Sherry Turkle

Boston, MA, United States

About Sherry


Sherry Turkle is a professor, author, consultant, researcher and licensed clinical psychologist who has spent the last 30 years researching the psychology of people’s relationships with technology. She is the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT, and founder and current director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, a center of research and reflection on the evolving connections between people and artifacts.

Turkle has investigated the intersection of digital technology and human relationships from the early days of personal computers to our current world of robotics, artificial intelligence, social networking and mobile connectivity. She has shown how technology doesn’t just catalyze changes in what we do – it affects how we think. In her current work, she investigates how the Internet has emerged as a new context for self-exploration and social encounter. Combined with other 21st Century technologies like psychopharmacology, robotics, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, biotechnology and artificial intelligence, it raises fundamental questions about selfhood, identity, community, and what it means to be human.

Turkle’s research reveals a great paradox: technology may make connectivity easier, but it comes at a cost. Are we more alone or more together in our digital culture? As we substitute face-to-face interactions with fast-and-easy – yet often shallow – communication via our gadgets, the result is too often one of alienation and emotional dislocation.

Her research also raises critical questions about technology’s role in business productivity, asking whether multi-tasking actually leads to deteriorating performance in each of our tasks. Does our always connected state affect our ability to think, to be creative, and to innovate?

Turkle received a joint doctorate in sociology and personality psychology from Harvard University and is a licensed clinical psychologist. She is the author of five books, including Psychoanalytic Politics: Jacques Lacan and Freud’s French Revolution; The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit; Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet; Simulation and its Discontents; and most recently, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, and the editor of three: Evocative Objects: Things We Think With; Falling For Science: Objects in Mind; and The Inner History of Devices.

She has been profiled in such publications as The New York Times, Scientific American and Wired, and was named "woman of the year" by Ms. Magazine and among the "Forty under Forty" who are changing the nation by Esquire. Turkle is a Fellow of the World Economic Forum, the Guggenheim and the Rockefeller Foundation Humanities, among others.

She is a featured media commentator on the social and psychological effects of technology for CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, Fox the BBC, and NPR, including appearances on such programs as Nightline, Frontline, The Colbert Report, Fox & Friends and 20/20.

TED Conference


An idea worth spreading

The idea that we think that constant connection will make us less lonely, but really we are at risk. It is really the reverse. If we don't know how to be alone, we will only be lonely. If we don't teach our children to alone, they will only know how to be lonely. How do you get from connection to isolation? You get to isolation if you don't develop the capacity for solitude. Solitude is where we find ourselves so that we can reach out to others and form reach attachments. If we don't develop the capacity for solitude, we turn to other people to feel less anxious or more alive. We tend not to see them for who they are. It is as if we are using them as spare parts to support our fragile self. We need to make room for solitude in our life and we need to mark the difference between connection (of which we have plenty) and conversation (of which we don't have nearly enough).

I'm passionate about

The quality of human conversation and connection. How technology can enhance this.

Talk to me about

The quality of conversation . . . in organizations . . . and among individuals . . .

People don't know I'm good at

interior design and architecture . . . these are passions!

Comments & conversations

Sherry Turkle
Posted over 3 years ago
Live Q&A with Sherry Turkle: How has digital technology changed the kind of communications you have with your friends, family & co-workers?
Dear Charlene, I think the focus should be on the relationship with the teen not the site. I watch Downton Abbey with my daughter. I don't think the point of these compulsive viewing sessions is our passion for early 20th century Britain. I think we want to share something we can talk about. The online world has many, many things for teens and parents to share if their relationships is right. I count Downton Abbey, which we watch on the computer as an "online space."
Sherry Turkle
Posted over 3 years ago
Live Q&A with Sherry Turkle: How has digital technology changed the kind of communications you have with your friends, family & co-workers?
Claire . . . I agree with everything you say. What is key is to honor the good but not be afraid to confront what has gone amiss. I think what too often happens is that people are afraid to confront what has not gone right. In my talk I say "We are smitten with technology, and like young lovers, we are afraid that too much talking will spoil the romance." I stand by this.