Reading Reflection: Alone Together by Sherry Turkle


Technology is shaping our modern relationships: with others, with ourselves, with it.

Digital natives like myself utilise modern technology and incorporate it in our everyday lives more rapidly and unceremoniously. We are the lucky ones; lucky enough to be born in the era of the Internet with the ability to be connected to vast pools of information and data allowing us to navigate the world right at our fingertips.

“Technology has become like a phantom limb, it is so much a part of them. These young people are among the first to grow up with an expectation of continuous connection: always on, and always on them.” —Sherry Turkle

Our attention is continuously grabbed by an overabundance of content in our mobile devices. In today’s technology-driven world, people expect to have the means to communicate with others at any given moment. Constant communication through use of technology changes the way people think of themselves and how they communicate.

“What excited me most was the idea that we would use what we learned in the virtual world about ourselves, about our identity, to live better lives in the real world.”  —Sherry Turkle

Sherry Turkle, a distinguished scholar in the area of how technology influences human identity to understand what happens when mind meets machine, is an Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor in the Program of Science, Technology and Society at MIT. She is also the author of the book, ‘Alone Together’ and a guest speaker at TED 2012.

In her book, Turkle suggests that just because digital natives grew up together with the Internet, we tend to see it as all grown up and fully developed, but it is not. Digital technology is still in its infancy and there is ample time for us to reshape how we build it, add to it, and use it.

Turkle studies how our devices and online personas are redefining human connection and communication — and asks us to think deeply about the kinds of connection we want to have. Although I share the same sentiments as Turkle on that in her insightful book, I’d like to offer my critique on an issue that I found disconcerting.


In Chapter 2 of her book: ‘Video Games and Computer Holding Power’ she states that:
“It is an understatement to say that people are ambivalent about the growing computer presence: we like new conveniences but on the eve of a new era, we, by definition, do not know where we are. We are ill at ease even with our children, who are so much at ease with a technology that many of us approach at arm’s length. Parents want their children to have every advantage, but this new expertise estranges them.”

A PBS documentary which aired in 2010 by Digital Nation, also addresses Turkle’s same concern. The purpose of the program was “to examine the risks and possibilities, myths and realities presented by the new digital culture we all inhabit”. However, the most concerning to me is the suggestion that multi-tasking online is not to be applauded but to be concerned because of the impact on one’s social and cognitive abilities.

Research throughout the past decade has shown that technology can enhance literacy development, impact knowledge acquisition, provide greater access to information, support learning and enhance the self-esteem of students. Because technology and our online personas are so ingrained in how we do things today, I believe that it is an advantage for us to be with each other but also elsewhere — experiential learning on the Internet.


Although it is undeniable that each of us, in our everyday interactions, choose between letting technology shape us and shaping it towards human purposes, an open online learning community like Open Source Studio (OSS) isn’t a substitute for traditional learning.

Rather, OSS is a tool to enhance and improve the traditional model of learning. It is an opportunity to suss out, experiment and bring research methodologies into education. In the learning environment, technology can propel and transform academics into a more dynamic and social space where students can work through problems and make their opinions and standpoints known (like in this blog post). By reviewing content and issues that students bring up in the third space, the professor can better prepare lessons and address challenging ideas or questions surfaced through online interaction during face-to-face time in the classroom. The Internet could function as a tool that enables professors to be more in tune with their student’s individual needs and learning patterns. The draw and motivation of schools to participate in offering open online courses like OSS is to discover what aspects of teaching can be done at scale so that scarce resources and energy can be devoted to enhancing learning.

Randall Packer created OSS in 2012; an exploration of new online methodologies for teaching multimedia art. In the ‘Internet Art and Culture’ and ‘Media and Performance’ classes in NTU taught by Packer who is a Visiting Associate Professor —both of which I enrolled in and completed— we create hyperessays that take full advantage of the multimedia capabilities of WordPress: with embedded images, gifs, video, hyperlinks, sound etc. drawn from readings, discussions, previous projects and other research.

An extension of the multimedia presentation, hyperessays promote stronger memory links than text alone. The Internet provides students with access to materials like images, news articles, literature, videos etc. By utilising these resources, comprehensibility is enhanced through student control and annotations as well as hyperlinks to different media. It also grants students quick and easy access to different parts of instructional materials when a textbook is not used; allowing the students to more easily digest information in manageable bite-sized pieces.

Digital technology motivates and engages students. When students have a choice in their assignment, see the relevancy, or can self-assess with professor feedback intertwined, motivation increases. When students are given more choice in their tasks, those tasks in turn are more meaningful and increases the students’ intrinsic motivation.

While technology is indeed an escape route to awkward alone situations, it hasn’t completely destroyed how human beings communicate with each other; especially in the online learning environment. However, I do find this issue just needs to be better anticipated and redefined for the betterment of future students.

One thought on “Reading Reflection: Alone Together by Sherry Turkle

  1. Your description of OSS is better than anything I have written. Well done! I think what you are referring to here is that there is a need for balance between and virtual and real lives, or our online and face to face interactions. I think Sherry Turkle is expressing the idea that online interaction can become a replacement for real action, hence, we are alone together. But as you point out, with OSS we use the online space to expand our conversation and interaction in the classroom, as well as access to student work, it is definitely not a replacement. I think the problem is that for the digital natives, in many ways it is becoming a replacement, and unfortunately, this generation doesn’t necessarily know how to think about this predicament. The important thing is to bring our relationship with technology into a critical space (such as what you are doing), so we can examine and expose what is beneficial and what is harmful.

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