mrkrndvs / Aaron Davis

I am a K-12 educator from Melbourne, Australia, supporting the integration of technology and innovation.

There are three people in mrkrndvs’s collective.

Huffduffed (276)

  1. Chocolate—the world’s most seductive treat and its dark shadow - Rear Vision - ABC Radio National

    Chocolate is one of our most popular indulgences but there is a darker side to the industry – one connected with colonialism, the industrial revolution and modern-day slavery.

    —Huffduffed by mrkrndvs

  2. Suburban Songbook chronicles the history of Australia’s homegrown songwriting - RN Breakfast - ABC Radio National

    Music writer Clinton Walker has launched his 11th book, Suburban Songbook: Writing Hits in Post-War / Pre-Countdown Australia. It celebrates the coming-of-age of Australian music, transitioning from a cover version culture in the 50s and 60s to one where original songwriting came to dominate.

    —Huffduffed by mrkrndvs

  3. Killing Eve S4 is baffling but that’s OK? [Do it your way!] - Stop Everything! - ABC Radio National

    This week we’re baffled by a few things: A viral thread on ‘mind hacks’ for dealing with Gen X weirdos  Louis C.K. Grammy win for best comedy album in which he talks about how masturbating in front of people is “his thing”  The fourth and final season of Killing Eve, but we’re also kind of OK with that? And Aaron Blabey — the New York Times-bestselling kids author talks about the Dreamworks Animation feature based on his hugely popular graphic novel series The Bad Guys, and how he stays connected to things that make 6-year-olds laugh. Show notes: Generation X is weird: Louis CK’s Grammy win: Aaron Blabey: Killing Eve:

    —Huffduffed by mrkrndvs

  4. 186 | Sherry Turkle on How Technology Affects Our Humanity – Sean Carroll

    Advances in technology have gradually been extending the human self beyond its biological extent, as we augment who we are with a variety of interconnected devices. There are obvious benefits to this — it lets us text our friends, listen to podcasts, and not get lost in strange cities. But as it changes how we interact with other people, it’s important to consider unintended side effects. Sherry Turkle is a psychologist and writer who specializes in the relationship between humans and their technology. She makes the case for not forgetting about empathy, conversation, and even the occasional imperfection in how we present ourselves to the world.

    Support Mindscape on Patreon.

    Sherry Turkle received her Ph.D. in sociology and personality psychology from Harvard University. She is currently Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT, founding director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, and a licensed clinical psychologist. Among her awards are a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Rockefeller Humanities Fellowship, the Harvard Centennial Medal, and she was named “Woman of the Year” by Ms. Magazine. Her new book is The Empathy Diaries: A Memoir.

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    0:00:00.5 Sean Carroll: Hello everyone, and welcome to The Mindscape Podcast. I’m your host, Sean Carroll. In some sense, as it’s been often pointed out, podcasts aren’t that different in spirit from just radio shows. Right? You’ve had shows on the radio for a very long time, but of course there’s also a difference and a lot of the difference between good old-fashioned radio shows and newfangled podcasts is the device by which you are receiving this podcast. It could be a portable device, a phone or a tablet, or it might be your laptop, but this new bit of extra technology lets you do what makes podcast great, which is you can listen whenever you want. It’s not like a radio show, you have to wait for that time. You can pause it, you can skip through the parts you find interesting and so forth. It’s a tiny change, maybe, but it’s an important one that has been made possible by this bit of technology, these devices we carry around with us, and it’s just one example about how these devices have really been transforming our lives and arguably even ourselves, who we are. We identify with and use our devices in ways that really hit who we are deep down, and maybe the world’s leading expert in this phenomenon is today’s guest, Sherry Turkle. Sherry is a professor at MIT who started out studying psychology and has a degree in psychology, that’s her PhD, but she became interested early on in the idea of technology and how it affects our psychology.

    0:01:31.3 SC: So she got a job at MIT, founding a new way of thinking about the relationship between human psychology and machines and technology, right at the beginning of artificial intelligence and the personal computer revolution and so forth. And even though she was initially quite optimistic about how we can use technology to make the human experience a better one, these days she finds herself, I think I would accurately say, more often pointing out the worries that we should have, not that she’s anti-technology in any way, but there are ways in which the technology sometimes moves ahead of our ability to understand what is going on. We all know how devices are extremely seductive. We can’t put down our phones. The young generation we have right now is growing up in a very different environment than older generations did because of how they relate to technology and to each other. It’s something where, in some sense, the art of conversation, of spontaneity of not knowing exactly what you wanna say and therefore spitting something out and maybe it’s not exactly right and you have to edit, that’s a kind of art form, or even just sitting in silence that you don’t need to face up to when you have this technological mediation. How does that change who we are, who we want to be, who we present ourselves as to the rest of the world?

    0:02:52.9 SC: Sherry has a new book out, which is actually a memoir, it’s called The Empathy Diary: A Memoir is the subtitle, and the idea of writing a memoir is because she does have this interesting intellectual place where she’s sitting, and she wanted to try to explain how she got there through her personal story, and The Empathy Diaries is an appropriate title because she wants to emphasize the importance of empathy and personal connection in an age where machines dominate our communication so strongly. I say all this, of course, knowing perfectly well that I am recording this podcast on just such a bit of technology and you are listening to it on just such a bit of technology. So again, not anti-technology here, but this is exactly the kind of situation where we shouldn’t let our enthusiasms run away without thinking about it, being cognitive, really trying to understand where we’re going rather than just racing willy-nilly from one shiny object to another. That’s what this podcast is trying to get us in the mood to do, so let’s go.


    0:04:10.8 SC: Sherry Turkle, welcome to the Mindscape Podcast.

    0:04:14.5 Sherry Turkle: My pleasure.

    0:04:16.6 SC: So this is an unusual interview. I’ve interviewed plenty of people who have books out, but you have a memoir out, which is a little bit of a departure, but I think it works well because we can use some of your biography to get into some of the substantive things that you’ve done over the years in technology and communication and so forth, so explain to the audience how you had a career path of becoming a psychologist and a clinical psychiatrist, I guess, and ended up at MIT thinking about technology.

    0:04:45.1 ST: Well, you sort of had to be there at the time.


