Sherry Turkle’s book, Alone Together, draws upon heavily from her years at the MIT robotics lab. She chronicles her time working with some of the early consumer-focused virtual ‘friends’, often drawing upon experiences her own daughter had growing up with robots she brought home. Turkle discusses the different emotive connections that we, as humans, automatically create with what we perceive to be sentient beings. Everything from anger, love and despair are projected upon small furry toys, automatic dinosaurs and bodiless mechanical heads with telling eyes.
Turkle’s best work is in the sections where she’s relating personal observations of the extremities of these emotions. Stories of the elderly shunning their offspring in favor of a lower maintenance AIBO, or young children coming to grips with mortality when a Furby’s battery dies. The reader can see the work that Turkle has done in the laboratory, having likely spent countless hours studying these extremes on the emotional spectrum.
Where the book lacks is that it feels like a collection of dissertation papers, rather than original work. The first several hundred pages are solely about the MIT robotics lab and similar experience like the ones mentioned above. With such a culture-shift present in how we connect to one another through our devices, this impact of our ‘digital internalization’ should have be placed in the forefront as the structure for this book. The robotics component still could have been a chapter, but (as the cover suggests is the case) would not have been a majority of the text. Turkle’s NYTimes article better captures the expected tenor of the book, at least from this reader’s perspective.