, in the end, the ties that bind. But they are the ties the preoccupy ... We don't want to intrude on each other, so instead we constantly intrude on each other, but not in 'real time'" (280). Ultimately, Turkle does not see interactivity as producing many positive long term and lasting interactions.  Instead, she sees it has a closed loop: "We are stimulated by connectivity itself" (227) and are caught in a loop of performance and artificial perspective.

Much of Turkle’s research is focused on the performance that online spaces are requiring of people.  And yes, Turkle does give such agency to the online spaces.  Her example is how most of her research subjects feel they have to provide for Facebook -- that if they do not write on someone’s wall, for example, then they will be judged as nerdy. “‘I get anxious if my last wall post was from a week ago because it looks like you’re a nerd. It really matters’” (Turkle 251).  As Turkle ponders the impact of this performance pressure, she recognizes simultaneously that "some [people] live more than half their waking hours in virtual places" (265); thus this performance is literally half of their overall lives.  As with her other cautions about digital lives, Turkle sees problems with digital performance, particularly because it tends towards false performances.  "'You don't have to say it to a person. You don't see their reaction or anything, and it's like you're talking to a computer screen so you don't see how you're hurting them. You can say whatever you want, because you're home and they can't do anything" (241).  Ultimately, Turkle sees "the Internet [as] a place to simplify and heighten experience" (229) through carefully calibrated performances.

The art of profile creation is Turkle’s major example of perspective. She explores how people craft online profiles to create stylized images of themselves to suit the perceived audience.  In Second Life, maybe you become a sexy single while on your blog you are a stay-at-home mother.  She says that the years of middle and high school have one singular focus for adolescents: the art of profile writing, that is the art of creating and controlling the interface between your online life and the users who access it.  The art of proairesis.

Social connectivity is proairesis.  That is, online we are all in a constant state of invention -- of ourselves, of our connections to others, and of our digital and physical lives.  Turkle examines people of all ages and backgrounds who are constantly reinventing themselves online and performing online as these invented selves.  This can be practice for real life issues (such as the subject who had a physical disability and practiced flirting online in order to become comfortable face to face) or merely invention (such as the married father who lives a single life on Second Life that he values as much as his physical life). People “[feel] that online life is a space for experimentation,” but Turkle warns us against this assumed proairesis: “electronic messages are forever” (258).  In other words, the giddy sense of invention that we feel does not match the reality of the permanence of our creations.

Beer, Nicholas Gane and David. New Media: The Key Concepts. Oxford: Berg, 2008. E-book.

Brooke, Collin Gifford. Lingua Fracta: Towards a Rhetoric of New Media. New Dimensions in Computers and Composition. Ed. Gail E. Hawisher and Cynthia Selfe. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, In., 2009. Print.

Turkle, Sherry. Together Alone: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. Kindle Ed. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2011.  

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