    0:04:51.6 ST: But really, that’s why I wrote the memoir. The memoir is not a personal memoir. The memoir is a memoir of a very particular kind. It’s a memoir that tries to integrate… It’s in the spirit of the question you just asked, because it tries to integrate my personal story and how I ended up doing the work that I do. So it answers that very question. I went to MIT because I wanted to have a place to finish a book I was writing about how intellectual ideas get into the public space and sort of hit the street after they’ve been in the seminar room. So my case study was actually the popularization of French psychoanalysis in the years after 1968. There was this very esoteric guy named Jacques Lacan, hardly anybody read him, very hard to read, very opaque. And then there were these may events kind of parallel to front student movement we had here, and all of a sudden Jacques Lacan was like a movie star.


    0:06:23.2 ST: Everybody was in psychoanalysis. Everybody was quoting this very… Hardly understanding him, I guess. But psychoanalytic ideas were really in the popular culture in a very big way, and I was fascinated by this question of how ideas that are in academia…

    0:06:43.7 ST: Really become part of public discourse, in particular, ideas about thinking about the self, because that really influences therapeutic practice. That’s what my thesis was, that’s what all my study had been about, was about how really, in a culture, you can only help people to get better from what’s troubling them if you use the ideas that are in the culture, you need to use the ideas that are popular in the culture, to get through to people and explain their troubles to them in the metaphors that they can understand. So in American society, Freudian ideas, talking to people about their repression, or their Oedipus complex, or their childhood, that had been kind of in the public imagination for 30, 40, 50 years.

    0:07:47.4 SC: Sure.

    0:07:48.5 ST: And not at all in France, those ideas have been shunned, and then all of a sudden in the 60s, they were very much in the popular culture. And I said it got processed. And I went to MIT because there was a dean there who thought this work was very, very relevant to thinking about how artificial intelligence was gonna get out, and ideas about thinking about the computer were going to get out into the popular culture. Ideas like “Don’t interrupt me, I need to clear my buffer.”

    0:08:26.4 SC: [laughter] Not having enough bandwidth, yes.

    0:08:29.4 ST: “No, I don’t want you to reprogram me.” Ideas that represented the mind as a machine, how are those ideas going to get out? And they felt they sort of needed someone like me, someone who was not a computer expert, but a sort of expert on how ideas hit the street.

    0:08:54.8 SC: Yeah.

    0:08:57.6 ST: Move from the classroom and the laboratory into the culture, to think about the new ideas of computers and artificial intelligence. And I was writing up my dissertation as a book, and I said, “That sounds interesting”, and I sort of went to see, and I absolutely fell in love with the question.

    0:09:19.9 SC: Right.

    0:09:21.1 ST: I absolutely fell in love with the question, and 40 more years later, I’m just as much in love with this question of how, for example, these ideas about the metaverse now, are going to change our ideas about thinking about, “is reality important?”

    0:09:40.3 SC: Yeah.

    0:09:43.6 ST: Or “are we okay that we’re gonna leave reality and go to the metaverse?” All of a sudden you have all these very influential people saying “I wanna live in the metaverse, let’s all make avatars in the metaverse, let’s spend a lot of money in the metaverse, let’s have commerce, and meetings, and lovers in the metaverse.” Well, what about reality? [laughter] Who’s gonna take care of business? Does that mean that we’re gonna be sold on the idea that not only isn’t face-to-face reality important, but reality reality isn’t important either? Can we not take care of our streets, and our homes, and our public parks, and our offices, and our train stations because we’re just gonna go with the metaverse instead of being in physical space?

    0:10:39.4 SC: Right.

    0:10:40.8 ST: Where we don’t need to go to… I don’t wanna go on and on, but it’s the same sort of question, which is just as compelling now as then. So that’s how I made the transition from studying ideas from Freud and how they changed people’s lives, to studying ideas from technology and how they change how we think about living. That was the transition.

    0:11:09.8 SC: Not too long ago, we had a Lacanian psychoanalyst, or psychoanalytical theorist, on the Mindscape Podcast, Mari Ruti, and I just want to let anyone know who enjoyed that one, that there’s some very good Lacan stories in your memoir, Sherry.

    0:11:26.5 ST: Yes.

    0:11:27.3 SC: He was a character.

    0:11:27.8 ST: Well, I went to Paris and I basically said to him “Listen, I’m writing a book about the impact of your ideas on popular culture.” Where everybody was making something of this man’s ideas, different things, and usually opposite things, and I said “But you’ve gotta explain to me some of your ideas, because I’m really having some trouble here.” And I think he saw me, in French there’s an expression “l’idiot du village”, it means sort of like not a village idiot exactly, but some sort of naive.

    0:12:14.0 SC: Yeah.

    0:12:15.5 ST: And he who has a reputation for great opacity, said “Yeah, I’ll explain this to you.” And he was actually a very sensitive and very kind teacher to me, and I tried to, in this book and in everything I’ve written about him, try to communicate how he explained his ideas to me in a way that I could understand.

    0:12:42.0 SC: And you had the hotspot to invite him to give a seminar at MIT, which did not go exactly well as I…

    0:12:47.8 ST: Yes, I did, I…

    0:12:47.8 SC: Recall…

    0:12:50.1 ST: I did.


    0:12:51.5 SC: But let’s get into this mindset, ’cause it is a great sort of right place, right time story, where someone like you, at MIT in the 70’s, when it was sort of the first heyday of artificial intelligence and people were like you said, part of that is building artificial intelligence algorithms, but a flip side of that is thinking of human beings as machines. We human beings always do that the latest technology is the metaphor we use to start thinking about ourselves, so… How did that feel back then in the 70’s, where you optimistic? Were you like, “Oh yeah, human beings are gonna be machines.” Or were you already a little bit worried that people were taking this too straightforwardly, too far?

    0:13:32.3 ST: Well, I was… I was very worried because my background was to see… To me, it was… I called it a move from meaning to mechanism, from looking… The first thing that had hit me and the thing that had compelled me to do this, when I was teaching a course that had a unit on an introduction to Freud, and I was trying to explain what we call Freudian slips. And Freud in his book on slips and his notes on slips, explains Freudian slips. He calls them parapraxes by saying, by giving an example of a chairman who calls a meeting to order, but instead of calling the meeting to order, he says it’s… “I called the meeting closed.”


