Guide Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet

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Life on the screen : identity in the age of the Internet / Sherry Turkle

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Life on the Screen Identity in the Age of the Internet by Turkle Sherry

Today's children are used to dealing with systems that react "intelligently", something not seen in computer-based systems until recently, while adults have profoundly different memories of automated systems. The classical determinant for a computer being "alive" is the Turing Test, where a test subject communicates with two entities one human, the other a computer through a computer text interface. If the subject is unable to distinguish the program from the human, the program "passes" the test. While a number of programs have been written in hopes of passing the Turing Test, other tools have been developed with different goals.

One program, called Eliza, takes on an almost psychotherapeutic role, reflecting a user's statements, often as a question or remark designed to elicit further input. After discussing how users interact and, on occasion, become emotionally involved with these programs, Turkle takes on artificial life, the descendant of artificial intelligence.

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Artificial life, which encompasses technologies such as genetic algorithms and other evolutionary systems, poses interesting questions as to the nature of life. Are the four criteria offered at a Los Alamos conference, which do not demand a physical presence, appropriate, or is a body an absolute necessity?

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At least indirectly, the second section addresses how one might construct an artificial personality independent of its residence in a human being. The final portion of the book takes the discussion to a personal level, examining how computer-based environments influence our sense of self. Computer-mediated communications, as exemplified by Multi-User Dungeons MUDs , offer individuals the unprecedented ability to interact with others with complete anonymity.

By virtue of this property, users can experiment by representing themselves as being any gender, orientation, race, or profession. Of particular interest to Turkle, though, is the potential psychotherapeutic value of being free to reveal aspects of their personality which would not otherwise surface.

Life on the Screen - Sherry Turkle - Google Livres

As a psychoanalyst and a web user herself, Turkle spent much of the book explaining why the articulation of multiple personalities wasn't pathological. Contrary to its Latin root, identity need not mean "the same", she argued. In the great psychoanalytic tradition, she said that self-actualisation meant coming to terms with who we are, and integrating each aspect of it into a coherent and well-integrated us.

Nowadays, almost everyone has experienced this kind of identity play.

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Even if you've never ventured into an online game or been a signed-up member of a web community, you've probably developed a profile for a social network, written a blog, styled a website, commented on an article or contributed to the ongoing tsunami of updates on Twitter. You've probably done more than one. Congratulations: you have experienced the postmodern experience of actively constructing your online identity.

How social media is affecting teens

Just as Turkle described more than 15 years ago, the web is a medium in which action is absolutely essential to express ourselves. Unlike the rich space of offline life, where our identity cues are given away on sight, sound, smell, touch and taste, online we perform.

Most of us present an idealised "me", fabricated specifically for our various, compartmentalised and implied audiences. Often that means putting our best foot forward in each of the media we use: we preen and pout for profile pics, we voice attitudes and opinions that we think will make us appeal to the people whom we most want to like us and we post and tweet information that we find interesting and which won't make us look rubbish. Most importantly, and for the most part, we think first.

But things are different from the time when Turkle was writing Life on the Screen. Most communities were populated by strangers, and that anonymity afforded a frivolity with the self that was relatively consequence-free. Nowadays, our virtual social lives are increasingly integrated with our offline social lives.