Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet

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Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet

RL is just one more window, and it’s usually not my best one.” These are the words of a college student who considers the worlds he inhabits through his computer as real as RL–real life. He’s talking about the time he spends “being” four different characters in three different MUDs–multi-user domains–as well as the time he spends doing his homework on the computer. As he sees it, he splits his mind and “turns on one part” and then another as he cycles from window to window on his screen. The computer and the Internet allow him to explore different aspects of himself. As another user puts it, “You are who you pretend to be.”

Since Sherry Turkle published her seminal book The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit, we have experienced dramatic change in the way we use and view computers. We no longer give “commands” to a machine; we enter into dialogues, navigate simulated worlds, and create virtual realities. Further, the psychological holding power of the computer is no longer limited to one-on-one person/machine interaction. Millions of people now interact with one another via computers on networks, where they have the opportunity to talk, to exchange ideas and feelings, and to assume personae of their own creation.

Life on the Screen is a book not about computers, but about people and how computers are causing us to reevaluate our identities in the age of the Internet. We are using life on the screen to engage in new ways of thinking about evolution, relationships, politics, sex, and the self.

Life on the Screen traces a set of boundary negotiations, telling the story of the changing impact of the computer on our psychological lives and our evolving ideas about minds, bodies, and machines. What is emerging, Turkle says, is a new sense of identity–as de-centered and multiple. She describes trends in computer design, in artificial intelligence, and in people’s experiences of virtual environments that confirm a dramatic shift in our notions of self, other, machine, and world. The computer emerges as an object that brings postmodernism down to earth.

In nearly two decades of field work, Turkle has observed and participated in settings where people and computers meet; she has talked to people about their experience of using computers; and, in a certain sense, she has interrogated the computers as well. This book reflects her most recent investigations; what emerges is the story of how our relationship to computers is changing our minds and hearts.

An exploration of both the newly born culture of simulation and the boundary between the human and the technological, Life on the Screen is a deeply engaging and eloquent book which brings together cultural analysis, psychoanalytic insight, and the most current knowledge of computers and communications. Life and the Screen: Identity in the Internet was released by Simon and Schuster in November 1995.

MIT Press - Life on the Screen