    0:14:22.9 ST: In other words, he substitutes closed for opened in the meting. And then he goes into a whole long rigmarole about how he might have done that, why he did that. His wife is sick, so he wants to get home. He’s ambivalent about what’s gonna happen in the meeting. I mean all the meaning, reasons that a Freudian would give to unpack that slip. And a hand is raised in the back of the room of a computer scientist who says, “I think that you’re looking at this in the wrong way. In a Webster’s Dictionary, closed and open or as far away as C and O. In a Freudian Dictionary, they’re opposites, closed and open are as far away as you can get. You have to go into all these meanings and ambivalence, and his wife is sick.”


    0:15:22.7 ST: “But in a Computational Dictionary, closed equals minus open. A symbol has been dropped when you make that mistake. There’s been a power surge.”

    0:15:33.8 SC: One bit.

    0:15:34.9 ST: “One bit. It’s no problem. It’s like nothing happened. You had a power surge on the line, so there’s no… You don’t need this whole big production, just there’s been a little glitch in the electricity. Your brain, your mind, your mind is a series of electrical circuits… Talk about something interesting. You have a mechanism here, there were nothing very interesting has happened.” And I was so taken aback because I realized that if you do see the mind as a machine, she was absolutely right, this whole infrastructure of meaning depended on a model that she didn’t believe in. From her point of view, there was no… There there in this story, and I saw that a structure in which you looked for meaning was shifting to a structure of mechanism that was gonna have all different kinds of assumptions…

    0:16:32.3 SC: I guess…

    0:16:34.1 ST: And I tell a story in the Empathy Diaries to illustrate this is what kept me at MIT. I mean then I was hooked. I was about to leave for some liberal artsy place. [chuckle] But then I was just hooked and I went to the debut of the movie TRON. The original with Marvin Minsky, who thought the mind was a meat machine. That’s how we said, “The mind is a meaty… ” Loved TRON because it showed the mind as a meat machine. It showed all the little programs interacting in the mind as little anthropomorphic programs. He’d loved that. And then he said, “And children will go see movies like this, and they’ll never see movies like Bambi.”


    0:17:28.9 ST: And I bit. I bit. He had me. I shouldn’t have risen to the bait, but I did. I said, “Why not Bambi? Every kid sees Bambi.” And he says, “Because in Bambi, the children get attached to their mothers and the mother dies, and in the world we’re going towards, the robots will be immortal, will be taken care of, not by the mothers, but by the immortal robots, there’ll be no death. We’ll be uploaded onto the computer… ” In other words, he gives me this whole AI version of how we’re on the way to this radical self-improvement in AI, and I realized, “Whoa, this just isn’t a theory, this is a whole way of… A philosophy of being in the world.” And I think that that really is what we’re struggling with now, even as we talk about the metaverse. It’s not… Or talk about robot caretakers for our children, or robot psychotherapists, which is being pushed so much, or robot companions or robots will love us, or… All of the things that are so current now in our discourse…

    0:18:53.0 ST: Is how much do we care about our bodies, about having human companions, about the specificity of being human. All of these were questions that were posed for the first time, when I first got to MIT, now we’re living them out in real technology that is being proposed to us, but they were proposed in theory when I first got there.

    0:19:20.4 SC: I’m interested in that story about the bit flipping in the Freudian slip context, because I can kind of see both sides here at a deep intellectual level. I’m sympathetic to the idea that the mind is a machine, that ultimately there’s neurons and the prevailing laws of physics, etcetera, but of course, it’s a kind of machine that is so enormously more complicated than what we build on our computers right now, that to think of a human being making that wrong word choice as just a bit flip is probably hopelessly naive, I would think.

    0:19:53.0 ST: Well, also where I think I do believe along with the tradition and represent by phenomenologist, Werl Lokanki and then computer world by Hubert Dreyfus, by Antonio de Mascio, that we’re a particular kind of machine that’s attached to our bodies and very specific bodies and bodies that have a life cycle and bodies that feel pain and bodies that know they’re gonna die, and bodies that were born, and bodies that grew up being attached to parents on whom they were dependent, that I think that those experience, those embodied experiences and those experience of dependency and attachment really create a specificity of the human that even if you have a neuronal accident and you drop a bit because sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and you’ll say open when you mean close because let’s say…

    0:20:58.3 SC: You stumbled.

    0:21:00.6 ST: Whatever, a bit drop. Still, when you do that, it triggers associations from all of those other systems and with all of those other consequences. So I think that we are more complex. I always like to quote, it’s so funny that when you write several books, ’cause people sometimes say, “Well, do you repeat yourself?” And I say, “I intentionally repeat. A couple of times, I’ve intentionally repeated a story because I loved it so much, and I wanted to give the author credit.” I don’t repeat stories of mine, but I repeat other people’s work. And Peter Kramer wrote a book, Listening to Prozac, quite a few years ago, but he tells a story at the beginning of Listening to Prozac, it was a very big book when he wrote it, he got a lot of credit for how brilliantly it was written, but I give him extra, extra credit because he began it with the following story that I think sums up the human condition, and the question you’ve just asked me so perfectly.

    0:22:12.7 ST: And the story is this, that he was a psychiatrist working at Brown University in the Counseling Department, and a student comes in, he says he’s depressed, and Prozac was just coming out, and Kramer gives student Prozac for the depression. Three weeks later, the student comes in and the student says, I’m not sleeping. And Kramer, the last notes he has in his student chart for the chart, says that he gave Prozac and he knows that prozac sometimes leads to sleep disorders. He says, not to worry, I’ll give you something for the sleeping, this often happens when people take Prozac, and the student says to him, no, I didn’t take the Prozac, I’m not sleeping because I feel guilty towards you about not having followed your advice.

    0:23:08.0 SC: Right.

