A Few Thoughts from Sherry Turkle’s ALONE TOGETHER: WHY WE EXPECT MORE FROM TECHNOLOGY AND LESS FROM EACH OTHER
The theme of Turkle’s indispensable book is in its title. It’s an old theme, originating, maybe, with the philosopher Rousseau. Technological progress is at the expense of personal virtue and the relational lives of persons.
I’m going to share just a few observations from one of Turkle’s notes (p. 308, note 11):
1. “As preteens, the young women of the first Google generation (roughly from 1987 to 1993) wore clothing widely referred to as ‘baby harlot’: they listened to songs about explicit sex well before puberty. Their boomer parents had few ideas about where to draw lines, having spent their own adolescence declaring the lines irrelevant.”
2. “One might say it’s the job of teenagers to complain about constraints and the job of parents is to insist on them, even if the rules are not obeyed. Rules, even unheeded, suggest that twelve to fifteen are not good ages to be emotionally and sexually enmeshed.”
3. “Today’s teenagers cannot easily articulate any rules about sexual conduct except for those that will keep them ‘safe.’ Safety refers to not getting venereal diseases or AIDS. Safety refers to not getting pregnant. And on these matters teenagers are eloquently unembarrassed, and startlingly well informed.”
4. “But teens are overwhelmed by how unsafe they feel in relationships. A robot to talk to is appealing—even if currently unavailable—as are situations that provide feelings of closeness without emotional demands.”
5. “Rampant fantasies of vampire lovers (closeness without constraints on sexuality) bear a family resemblance to ideas about robot lovers (sex without intimacy, perfect).”
6. “And closeness without the possibility of physical intimacy and eroticized encounters that can be switched off in an instant—these are the affordances of online encounters.”
7. “Online romance expresses the aesthetic of the robotic moment. From a certain perspective, they are a way of preparing for it.”
So we can say that transhumanists want to become robots not only to be freed from the necessity of decay and death characteristic of biological bodies. They want to be free from the shared responsibility and real intimacy characteristic of free and rational beings with biological bodies. Relationships are unsafe. Real love (and the corresponding real hate) are too scary and otherwise more trouble than they’re worth. We seem free to choose—and so we increasingly do choose—virtual lives, lives without the perception of real rules and constraints. An online relationship is almost as virtual or disembodied as a relationship with a robot.