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Sherry Turkle

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Churchill said “we shape our buildings and then they shape us.” Sherry Turkle, however, is more concerned with how “we build our technologies and they, in turn, shape us.”

Often called the Anthropologist of Cyberspace, Turkle is a psychologist and sociologist who has spent almost three decades watching our increasing preoccupation with technology, from handheld devices to computers, robots and social networking. But while she has examined various aspects of our connection with devices, it is the power of technology to affect and fundamentally change our relationships, both with others and ourselves, that fascinates her. Through research, ethnographic studies and her writings, she has also explored how the concept of multiple identities plays out through technology, as we increasingly become comfortable with different versions of ourselves, co-existing on different technology platforms.

Currently the Abby Rockefeller Mauze Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT and founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, Turkle isn’t alone in her exploration of the changes being wrought by technology – but unlike the majority of other social and cultural commentators, she is less interested in technology and social media as tools of revolution and dissent and more compelled to study how they fundamentally alter human behaviour. Her many books include a trilogy on digital technology and human relationships: The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit; Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet and most recently, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other.

As someone at the cutting-edge of work in this domain, profiles of Prof Turkle have appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American and Wired magazine; she was named Woman of the Year by Ms magazine and is a frequent media commentator on the social and psychological effects of technology for CNN, the BBC, CBS, NBC, ABC, NPR and she received a standing ovation for her recent TED Global talk.

Turkle’s investigations span one of the fastest-changing periods in tech development – from the early days of personal computers to our current world of robotics, artificial intelligence, social networking and mobile connectivity – and show that technology doesn’t just catalyse changes in what we do, it affects how we think. “We’re determined to give human qualities to objects and content to treat each other as things,” she writes.

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