    0:23:10.5 ST: And Kramer says that in less than a heartbeat, in less than a second, and that it didn’t take a second, he went from seeing that student as a bundle of synapses that he was gonna treat with Prozac and serotonin and the synapse to seeing that student as in an oedipal context and he and the transference and what had happened in the transference to him, and what about his relationship with his father and as part of a family system, and how was he gonna deal with this family system and his whole relationship to this completely divorced, from this whole thing about the mind is a machine and what the Prozac do at the synapse, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. And he said, “That is what is extraordinary about the human condition, that we can relate to each other and at the same time, machine to machine, Prozac giver to Prozac receiver, and as oedipal transference figure to some. And then the way he describes that flip, and then of course he had a flip back because then the question is, what can Prozac result? Maybe he wants to try Prozac. But then it’s that way that we all live, that really is the human condition, that we are both, and that one doesn’t exclude the other, and it’s time that we stop behaving…

    0:24:58.8 SC: As though, “Well, we’ll just go into the metaverse so we don’t need to be in our bodies anymore.” You know what I mean? [laughter] We have to stop behaving as though we’re on the red… We’re behaving like we all saw the matrix and we have to choose between the red pill and the blue pill. We have to… Actually, our situation is that we don’t get to do one pill or the other pill, we live in a fully hybrid world. Our minds now are in a fully hybridized situation, so we’re talking now on… You see where I’m going, so I’ll stop my lecture. But we…


    0:25:38.9 ST: But the human condition is that we are both.

    0:25:41.6 SC: I wish I had known that story because when I wrote my book, The Big Picture, I talked a lot about how you can describe the same situation using different vocabularies that are very different in content, but are both right as long as they’re compatible with each other. This is a great example of exactly that.

    0:26:00.6 ST: Yes. Well, it’s the same thing, except what I think that happens to clinicians. What happens to people… What happens to… And this gets back to your first question about being a clinician, is that if you’re a clinician, you operate… You have to operate on both levels because we do have drugs, we do have medications that can… Where not to use the medications would be wrong. To say, “No, I’m just talking to… I’m just talking to everybody, Freudian mind to Freudian mind,” that would be wrong because these medications do calm people down to the point where they’re more accessible for conversation. So certainly someone like Kramer is not a completely anti-medication person, but the point then is to have a conversation with the more complex person who did have a relationship with his father, and so when some fancy psychiatrist said, “Do this,” he said, “Hell with that. I don’t wanna do that. I don’t wanna do anything that an older man tells me to do, no,” but then later, he came back realising he was… There was something maybe to learn here, since now he was depressed and angry at Peter Kramer and angry at his father [chuckle] and still depressed, and maybe there was something to get out of this experience.

    0:27:25.2 SC: And speaking of conversations, this provides a wonderful segue because it is a different world that we’re in now than we were in the ’70s in terms of how this technological revolution is going to affect us, and I think that the idea of people carrying around small mobile devices that are conduits to interacting with the whole world was probably not nearly as appreciated in the 70s as it is manifest to us right now. You’ve done a lot of work and thought a lot about how having these devices changes how we behave, but also who we are. In fact, you already mentioned the fact, as Antonio Damasio’s another former podcast cast, and he and others have really emphasised the existence of the body as an important part of who we are, and now in some sense, these little phones and iPads and laptops that we carry around are becoming extensions of our body and changing who we are.

    0:28:17.6 ST: Yes. Actually, in the Empathy Diaries, I talk about the change in my work because in the beginning, my first book, when I got to MIT and I saw this new world of devices and AI and thinking of the mind as a machine and the way people… I called my first book The Second Self because I saw the way people were projecting themselves onto the computer, I called an evocative object, because it was sort of on the border between mind and not mind, I thought it was a place where people were exploring their sense of self and their question of free will. And I even said, what sex was the Victorians…


    0:29:01.2 ST: The question of free will is to our generation, that programming brings up that question of free will. I wasn’t positive, I was talking about all of these very… These big questions that AI raised, but it was a book of discovering and exploration. Then when the mobile phone… And I wrote another book that was very positive, which is a book called Life on the Screen, where I talk about people going into Muds and things like the metaverse and playing Sims and Second Life, and again, exploring through avatars, gender and their personality and taking on different roles and doing role-playing, and I saw the dangers, but I also talked about them as identity workshops and placed how cyber space was a place to play with identity.

    0:29:56.3 ST: Again, I talked about the problems, I talked about addiction, I talked about… I talked about a lot of things, but my attitude was, “These are places of psychological possibility. Let’s study them.” I’m basically an empiricist, I’m not a moral philosopher. But when I saw that people were walking around with…


    0:30:20.7 ST: With the world of computation to enter [laughter] just [laughter] like that…

    0:30:30.7 SC: Sherry is holding up her phone too. [laughter]

    0:30:34.7 ST: I’m holding up my phone, and I’m applying it directly to my head.

    0:30:36.3 SC: Yeah. [laughter]

    0:30:40.3 ST: My attitude shifted because my model of how people had been using the phone as an identity device involved sitting on your couch with your friends and your family and your baby and your lover or your mother, your brother, [laughter] your… And then walking away, going to your office, sitting at your computer and doing some identity exploration, and getting up from your chair and walking back to your living room and being with your family again. In other words, it was going to the place of therapy or experimentation or being in a parallel universe and then coming back to the real.

    0:31:36.6 SC: Right.

    0:31:37.3 ST: And what the phone did is it broke that barrier. So the people were cycling through.

    0:31:43.5 ST: People were cycling, they called it cycling through. In the original model, people kind of cycle through the real and this metaverse, and then the cycling through became… The rapid cycling became so rapid that the boundaries broke down and people were going back and forth and back and forth and back. The people said that the world really that they were accessing from their phone was more real than their real life, was often more compelling than their real life, and what distresses me now is that people are saying… Let me just not say the people, Mark Zuckerberg or anybody who’s pushing the metaverse, which is increasingly a lot of companies ’cause they’re gonna make a lot of money on it, they’re saying, “That’s right. We are gonna make the metaverse more compelling than the real. You’re gonna wanna work in the metaverse, you’re gonna wanna play in the metaverse, you’re gonna wanna… “

    0:32:38.1 ST: And I saw a New Yorker cartoon that was… I was trying to explain it to some friends, and I think I’m gonna make it like my holiday cartoon. [chuckle] It was like a cartoon about things that we’re gonna have a hard time explaining to the next generation, like things that will be difficult for my grandchildren to understand, how it used to be, where a grandmother is with her grandchild, and the grandmother has Oculus glasses on, and she’s saying to the grandchild, “Okay, now when we’re together now in the metaverse, do you see me with these goggles or do you just see me or do you see me without the goggles?” And the little grandchild says to the grandmother, “Oh, no, grandma, I see you as a unicorn because that’s the avatar I made for you.” So the grandmother says, “You mean you don’t see me, your grandma when I visit you?” And the grandchild says, “No, no, it’s just you’re a unicorn.” And the grandmother says, “So what’s the point?”


