domingo, 10 de outubro de 2010

There was a child went forth every day

We make our objects and our objects make us.

This great Walt Whitman poem where he says: a child goes forth everyday and the first object he looks upon, that object he became...

From the earliest age I’ve been very fascinated with peoples connection to objects as a way of creating and constructing your identity.

I remember reading a book, when I was a little girl, from a silly career advice book, but I remember a sentence in it that said: “If you find yourself always going to a paper store and always wanting to buy beautiful papers and pens and different kinds of ink, you might be good as a writer, because being a writer, in some way, depends on the texture of the objects in that writing life. And some piece of me has been deeply influenced by that very profound thought that loving the materials of your work, that is part of the construction of your identity.

My name is Sherry Turkle and I’m a professor of The Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT and, additionaly, I’m the director and, very proudly, the founder of a new initiative at MIT called The Initiative on Technology and Self. And the point of this initiative is to really ask the questions of how our increasingly intimate relationships with technology, everything from computation to psychofarmacology, to personal digital assistance, to robotics, how that changes the way we see ourselves as people.
So it’s not so much what the technology is for us but what the technology is doing to us. My background is as an ethnographically trained sociologist, anthropologist and psychologist, and I believe that the kinds of social issues that I’m interested in, issues of how we think about ourselves and deal with eachother require a kind of observation and a kind of listening for the meaning of the social world that clinical training, and in my case, psychoanalytic training has helped me refine.
Listening with the third ear, that people talk about when they talk about psychoanalysis.

And so when I got to MIT and saw the profundity of peoples connections to the objects of their lives, since MIT was so much about making objects, building objects. It kind of all came together for me that what I wanted to do was to study how objects change the ay we think. How technology changes the way we think. And so for me the computer is kind of a great example of what really is a much larger question of how the objects of our lives, of how we bring them inside us to construct our identity.

The first week that I taught at MIT, which was my first academic job, I was teaching a course on Freudian slips and I was talking about how Freud, in his essence, slips... begins by telling a story that the chairman of parliamentary session began the meeting by declaring the meeting closed and then he goes on to talk about all the possible meanings that that might have: the chairman’s wife is sick, he’s nervous about what’s going to happen at the session, and so forth.
And the computer science student, at the back of the room, I’ll never forget it was a woman, said: “Prof. Turkle, if the mind is a computer, “closed” equals minus open (closed = – open), and in the computer dictionary substituting”closed” for “open”, just means that a bit has been dropped, there’s been a power search, no problem. Obviously a completely different way of thinking about the mind. And that has always been funny when people say: I’ve changed my life (because it takes a prepared mind to have your life changed), but I really think that at that moment I saw that my interest in how sciences of mind hit the street and had become part of how people see their inner life and their relationships in their world, which I had studied in the psychoanalytical context, that now, teaching at MIT I have the opportunity to study it in the computer context and it was a moving from the psychoanalytic to a computer culture. We were moving from a world in which the first thing to look for was “meaning” to a world where the first thing to look for was “mechanism”.
Because that’s really the difference between Freudian Slip and information processing error. It’s not “meaning”, it’s “mechanism”.

So many people want me to say that we’ve moved from psychoanalytical culture to a computer culture, that we’ve moved from thinking about freudian slips to thinking about information processing errors and that somehow that’s good that we’ve made progress, and I think that reality is so much more complex.
I think that we need more than ever to look at issues like ambivalence, ambiguity, language, relationships. We need to live in a kind of joined citizenship in the computer and psychoanalitical culture. It’s a very out of favour idea but, hey! I think our times demand it.

The computer is a mind machine, a psychological machine. It is about presenting us with alternatives to sociability and interactivity at this point and that’s not the same as the instrumental use of the telephone to send a message. This is not to say that the use of telephone for communication didn’t have profound effect on the way people saw their worlds, saw themselves, saw the possibilities for communication, friendship... But this is different. We use the computer really as a medium of communication, where the computer becomes transparent and its impact is on new form of communication people can have with eachother, on new forms of social life. Everything from the chat rooms, the MUDs, to the news groups, to the virtual reallity, as to the online virtual gaming. All of these things are profoundly touched by the computer presence. But really what changes is our relationships with eachother and the new kinds of relationships made posible by computation. And there, the most important things of depth psychology, in my view, have to do with differences between “acting out” and “working through”, differences between coming to these new social worlds with a problem or issue and using that to just express and re-express who you are and find ways to express who you are versus, for many people being able to use these new social worlds as really privileged environments to work through, to explore and work through some aspect of the self that it’s harder to do in physical reallity.
One of the first kind of virtual communities where that was possible, the virtual communities called MUDs (Multiuser Domains). A good example is a woman; she’d been in a terrible accident and her legs were prosthetic and she practiced having love affairs online where she talked about it and took it off in the context of the online relationship. And speaking with her was so moving because of her practice in approaching that problem in the physical world.
To me, that’s the most appropriate and happiest use of the experience of the virtual reallity. To use the virtual to increase our quality of life in physical reality. And I think that we’re going to get better at it. Now there are a lot of communities like that, where you can go online and, kind of, live online life. You go online with lots of other people over the world and you inhabit a virtual space where you get to play out all different kinds of things. When American Online came out with their service and said, hey, “take five handles”, they thought that each member of the family would take a handle and you would get a kind of family membership for the price of one but, in fact, what happened was that people took five handles: they were Armani-Boy in one chat group and they were Motorcycle Man in another and they were JR in the third and they were... (?) in the fourth. People began to have an experience of not just gender crossing but reallity of persona crossing. And, on one level, oh hey! It’s just fun, but on another level the process of naming oneself and going out there, into the virtual world, which is a world, with other real people in it, adds different aspects to yourself. Putting different aspects of yourself out there is a very profound experience.

