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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Reflections on "The Second Self" by Sherry Turkle

Having read both the new (MIT) and old introduction for this book, I found it interesting that the new introduction was more about what the author is currently teaching, than about what has been updated in the book. I think Ms. Turkle is a rather amazing individual. Her suppositions and findings are extraordinary in the sense that they construct for us the recent history of computing in the US. It is a fascinating journey from the beginnings of personal computing to today's complete immersion in all things technological.

Ms. Turkle has taken me on the road to understanding the idea that at the beginning of the personal computer onslaught in the US, computer people were building the things themselves, and constructing what they were using in every manner. Today this would seem rather obsessive, but in the '80's it was a necessity. I too remember my first computer; the"Commodore64" and its multitude of quirks and limitations. However, I did not build my own computer. In fact, that computer occasionally brought me to tears of frustration, and fits of screaming and swearing. I don't miss those days!

In this writer's opinion, Ms. Turkle is a certified 'geek'. True in the 'old' days of computing, there were computing clubs, and folks who were building, programming, and using their own systems. It seems as if the author looks upon those days with a certain nostalgia, as if that was a time when we were 'one' with our computing systems, and we were able to create in every aspect of the system's being. I disagree with Ms. Turkle's assessment of what computing means today. It is my opinion that you don't need to re-invent the wheel every time you get a new computer. Today's systems are highly specialized and are clearly eons beyond the previous generation's, in capacity and usability. I don't disagree that to really "know" hardware, that building a computer from the ground up is a fantastic way to learn. What is not, in my view, essential to today's computing environment is the need to put together our systems from scratch. Computers are extremely complex now, and are also made in every shape and size. The computer's ability to be taken with us, makes it more of an extension of our capacity to communicate at all times, than it has ever been. We can communicate nearly everywhere and anywhere because computers are so complex and yet versatile.

Just as programming languages have evolved, so has our ability to interface with our computer without having to know a programming language. As I write this blog, I am programming my computer to do what I want it to do. True, someone else created the initial operating system, and the application I am currently using, but that is my point. This is what I do, and that is what they do. It is not necessary for me to program everything I need to create the documents, and images I wish to create. It would seem to me that it is not practical, and nearly impossible for one person to build, program, and create applications for their own personal computer use. The systems are just to vast and the data are too numerous to be able to tap into everything we need on our own. I don't have to build my own car to know how it works. In fact, even when we know how many of our technological tools work, it is highly impractical for us to build what we need.

Our society has become a specialized place. We all do some "thing" well. This "thing" that we do is what we have to offer our community, and it is how we make our living. Ideas flow so quickly today, and are so elaborate that we synthesize our work and tools by learning how others have created their piece of the 'work'. It is a captivating situation. Computing technology advances faster than we can learn how to use it. There may never be a reason to be bored ever again.

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