    0:33:47.0 SC: Why do you need me?

    0:33:49.8 ST: “Why are we… ” “So, if you don’t see me, what’s the point of this visit?”

    0:33:54.7 SC: Deep question there.

    0:33:57.3 ST: I mean, now we’re pushing, the… It was so touching to me because… I like it so much that I can see you. Your listeners don’t know, but I can actually see you.

    0:34:12.2 SC: It helps the conversation.

    0:34:13.3 ST: It means everything to me that I can see you. I mean, if you were just there as a little avatar, a unicorn, how’s that gonna help me? I see you, I see your books, I see you’re a guy who has posters. I don’t know, it’s just nice.

    0:34:33.8 SC: [chuckle] Well, I guess, yeah, the metaverse, I wasn’t planning to go there, but it is a compelling thing. Let me pretend to push back because I think I get your…

    0:34:44.9 ST: No, push back.

    0:34:46.1 SC: Yeah, I think I get your point, but in the metaverse, we call it the metaverse, I guess, because Facebook decided that’s what they want it to be.

    0:34:54.4 ST: Yeah, I mean, whatever.

    0:34:55.4 SC: It’s virtual reality, yeah.

    0:34:56.9 ST: Yeah, it’s virtual reality.

    0:34:58.6 SC: I had a little house in Second Life, I’ve given talks in Second Life, etcetera. Not very advanced technologically, but you can look however you want, you can live however you want, you can travel by teleporting or flying. I see the attraction there. How should we think about using that in the original optimistic sense of identity workshops? I mean, if you…

    0:35:25.3 ST: Yeah, I’ve studied that for years and years, and I’m completely… I was a great fan of that because it has very powerful, very positive things to it. You get to play with identity, you get to play… People can play with gender. Young people can be old, you get to play with what it’s like to be an old person if you’re young and how you’re treated. If you’re a woman, you get to see the kind of authority you have as a man, if you’re short, you get to be tall. I remember being… I say I’m five four, but I’m lying, I’m really five three and a half and, I get to see what it would like to be five eight, five nine even. It’s a different experience. It is a very powerful thing to play with elements of identity and to present yourself in different ways, and these are very… That whole notion of… I talk in my work on this about Erik Erikson’s idea of the moratorium, about how he wrote about how in adolescence traditionally, people were allowed to kind of time out to try different things, to experiment with different things. There’s no moratorium in American society now, I mean, like that.

    0:36:48.6 ST: I mean, now on Facebook. From eight, you’re tracked, you have a trail of… But it’s not even that you’re tracked, there’s no sort of time out, there’s no idea of… There’s no notion of adolescence as a time of no consequence, there’s no Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer time, there’s no Life on the Mississippi, there’s no sense of 13-year-olds or 13-year-olds, but that’s because 13-year-olds didn’t use to carry guns and shoot people. There was a sense of a childhood, boys will be boys, but when the level of… Well, you know what I mean? When the level of violence and aggression reaches a certain point, swiping some of the… You’re not… It becomes too much. In any case, that’s out of… American life doesn’t have that anymore, but it was nice to have those. That sense of adolescence is a time when people tried on identities. For example, people tried on, “I’m gonna try on Catholicism.” It used to be a lot of… In my circle, people would try out being Catholic or try out being a Muslim. People are not trying out so much religion because it goes with such a heavy… Now it goes with such a heavy overlay of other meanings. So that’s what it’s good for. It’s good for all of this trying out. Now, when the metaverse becomes, or when augmented reality or virtual reality really becomes the place where we live, where consequential decisions are made, it’s where we have our relationships, it’s where we go to work, it’s where we…

    0:38:42.0 ST: We sculpt a primary sense of identity, where I wake up, I put on my glasses or my contacts or my goggles and that really becomes me. Our ways of having conversations are gonna change. Our ways of being spontaneous, are gonna change. Our ways of experiencing our physicality, our commitment to the environment, our commitment to the city, our commitment to what our streets look like are gonna change. Our commitment to what our offices look like. If you anticipate that four days a week, people are gonna be working virtually, living free, you’re more likely to say, “Well, on the two days or they come to work, well, it doesn’t matter so much, they’re at a beautiful office or what their office is like or… ” And I think, we reveal so much to each other when we’re with each other face to face.

    0:39:47.6 SC: There’s something very interesting here in just… In many ways, but with the question of identity in particular, as just one example, I think you brought up sort of two flip sides, one is that in virtual spaces, we can try on different identities, right? On the internet, no one knows you’re a dog, you can play act, but at the same time in our… If you wanna call it the real world or tangible physical reality, it’s had the opposite effect. You can’t reinvent yourself as easily because you have this record out there on Twitter, Facebook or whatever, and I remember there was a poignant moment in one of your books where you mentioned students in college wistfully saying, “I guess it used to be possible to go to college and be a different person, but you can’t know ’cause everyone can look you up on Facebook and they know who you are.”


    0:40:42.5 ST: Yes. Yes and the idea that virtual reality becomes a place for experimentation, because you can somehow try to erase an avatar and what about when you can’t erase an Avatar anymore? I mean, what makes us think that… You know, I think the virtual reality, as the metaverse becomes more corporate, this whole notion of its playfulness is gonna go away too, because you’re gonna be dealing with real money and selling real things and you’re gonna need to have a real reputation, it’s not just gonna be, “Oh, that was my avatar because I wanted to work out something.”


    0:41:21.9 ST: So I think that a lot of the things that I saw and so positive about this identity space are going to fade, fall off as it becomes more like it was, as it becomes our real life.

