A Critic of Technology Turns Her Gaze Inward

In the spring of 1977, when Sherry Turk was a young professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Steve Jobs came to visit. When he toured the complex and met with his colleagues, Turkle was cleaning his apartment and worrying about the menu for the dinner that he had agreed to host.

It has been almost 50 years since she was writing her memoir, “The Empathy Diaries”, to realize how angry that incident had made her. She was at the beginning of her career looking at how technology affects our lives, yet she was not asked to join her co-workers as she spent the day with the co-founder of Apple.

“why not me?” She said in a video interview last month. It has taken him several decades to come to that question, and it reflects his desire to turn the eye of ethnographers inward, to examine himself in such a way that he has studied his subjects for a long time. It is central to his new book, he said: “Here talking to oneself means practical application.”

The 72-year-old Turks are big on conversation. In her 2015 book, “Retrieve conversation, “She argues that talking to each other, exchanging sounds with old-fashioned voice is a powerful antidote to life on screen. A licensed clinical psychologist with a joint doctorate in psychology and sociology from Harvard investigates what our relationship with technology tells us about what we feel is missing from our lives , Which we can imagine what technology can supply.

His daughter, Rebecca Sherman, said that she and her friends sometimes became subjects for examining their mother’s livelihood. For example, when eating to look at your phone, when is it acceptable? It was Sherman, 29, and his friends explained to Turk the “rule of three”: it was okay to (temporarily) disappear into a screen as long as at least three other people were engaged in conversation.

“The Empathy Diaries”, which Penguin Press is publishing on March 2, tells of the progress from a working-class Brooklyn boyhood to a tenure professor at MIT, that in the first years of his life, he Lived in a one-bedroom apartment with her mother. Aunt and grandparents. She slept on a cot between her grandparents’ two beds. Her father was almost completely absent.

His family could not afford a ticket for High Holy Days at the local synagogue, so he prepared his neighbors on the steps of the temple and greeted them, cautiously that they would attend services elsewhere. But he recognized Turk’s intelligence and did not ask him to help with household chores, preferring that he sit and read. Years later, when he graduated from Radcliffe on a scholarship, his grandfather was in attendance.

Turk has also written about the relationships that shaped her. One of them was with his stepfather, Milton Turkle, whose arrival disrupted Turkley’s early living arrangements and was named after his mother instructed him to take her as his – and sometimes his classmates or his Did not reveal to younger siblings that she was someone’s daughter. other. Her own father was rarely talked about, her name being a taboo.

“I had turned into an outsider who could see that things were not always what they felt, because I wasn’t always what I felt,” Turkle said.

When Turks first started publishing and gaining recognition, they were asked personal questions, similar to the questions they asked of their subjects. But she was bled. She was still carrying her mother’s secret, the secret of her real name, years after her mother’s death. So when she was in the public eye, she insisted that the personal was out of bounds, that she would only comment on her work, despite the fact that one of the arguments of her work is that thoughts and feelings are inseparable, work. And the person behind the work entwined. She remembers that moment well: to tell him when she was really close.

“He really started my journey and the arc of my beginning interacted with himself,” she said.

But Turkle had long been interested in memoirs, and he teaches a class on the subject at MIT. He was struck that scientists, engineers and designers often presented their work in purely intellectual terms, when, in conversation, “they are soulless.” Influenced by his life, influenced by his childhood, looking at him with a stone found on the beach, which got him thinking, ”she said. “When I started interviewing scientists, everything about my research revealed that their life’s work has brought them into their work.”

Part of her motivation for teaching the course was to inspire her students to see their work and lives. And she especially set out to unite the two strands when she sat down to write her memoir.

In his book, Turk describes his denial of tenure at MIT, a decision he fought and successfully reversed. She can laugh about it now (“What does a good woman have to do to work here?”), But she marked it with experience.

His colleague of nearly 50 years, Kenneth Manning, remembers the episode well. Turkle said “brilliant and creative”, but he was “bringing a fresh approach to looking at computer culture, and he was coming from a psychoanalytic background. People didn’t understand that” when he finished his term For him, some allies did not participate.

Turk now serves as an “in-house reviewer”, as he imagines his coworkers might see him, writing about technology and its discontent within an institution where technology is part of the name . “As his work has become more important to digital, there are many elements at MIT that are unsatisfying, certainly,” said David Thorburn, a literature professor at MIT

The title of his new book refers to one of the Turkic prejudices. As we disappear into our lives onscreen, spending less time in contemplative solitude, and less time in real-life interactions with others, empathy, as Turks see, is one of the casualties. The term, which he defines as “the ability not to put himself in someone else’s place, but to put himself in someone else’s” Problem, “This is not only a concern for Turks, it is a feature of sorts: He has also been called by a school as an all-female empathy squad, where teachers saw that with the proliferation of screens , His students seemed short. Not able to place themselves on another point.

One of Turkle’s hopes for this special moment is that the epidemic has given us a chance to see each other’s problems and weaknesses in ways we might not have had before. In the first months of the lockdown, Turk shifted his MIT classes to Zoom. “You can see where everyone lives,” he said. “It opened up a conversation about inequalities in our conditions. Something that hides the ‘college experience’.

In many ways, Turks believe that the epidemic is a “marginal” time, led by author and anthropologist Victor Turner, a time in which we “betray and interrupt”, with a catastrophe preventing an inherent destruction. Give opportunities. “There are possibilities of change in these marginal periods,” he said. “I think that we are, through a time, both in our social lives, but also in how we treat our technology, where we are ready to think of very different ways of behaving.”

Turk is not opposed to technology. She “proudly” watches a lot of TV and loves writing on her extra-small MacBooks, the way they don’t make them anymore. But he covets the internet-enabled rabbit hole. “I’m aware of how I’m being manipulated from the screen, and I’m so desperate to talk to Alexa and Siri,” she said.

He has spent much of the last year at his home in Provincetown, Mass., And so it is inevitable that Henry David Thoreau comes to the fore. Naturalists and philosophers connect the once famous 25-mile beach with Provincetown to the tip of Cape Cod.

“You know, Thoreau, his big thing was not about being alone,” Turkey said. “His big thing was: I want to live intentionally. I think we have the opportunity to live consciously with technology. “

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