/ 12 July 2011

Do our technologies support us “going to some place else that’s easier”? That’s part of Sherry Turkle’s claim — in the video embedded below, and in the her latest book. But I wonder. I wonder about that claim. I certainly think that digital tech has made it easier for me to connect with people who find some of the realities I inhabit, difficult. For instance, in certain of my contexts it’s nearly impossible to talk about the toxic effects of white privilege. But my digital networks provide opportunities to do so. Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so.

Is it possible that I’m avoiding some the difficult conversations here? Maybe. But I think it’s also possible that, paradoxically, at the same time, I’m sustaining myself to engage in more of them.

She also uses an example of walking into an AI lab at MIT and finding herself drawn into a relationship of sorts with a robot, describing it as problematic because you can’t be in a real relationship with something that’s not sentient. But I wonder what she would do, then, with a religious sense of relationality, with a sense of being in relationship with God’s creation — as marvelous and diverse and non-sentient, as much of that creation is? Or is it that a robot is not alive? So that you might be in relationship with something living, but not something that does not have life? On the other hand, what does it mean to be in relationship with God, who transcends life and sentience (as humans know it) and any other state of being that humans might be able to imagine? I don’t know. I’m intrigued by her argument, but can’t help feeling like she’s missing some important elements.