    0:41:35.4 SC: Yeah, so basically…

    0:41:35.6 ST: But I’m actually very concerned about the kinds of relationships and attachments and empathy that you get avatar to avatar… Because I think that what defines us is human ultimately. This is play time, it’s great to have all these technologies and to play with them and to see their affordances and to see what they’re good for and to… I’m not a Luddite, I think we should all try everything and I don’t believe in closing down work on anything and nothing like that, but I think we’ve had a little experience now and I don’t think that… I think we’ve learned that too much time online, too much time on screens, we don’t form the same sorts of attachments, we don’t form the same sorts of sense of responsibility and connection, it’s just easy to ghost somebody. The amount of people and relationships, both, both romantic, but also work relationships, of all sorts, relationships of all sorts, not just, “Oh, my boyfriend ghosted me, but my colleague ghosted me, my friend ghosted me.” are just the sort of vague, talk to you soon, ciao, ciao. You know and then somehow they’re… [laughter] They’re gone. You know, there’s… Colleagues and… Because they can just… Not because they’re being mean or even feel they’re being unprofessional, but because they can. Really.

    0:43:27.1 SC: Yeah, I know.

    0:43:28.4 ST: I had a very significant relationship with an editorial colleague and… Who I meant very well and he meant me very well and then… I think I had… If all of our meetings have been… If our relationships had not been so internet-mediated, things would’ve ended differently because this way it was just like, “Oh, ciao, ciao. See you online.” And then emails don’t get answered and it just was very vague or they get answered with a very cursorily and just because you can. Not because people are trying to be… People can end things and defer things and not get back to you and in business practice, just because they can. And people don’t wanna be vulnerable, people don’t like, for example, firing people or rejecting people, professionally, I’m not just talking about in personal life or love, but nobody wants to send a rejection letter, much easier to just not answer and so not answering becomes like a thing, because you can. Ghosting isn’t just for lovers, ghosting is for every level of professional life now. [chuckle] I should write a book called, “Ghosting is not just for lovers.”

    0:45:00.7 SC: There you go. I like that. Alright. It’s a great title.

    0:45:01.0 ST: I think I love it. Ghosting is not… Ghosting is for every level of professional life, you could just don’t answer, it goes away.

    0:45:08.5 SC: Well, it seems to something tangible about this difference because on the one hand, it’s easy to say that higher levels of connectivity help us meet and interact with a wider variety of people and that’s good, but what you’re pointing out is that those connections that we make seem to us much more disposable and temporary and ephemeral than the ones we make in meets face.

    0:45:32.1 ST: If we want them to be.

    0:45:34.2 SC: Yeah.

    0:45:34.6 ST: If we want them to be. I mean, I had a wonderful… You know, Stephen Colbert had his… His original show, I was on it, it was called The Colbert Report. When I was on that program, he’s such a brilliant man, and he asked… And I guess “Alone Together” had just come out and he interviewed me for that book, and it was such a privilege ’cause he’s so brilliant. And he asked me the following question, he said, in character as whoever he was… The character he was playing, the Steven Colbert character, and the question was, “Don’t all those little sips of connection add up to one big gulp of conversation?”

    0:46:16.6 SC: Yeah.

    0:46:17.9 ST: And I said, “No.”

    0:46:18.7 SC: No.

    0:46:19.6 ST: They don’t, but it was the greatest question, it was exactly the question, ’cause a thousand sips of connection during the day are not the same as sitting down with somebody and saying, “Look, I’ve sent you my art work for critique, I wanna know if your gallery is interested in me, you’ve had it for a year, I’ve gotten nothing, could… I’d like… You’ve had my slides, could we have a five-minute conversation about them and whether I should be considering you as a gallery for my future or if I should move on? And that conversation doesn’t happen.

    0:47:07.5 SC: Right.


    0:47:10.5 ST: You can’t… I’m mean, I’m not an artist, but I’ve interviewed enough artists to know that conversation doesn’t happen.

    0:47:14.5 SC: Well, and what I like about the analysis you give of this is that, you make the point that a lot of things we would think of as bugs or disadvantages of person-to-person conversation are actually features. Right? Are actually things that are really necessary, the awkwardness, the silence, the getting it not quite right the first time you say it, right? You try to make the point that these are actually useful and helpful parts of the process, not things we should polish away.

    0:47:46.3 ST: Yes, one of my favorite interviews on this point was a young woman who I was interviewing about conversation, and she says “There’s an eight-minute rule that you have to really listen to somebody for eight minute, in order to understand what they’re saying.”


    0:48:05.7 SC: That’s a long time.

    0:48:06.7 ST: Because they stop, they start… I mean, if you really wanna understand, even if you like somebody, we’re really like, not even romantically, but she was talking… Just like, “Who is this person?” In her experience, it takes eight minutes, it says, people say it takes less than a nano-second for people to know if they wanna be intimate with each other, but it takes eight minutes and I’m willing to believe that, but it takes eight minutes to figure out, who is this? I mean, who is this? What is their experience? Where… Are they a child of a Holocaust survivor, have they been abused? Have they… What… Who am I talking to? Who am I talking to? Is this somebody who’s been abandoned? Is this somebody who’s spent their life trying to carve out individual identity? Who am I talking to? And after saying that, I’m thinking, “I found my goddess.” And this is my… This is my woman. And then she says, “But I don’t have the patience to do that.” I just, I can’t stay away from my phone that long, I’ve lost my ability, I’ve lost my ability to hang in there.

    0:49:26.4 ST: And I feel that there is a kind of vicious circle of our incapacity for solitude, our incapacity for boredom, our incapacity to stay with people for eight minutes, our incapacity to just be with… To just be with people and just kind of take them in, to give them that kind of patience. Because in the meta-verse, Something’s always happening, you’re making… The avatars just don’t sit around kind of like a lump. It’s an active environment and we get used to constant activity and boredom is your imagination calling to you, and so in The Empathy Diaries, what I try to do is, I try to link my personal story in growing up in a particular kind of household with empathy denied me, to my interest in how important empathy is and how… When you create a technological environment in which empathy is going to be denied to a lot of people, and you’re gonna have robots and chatbots who can’t show empathy at all, how you’re playing with fire, and that’s really more… That’s more the messaging, I think, that my work now has, is that we’re at a point where we… Given who we are psychologically, we’re playing with fire, with who we are psychologically as humans.

