Sherry Turkle. _Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet_. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. Prof. Turkle has a website at <http://www.mit.edu/~sturkle>.
Many people are uneasy with the notion that computers somehow change the essence of who we are, what it means to be a human being. Case in point - the almost embarrassing sense of loss and disorientation that many felt with the "Deep Blue" computer's chess victory over Gary Kasparov.
Yet Sherry Turkle, far from being threatened by seeing herself in the machine and seeing the machine reflected back in herself, positions herself at the borderline where self meets unself, where real meets virtual, and where no one can say for sure what part is "simulation". Turkle is no one's suspicious, "objective" scientist. Trading in her researcher's pad and pencil for a speleologist's pick and helmet, she enters the subterranean worlds of online. MUD's, chat rooms, Usenet threads - Turkle finds her subjects in the most intimate and remote corners of cyberia. With a curious observer's (and, in some cases, participant's) gaze, she unravels some of the ways in which being is changing in the age of the Internet.
_Life on the Screen_ is unlike any other sensational treatment of the Internet I have seen to date. Written by one of the most versatile and accomplished academics in the United States, _LotS_ is singularly fascinating and insightful in its bricolage of psychoanalytic, linguistic, sociological, and postmodern philosophical discourses.
Some people will disagree with Turkle's unabashedly "gee-whiz" fascination with the Internet. However, they cannot fault Prof. Turkle for being naive or swayed by media hype. The optimism she shows in her writing is organically the result of over a decade of intensive work on computers and online networks.
For the already-converted, Turkle provides a bit of mind candy and possibly a reason to step back and consider Turkle's message, which is in part, a warning not to go un-self-reflectively into this uncharted land. You cannot come away from _LotS_ without sensing something different about yourself and the intelligent machines you bring into your life. I am especially reminded of a study canvassed by Turkle in which preschool children were asked whether computers are alive. The responses may surprise you.
In short, _LotS_ is a powerful book in the social study of the Internet. Don't go online without it.
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