The main idea that is being promoted throughout the book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle, is that, as time goes on, people grow increasingly depended on technology – even within the context of how they go about addressing their socialization-related anxieties. To justify the validity of her suggestion, in this respect, Turkle points out to the phenomenon of more and more individuals deciding in favor of robots/robotized dolls, as their intimate companions: “We come to see what robots offer as relationship.
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The simplification of relationship is no longer a source of complaint. It becomes what we want” (Turkle 27). The author also enlightens readers that the Internet has long ago ceased being solely the instrument of informational transactions – as of today, it became nothing less of an ‘alternative reality’ for many individuals, who clearly prefer it to the surrounding de facto reality. According to Turkle, the earlier mentioned state of affairs can hardly be considered thoroughly appropriate, because it results in the increased ‘atomization’ of Western societies, while undermining their structural integrity from within.
Moreover, according to Turkle, the fact that humanity grows increasingly dependent on the technology’s ability to simulate the ‘desirable reality’, has a negative influence on the measure of the affected individuals’ mental adequacy. As she pointed out: “I believe that in our culture of (technology-induced) simulation, the notion of authenticity is for us what sex was for the Victorians – threat and obsession, taboo and fascination” (Turkle 16). This, of course, adds to the overall spirit of ‘technological pessimism’, emanated by the book in question.
Even though Turkle indeed deserves to be given a credit, on the account of the book’s line of argumentation being discursively legitimate, there are nevertheless a number of the apparent drawbacks to how the author argues her point. The main of them can be well deemed the implication that, as it appears from the book, Turkle happened to believe that people’s obsession with the companionship-simulating technological gadgets/virtual reality is something necessarily ‘unnatural’ and therefore – counterproductive, in the psychological sense of this word: “Online, we can lose confidence that we are communicating or cared for.
Confused, we may seek solace in even more connection” (Turkle 258). Nevertheless, even though there are indeed a number of indications that people’s increased tendency to rely on technology (when it comes to satisfying their companionship-related longings) cannot be considered particularly ‘healthy’, there is nothing truly odd about it. After all, people’s ability to pursue with leading a highly sociable lifestyle appears to be environmentally predetermined.
This explains why it is specifically the rurally based individuals, utterly dependent on agriculture, as the mean of ensuring their physical survival, who are being known the sheer strength of their commitment to the virtues of a socially integrated communal living. The reason for this is apparent – the very realities of such a living naturally presuppose one to function as the society’s integral part – as the ultimate tool of ensuring its existential competitiveness. In highly urbanized Western societies, on the other hand, this could not be the case, by definition – being technologically advanced, these societies produce more than enough of the so-called ‘surplus product’, which makes it possible for people to succeed in claiming their environmental niche, without having to organize themselves in ‘packs’.
It is important to understand that there is nothing truly phenomenological about the fact that, up until recently (prior to the beginning of post-modernity), the representatives of Homo Sapiens species used to experience the urge to socialize with each other – while in the process, people are being provided with the opportunity to experience a strongly defined sensual pleasure, which in turn is being chemically (mechanically) triggered.
Why, for example, people tend to assign such a high emotional value to the notion of love/amorousness, which is the integral part of one’s socially integrated lifestyle? This is because, while pursuing a romantic relationship with each other, they initiate the process of their brains beginning to produce the ‘happiness-inducing’ hormones of testosterone, dopamine and endorphine. In its turn, this can be referred to as a ‘reward’ that nature provides to the sociable individuals, because it sees one’s willingness to pursue with the communally integrated lifestyle, as the indication of his or her ‘evolutionary fitness’.
After all, the more one is willing to socialize, the greater are his or her chances to find a mating partner and to get on with ‘baby-making’. And, in recourse-scarce preindustrial societies, babies come as a particularly valuable survival-ensuring asset, because even small children can be successfully turned into agricultural helpers – hence, the phenomenon of the skyrocketing rate of fertility in the Third World.
In technologically advanced Western societies, however, there is simply no need for people to indulge in ‘baby-making’ on an industrial scale, as their foremost existential priority, which naturally causes them to grow ever more detached from each other, in the emotional sense of this word. Nevertheless, this does not have much of an effect on these people’s strive to experience the state of happiness, Given the fact that, as we pointed out earlier, the concerned sensation is chemically induced, this makes it possible for Westerners to rely on technology, when it comes to pursuing their innermost happiness-related agenda.
Therefore, we cannot quite agree with the author’s insistence that there is something utterly unnatural about the Western humanity’s increased dependence on robots, as ‘surrogate’ lovers: “We allow ourselves to be comforted by unrequited love, for there is no robot that can ever love us back” (Turkle 253). Because love is essentially an illusion, it does not matter whether robots can ‘love us back’ – what matters, in this respect, is their ability to help triggering the ‘happiness-inducing’ set of chemical reactions inside of our brains.
At the time when people did not possess the technology that makes it possible to substitute humans with robots, as ‘companions’, it was thoroughly natural for them indulge in the extremely close and personal forms socialization with each other. Nowadays, however, it is becoming increasingly more natural for people to seek companionship with robots.
It is not only that the nearby presence of the robotized mechanisms, designed for ‘companionship’, will allow the concerned individuals to enjoy the steady production of the earlier mentioned ‘hormones of happiness’, but it will also spare robot-owners of the headache of having to deal with the imperfectness of their would-be-human companions.
As David Levy (a computer engineer quoted by the author) noted: “Robots will teach us to be better friends and lovers because we will be able to practice on them. Beyond this, they will substitute where people fail” (Turkle 17). Apparently, it is specifically the technology-driven socio-cultural progress, which deems things ‘natural’ or ‘unnatural’, and not the fact that even today, many people cannot help clinging to the discursively outdated conventions of interrelational morality/ethics.
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Thus, the phenomenon of people’s technology-induced ‘alienation’ cannot be discussed outside of what happened to be the qualitative specifics of a post-industrial living, which in turn came about as one of the by-products of the ongoing process of Western societies becoming ever more urbanized.
In plain words, the reason why, as time goes on, more and more people end up choosing in favor of socially alienated lifestyles, reflected by the concerned individuals’ tendency to enter into the ‘surrogate’ emotional relationships with their technologically advanced gadgets, is that the very evolutionary laws of history have predetermined it to be the case. Therefore, the author’s predisposition to discuss the mentioned phenomenon in predominantly negative terms, does not appear to be thoroughly justified.
Nevertheless, as it was implied earlier, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other does in fact contain a number of valuable insights into what account for the qualitative aspects of the Western civilization remaining on the path of progress.
Specifically, Turkle succeed rather spectacularly in exposing the clearly degenerative aspects of the process of more and more technology-obsessed Westerners growing increasingly egocentric, which in turn diminishes their ability to function as the society’s productive members. Therefore, there can be only a few doubts that the reading this particular book will come in handy for just about anyone, interested in researching the concerned subject matter at length.
Turkle, Sherry. Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York: Basic Books, 2011. Print.