    0:51:27.4 SC: How well do we understand psychologically speaking, why the devices have this pull on us? Why it is so hard even though we’ve…

    0:51:35.1 ST: They’re designed to, because we know a lot about human psychology, we know for example, what makes us compelled to stay at something, we’re compelled by devices that engages with rage, for example. We know that we’re engaged by being angry, we know that we’re engaged by anxiety, we know that we’re engaged by not having stable feedback but by having intermittent positive feedback or… So all of the… Facebook’s algorithms engage us by keeping us angry, by keeping us on the edge of our seat, by giving us intermittent feedback and by keeping us in a silo with other people who agree with us, and who are gonna make us angrier and angrier and… So the more we… So we’re… It’s like we’re in a slot machine that’s been designed specifically for us. When we sit down to play a video game or when we sit down to do a little Facebook, we think we’re just doing a little talking to our friends, but everything is designed to keep us in a… To get mad, to stay with people who are gonna keep us mad. That’s a way… And to be shown ads for things that we really are pretested to know that we want. So we’re sort of like a trembling string of purchase, purchase…


    0:53:11.2 ST: Being made angry, being shown more pictures of things that are gonna make me angry. It’s not just people who are being made angry by being told that there’s… It’s not just people on the right who are being made angry.

    0:53:22.8 SC: Oh, yeah.

    0:53:23.4 ST: I’m on the left, and I’m being… [chuckle] I’m being constantly revved up by being shown things that are gonna make me angrier and angrier on the left. In other words, sometimes people get this wrong impression that, “Oh, it’s only people on the right who’re being shown Pizzagate and think crazy things, crazy stories of things that couldn’t possibly be true about vaccines or stuff.”

    0:53:53.1 SC: Right. [laughter]

    0:53:53.3 ST: No, it’s everybody being shown things that are gonna make me crazy, the Canadian truckers and [laughter] Nazi flags being… Desecrating things that I think are important. So I’m being whipped up into a crazed state, and then I’m being thrown in with people who are gonna… Who are also furious and make me feel as though I’m in a community of other angry crazed people, and so it’s styling us into more and more tribal… Well, this isn’t good. Obviously, this is…


    0:54:30.2 SC: Yeah, yeah.

    0:54:30.6 ST: So if your question was, well, how does it keep… Why are we being so compelled, is that we know so much about human psychology, and this… All this smart knowledge is being turned towards making our devices compelling to us.

    0:54:52.0 SC: Is it a good analogy to think of it like almost as empty calories? We seek out sugary sweet things, because 10,000 years ago, it was hard to get calories, and we were trained to look for those, and now, that’s not really the best thing we can have for our health. And likewise, these psychological techniques that our devices or our social media used to hook us are giving us something we do want, but it’s sacrificing something harder and more important. Is that a good way of thinking of it?

    0:55:28.3 ST: Well, that’s such a good question. I’m not sure that we would be so tempted if our society wasn’t in a period of such social fragmentation.

    0:55:40.8 SC: Okay.

    0:55:40.9 ST: In other words, everything is working in sort of a very vicious circle of unhappy lockstep to get us to a point we’re sitting alone in our room, getting angry, buying stuff and hanging out with other angry people seems like a good idea.

    0:56:07.0 SC: Yeah.

    0:56:09.1 ST: So there are these wonderful studies about the precipitous… And this is even before COVID, the precipitous decline in civic organisations. I mean, America, for all of its terrible problems in systemic racism, all the things that have gotten us into so much trouble, inequality and so forth, one of the miracles of the country that de Tocqueville noticed it in 1830 was our amazing… The amazing organisation of our civic organisations, our floral garden clubs, the Women’s Clubs, the church organisations, the coral societies that every group… Every county had, the bands that every city had, the high school marching bands, the organisation, the parents teachers associations, that if you moved into a community and you wanted to make friends, there were 15 things in your community that were waiting for you.

    0:57:33.7 SC: Yeah.

    0:57:35.0 ST: And that those have just been closing at a clip, and that there seems to be very little pushback as those close. People are just not feeling that connection to their communities anymore as these close. So yes, you still have religious organisations, you still… The fact that the Catholic Church has had such a terrible crisis and such a terrible encounter with its historical tragedies was certainly something that had to happen, but their goal, [chuckle] all of those organisations in the parish that kept people at making lunches for each other and elderly people and kids and… So there’s some… There’s…

    0:58:42.6 ST: It’s… That’s a big loss to a community, and that’s true of religious organisations across the board and other kinds of civic organisations as well. Similarly, when I was a kid growing up, I lived on a block where we had a Democratic club, and God knows what kind of graft and corruption was going on.


    0:59:08.2 ST: I didn’t even know, you know?

    0:59:09.8 SC: Yeah.

    0:59:09.9 ST: I’ve no comment, I haven’t studied it, but this was just happened to be a block in Brooklyn, where I’m sure there was not a Republican… This Democratic club didn’t have to do a lot of politicking to get votes.


    0:59:23.3 ST: So instead, they had like… They had speeches, and they had children’s fairs, and they had civics lessons, and they had… It was a community, and they had public dinners, and they had an elderly program, and they had… That’s not happening anymore. [laughter]

    0:59:45.7 SC: Yeah.

    0:59:47.3 ST: So that’s not what the local Democratic club is doing. It’s professional organisers coming in, and I think public dinners and getting seniors meals and door-to-door giving out food is gone. And I guess I’m saying that we’re… The society is quite atomised and the idea of digital friends, for example, it’s such a crazy idea, because there’s no friend there, there’s no person there to be a friend, and yet I’ve interviewed so many people who say that seems like such a good idea, to have a digital friend, a friend who can never disappoint you.


    1:00:28.0 SC: Well, I do think that, again, the flip side of this would be that there are people who don’t fit in to their local communities and can find like-minded individuals much more easily over the internet than they can in physical space.

    1:00:45.1 ST: Yes, yes, and I’m 100… Right. I’m for it, I’m for it. But there are two different things, there’s using the internet to find other people and there’s using a program to be a friend.

    1:00:52.9 SC: Good, yeah.

