Life on the Screen Excerpts

Just posting a few  interesting parts of the book I have just finished reading; Life on the Screen: Identity in the age of the internet. – Sherry Turkle.

This one I believe is from Susan Sontag’s On Photography (note to self: get it from the library)

The technologies of our everyday lives change the way we see the world. Painting and photography appropriated nature. When we look at sunflowers or waterlilies we see them through the eyes and the art of van Gogh or Monet. When we marry, the ceremony and the ensuing celebration produce photographs and videotapes that displace the event and become our memories of it. Computers, too, lead us to construct things in new ways. With computers we can simulate nature in a program or leave nature aside and build second natures limited only by our powers of imagination and abstraction (Sontag as cited by Turkle, 1995, p. 47).

I put this one up as it reminded me of some of the conversations I have had with Justine about photography and the displacement of memory.

Today, life on the computer screen carries theory. Here is how it happens. People decide they want to buy an easy to use computer…  … they think they are getting an instrumentally useful product and there is little question that they are. But now it is in their home and they interact with it everyday. And it turns out they are getting an object that teaches them a new way of thinking and encourages them to develop new expectations about the kinds of relationships they and their children will have with machines. People decide that they want to interact with others on a computer network. They get an account on a commercial service. They think that this will provide them with new access to people and information, and of course it does. But it does more When they log on they may find themselves playing multiple roles, they may find themselves playing characters of the opposite sex. In this way they are swept up by experiences that enable them to explore previously unexamined aspects of their sexuality or that challenge their ideas about a unitary self.

Frederick Jameson wrote that in a postmodern world, the subject is not alienated but fragmented. He explained that the notion of alienation presumes a centralized, unitary self who could become lost to himself or herself. But if, as a postmodernist sees it, the self is decentered and multiple, the concept of alienation breaks down. All that is left in an anxiety of identity. The personal computer  culture began with small machines that captured a post 1960s utopian vision of transparent understanding. Today, the personal computer cultures most compelling objects give people a way to think concretely about an identity crisis. In simulation, identity can be fluid and multiple, a signifier no longer clearly points to a thing that is signified and understanding is less likely to proceed through analysis than by navigation through virtual space (Turkle, p. 49, 1995).

What I find interesting about this quote is in thinking (from my point of view in the middle) about the differences in the generations on either side of me in the way the younger generations are much more comfortable and accepting of having a multiple self, quite possibly without ever thinking about it as in the case of my Facebook immersed cousins, while my folks are struggling with keeping up with their online selves. My Mum has stated that she just doesnt see the point in maintaining an online identity, and only sees Facebook as a way to let people (who do maintain one) see the latest photos of her flock of goats or the new crop of veges. What I find interesting in that, is that she is still in a way contributing to an online relationship with people, but in a more passive role. She doesn’t engage with other peoples online identities but is still making aspects of her life available to others in a more one sided relationship.


Many people spend most of their day alone at the screen of a television or computer. Meanwhile, social beings that we are, we are trying (as Marshal McLuhan said) to retribalize. And the computer is playing a central role. We correspond with each other through electronic mail and contribute to electronic bulletin boards and mailing lists; we join internet groups whose participants include people from all over the world. Our rootedness to place has become attenuated. These shifts raise many questions: What will computer mediated communication do to our commitment to other people? Will it satisfy our needs for communication and social participation or will it further undermine fragile relationships? What kind of responsibility and accountability will we assume for our virtual actions? (Turkle, 1995, p.178).

I put this up because I find this interesting to try to answer. This book was written in ’95 before the social networking revolution and before ‘onlineliness’ has become entrenched into daily life and communication. In a way we can begin to answer some of these questions ourselves, from our own perspectives and using our own experiances. In the current media, some of these questions are also being discussed, (like punishment for cyber-bullying) as problems have arisen in our society because of internet relationships and socializing.


2 thoughts on “Life on the Screen Excerpts

  1. I relate to your mum’s way of thinking, would rather spend time with ‘real relationships’ than the ‘unreal’ ones. My reasoning is: When I break my leg and need help, which is going to comfort and physically support me?

    I do like the thoughts and ideas you have pulled out of this book

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