I once went online and there was a character online in this virtual community I was studying that was called Dr. Sherry! And this virtual character interviewed people online about their experiences in virtual space, and most people thought I was Dr. Sherry! I wasn’t! I didn’t create this therapist! I was really upset! And Dr. Sherry was always there! She’d be there at 3 o’clock in the morning and she was there... and finally a friend of mine said, you know, Dr. Sherry could also be a “bot”. Bots are not robots. They are computer programs that are written to live in online spaces and present themselves as people. So there I was in cyberspace confronting the fact that I had had identity theft, that could be a person or that could be a program. My alter ego could be a person or could be a program. That was a profound experience for me and I think it augurs the future in which I will be alone in having that kind of question.

It’s not new to be giving computer objects to children. That started in the late 70s. Merlin, Simon Speak and Spell... These were all the first generation of computer toys that played tic-tac-toe with you, that taught you spelling, taught you maths, interacted with you in new sorts of ways. From late 70s on I studied children and these new kinds of toys and saw that children began to discuss whether or not they [the toys] were alive by talking about, not whether the machines could move which is how earlier children decide whether objects were alive or not on the basis of whether they can move by themselves. These objects, children tried to figure out whether they were alive or not on the basis of, could they think by themselves. And the solution that children came up with as they saw that there were some things that machines could do and some things that they couldn’t, was that the machines were “sort of” alive.
And over the past 20 years I’ve seen the gradual enlargement, enhancement to complexification of this category because increasingly children are being presented with objects that they know aren’t alive in the biological sense and they try to “tag” that when they say “sort of”. They know it’s not like a dog, but, you know, it’s not like a building block either.
These technologies where robot makers and program makers are trying to create, the robotic pets for children are not just machines that are neutral for us to project ourselves on to. These machines are talking back, these machines are reacting out at us and asking us to, at least, [pay] a tribute to them, a... (?) a presence, to perform relations with them. We are vulnerable to creatures. Our vulnerability is that when we are asked to nurture another creature, we bond, we connect. With these new computational toys, the Furby, the iboo, the My Real Baby, the holding power, the cement in the relationship with the person is from the nurturance. It’s from being able to do something that enhances the “life” of the robotic creature. And when children do this, when children clean up the Tamagotchi’s poop, or when they teach iboo a trick, or they play with the My Real Baby, so it’s not in a bad mood, we are toast!
I study children because no one has taught them, yet, the way you’re “supposed” to feel about a machine. They don’t know the official language. They’re developing a language and the kinds of interactions and expectations and the feelings that the next generation of adults is going to be very familiar with.

First it was the computer really there as a partner, the one-on-one with technology. I think, right now, people have made the computer their own in their own way, a 13 year-old said, you take a piece of your mind, you put it in the computer’s mind and you come to see yourself differently. The important point is that these technologies become active dynamic players in how we construct our sense of human identity and our sense of personal identity.

Clearly I’m somebody who worries about the intensity of relationship that we form with the objects of our world, the objects of our lives and that it’s not just that we use them just as “tools”. Sometimes I talk to my class and I show a slide and I say, technology is just a tool and then I have a slide that comes on. “NOT”.

At MIT, the physicists were the most resistant to using computers in education. They felt that people should be getting their hands dirty. feeling the concrete messy physicality. That reality doesn’t go right, that the chore is never perfect, that it’s always a mess, that it has a granularity, that it has a texture, it has resistance. And I think of that very often when I see kids learning so much of how they think the world looks by playing with simulations. One physicist said to me, you should learn Newton’s Law by playing baseball and, of course, there are limitations to that, but it has a certain power. We have to get used to the fact that what we do in the simulator, what we do in the virtual, has a lot of impact on the “real”.
That there’s a physical real and a virtual real and the two of them are going to make up our experience of the real. Now, when the line in the sand is, is where the point where we’re looking at two shifting lines are changing the relationship with the world of machines and are changing relationship to biology, and I did this study of people and their attitude towards having chips implanted and people were very happy to have chips if they had Parkinson’s, if they had Tourette’s syndrome, but they said things like, I wouldn’t mind a chip for calculus, to kind of know calculus over night, but I wouldn’t want a chip for Dostoyevsky, I wouldn’t want a Shakespeare chip, I wouldn’t want a chip for the kinds of reading where it’s the process of reading that matters, not knowing it. As I think that people want to sustain in that sense that as human beings we have a process of immersing ourselves in new knowledge, in new experiences that we’d rather not have implanted, we want to have it. We want to do it.

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