    1:00:53.4 ST: And I think it’s very important to make this distinction. I love using the internet to find other people, and then potentially, you convert that relationship… At a certain point, you say, “Hey, let’s have a coffee,” or next time you’re in… If you’re far away, you meet halfway or you try to find a person who is not necessarily 3000 miles away, but you try to find a… People join chess clubs or playing word games or whatever and they meet, or they get on Zoom, or they… They become closer and closer to the reality of another person. There, I’m really using the internet to join with other humans and to ultimately get to a meet-up with humans where you can build on. Now, I could not be more crow…

    1:01:56.0 SC: Right. [laughter]

    1:01:56.8 ST: While I actually see more and more people wanting to make friends with chatbots as an alternative to the vulnerability of dealing with another person.

    1:02:08.0 SC: Well, this is another…

    1:02:10.5 ST: So I guess I wasn’t making myself clear, is that I actually see a slippage right past using the internet to talk with other people, where you’re less vulnerable because you can go stem or kind of just keep the conversation simple, moving right past that to having psychotherapy with a chatbox and then having a best friend chatbot, a companion chatbot.

    1:02:38.9 SC: And you already did mention the idea that we’re building robot therapists or companions for elderly or kids or whatever, and…

    1:02:44.8 ST: Yes.

    1:02:46.0 SC: So are you… What is your take on that? Is it a good stopgap…

    1:02:51.1 ST: All bad, all bad, all bad.

    1:02:51.2 SC: All bad? Okay, all bad.

    1:02:53.9 ST: No, because it gives… I have nothing… I really have nothing good to say, because even if… The whole point is, the people who are for it, say the people… You can’t tell you’re talking to a… If you can’t tell you’re not talking to a person, what’s the harm?


    1:03:15.1 ST: And to me, that’s the profoundly dangerous… Profoundly dangerous position, I would say, that gives up on the essential of the human endeavour, it’s the Turing position. If you’re talking to a machine and you can’t tell it’s a machine, the machine is intelligent. Well, no, not necessarily. It just means the machine has fooled you into thinking… Into not being able to tell. It doesn’t mean that it’s intelligent at all. So would you want it to make a decision about Warren Peace? Would you want it to make a decision about your child? Would you want it to make a decision about… Would you wanna discuss a relationship with it? Would you wanna discuss questions of equity or social justice with it? It has no skin in the game. It doesn’t care, it doesn’t care about the future of the planet, it doesn’t care about my baby, it doesn’t care about my life, it doesn’t love me. It has no… I really mean skin in the game was… That’s what came to mind, that’s what I said. Literally, it has no humanity, it has no stake.

    1:04:24.2 SC: Literal skin. [laughter] Right.

    1:04:26.6 ST: It’s the people who have the stake, it’s the people who can form attachments, the machine can’t form an attachment that matters with you. So like during COVID, a New York Times reporter called me and he said that he… Millions of people were signing up or hundreds of thousands to this new wonderful chatbot, and did I wanna comment, and I said, “Well, sure, I’ll sign up and I’ll try it out and… “

    1:04:55.2 ST: And I would… And I said, “But you’re looking for me not to like it, right? Because you know I’m… ” He said, “Well, yeah, because everybody likes it and you’re sure not to like it.” So I said, “Look, I’m not gonna just say, it’s bad, I’m gonna try it out.” So I tried it out, and I made an avatar. I made an avatar of a female therapist, and I just sat down and I said, “Well, it’s the pandemic, are you… Can we have a conversation in which you’re my… We have a conversation about things that are troubling me during the pandemic… During quarantine,” and the chatbot said yes, and I can… I said, “Well, can we discuss loneliness? Because that’s my biggest problem.”

    1:05:37.0 SC: Mm-hmm.

    1:07:08.8 ST: I need to talk to a person who has a body, who is over 60. And who’s lonely. This is… The fact that it could pretend to be lonely, and then tomorrow it will succeed in pretending to be lonely is of no use to me, and this is why it’s inhuman to have people talking to this. And when… Everybody else liked it, so I was a dissenting voice. I think he had me…

    1:07:40.3 SC: Yeah, you were… You played your role.

    1:07:41.8 ST: As a dissenting voice. But it’s… We deserve… We deserve each other. It’s an area in which I don’t think that they’re so much good that artificial intelligence can do. To pretend to be human in an area that is so uniquely human, empathy, body sense, life cycle, children. It’s just overreach, you know? It’s just profound overreach.

    1:08:11.8 SC: Well, maybe as a set of closing thoughts, we all have these devices, we all use the internet, it’s that’s not going away, are there… From your research, from your thinking about these things, are there strategies or techniques you’ve come up with for dealing with them in healthy ways? Do you think that people on the street are sort of making some common mistakes that we can fix, or should we leave it to the companies that are building these devices to try it?

    1:08:38.7 ST: No, no. [laughter]

    1:08:39.4 SC: I didn’t think so, I just wanted to check.

    1:08:41.7 ST: No, I think there’s some very common… Well, the common things for dealing with your daily use should to be, no phones in the car, you should say to your children, the car… You make sacred spaces in your life where the devices don’t go, so you leave room for conversation. Not the car, not anything having to do with food preparation or food eating. So not the kitchen, not the table, and not the car. You just say the car is your captive audience, and this is where we talk.

    1:09:18.5 SC: Alright.

    1:09:19.5 ST: And your children say, no, this is where I do my social media. And when they’re young enough, you say, no, I’m driving, so I’m not doing my social media, and this is… It’s important that our family talk. So the most important thing is to establish that it’s important that human beings talk to each other and… That’s the first thing that I think that sort of getting back the importance of conversation goes a long way in a family towards putting phones away when they should be. And phones shouldn’t be in classrooms, and they shouldn’t be at dinner, they shouldn’t be in places where we are gathering as human beings.

    1:10:00.3 ST: The question of substituting artificial intelligence for empathic humans, that is a question that we need to be constantly discussing because it really… Once you talk about it and say, does something that has no body, that was never a child, that was never sick, that doesn’t know pain, that was never in a family that never wanted love, that was never rejected, Is that gonna understand me? In the way I need to be understood. During COVID is something that doesn’t fear death, something that’s gonna understand my problems now, and if not, well, it shouldn’t be your personal chat partner. You need to find yourself a person, and let the Internet help us find people. All for that, all for that.

    1:11:06.8 SC: Let the Internet help us find people. I think that’s a good piece of advice to end on. So, Sherry Turkle, thanks so much, for being on The Mindscape Podcast.

    1:11:13.8 ST: My pleasure.


    —Huffduffed by mrkrndvs

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