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Capitalism, Alienation, and Connectedness: Some Thoughts on Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together

I admit that I share some of Sherry Turkle’s reservations about technology and social media. These are, frankly, more things I find personally irritating than anything else: the ever-present smartphone during social engagements (though I am guilty of this often), the expectations that I will be available via email all the time (clearly much more pronounced in other occupations, as evidenced by Diane). I must echo Mara’s thoughts: the demands that some employers place upon their workers to be accessible and “tethered” to social media and email reflects the more pervasive exploitation of workers via the all-consuming nature of capitalism. The whittling down of “free time” – indeed the very demarcation of time itself – is the hallmark of capitalism and the Industrial Age. When Skyping with her grandmother, Ellen (in the Introduction) multi-tasks for work rather than devote her full attention to her grandmother: is this truly an issue about technology – an advance that allows them to “see” each other – or about how that technology is deployed by capitalism?

There were moments when I found Turkle’s…resistance? hesitation? paranoia?…about technology problematic. If a senior citizen, relegated to a nursing home, with little social contact or vastly changed patterns of interaction (this will increasingly become the norm as baby boomers age of course) finds comfort in a robotic seal, is this really a troubling thing? If the author’s daughter, in Paris, takes a brief moment at dinner to connect with a friend from home in Boston, is this truly somehow infringing upon a prior experience of Paris that Turkle found more “authentic”? What about the connections and networks her child is able to maintain via this social media, including the relationships from her childhood? It seems that much of the anxiety surrounding social media and robot technology as companionship privileges prior forms of communication as somehow more “authentic” – a subjective and problematic generalization, to say the least.

Throughout this reading, I kept returning to the remarks made by Cathy Davidson during Opening Sessions. Davidson argued that standardized testing forces us to be “silent and alone,” not technology: she sees the digital as an exciting space for collaboration and connectedness, defying the restrictions on time and individual labor set in place by the Industrial Age. For Turkle, digital technology is instead what makes us “silent and alone.” Technology can subvert capitalism and its resulting alienation, or can be used to support it.

 

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