A clinical psychologist takes a critical and sometimes disturbing look at the psycho-social dangers of mixing technology and human intimacy.
Turkle (Social Studies of Science and Technology/MIT; Simulation and Its Discontents, 2009, etc.) paints a bleak picture of a robotically enhanced future in which humans become increasingly emotionally dependent on technology. As this dependency on technology for meaningful social interaction increases, writes the author, the more humans will lose their ability to have authentic and meaningful relationships with one another. Turkle begins her study with possibly the creepiest findings from her fieldwork: the ongoing development and acceptance of “sex robots,” and the zeal of the scientific community’s crackpots who’d like to exalt robots to equal relational status with human beings. Essentially this means programming robots as not only a sexual supplement to humans’ sex lives but also as an actual surrogate for an intimate bedfellow. From there, the author’s examples of a society gone technologically wild can only seem tame: children getting robotic pets and cell phones before they hit puberty; insecure teens seeking a new self through avatars and virtual-reality games; young Facebookers afraid of the permanency and nakedness of their information on the Internet. Turkle advances the notion that Internet-based social networking and communication via texting and e-mail can only lead to alienation and awkwardness when facing inevitable person-to-person confrontations. But the author is careful not to blame technology and its handlers for corrupting the easily corruptible. Many of the technological slaves that Turkle profiles are—one hopes—exceptional examples. The author seems confident that human instinct will eventually intervene and prompt us into evasive action as soon as technology begins to increasingly dominate our lives. This cautious optimism is admirable, but it can’t quite brighten the dystopic pallor the book ultimately casts on the future of human relationships.
Despite the dry, clinical writing, Turkle provides potentially valuable social research.