Alone Together

1st Jun 2011; 18:00

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RSA Keynote


Facebook. Twitter. Second Life. "Smart" phones. Robot pets. Robot lovers.

Thirty years ago we asked what we would use computers for. Now the question is what we don't use them for. Now, through technology, we create, navigate and carry out our emotional lives. We shape our buildings, Winston Churchill argued, then they shape us. The same is true of our digital technologies. Technology has become the architect of our intimacies.

Online, we face a moment of temptation. Drawn by the illusion of companionship without the demands of intimacy, we conduct "risk free" affairs on Second Life and confuse the scattershot postings on a Facebook wall with authentic communication. And now, we are promised "sociable robots" that will marry companionship with convenience. Technology promises to let us do anything from anywhere with anyone. But it also drains us as we try to do everything everywhere.

We begin to feel overwhelmed and depleted by the lives technology makes possible. We may be free to work from anywhere, but we are also prone to being lonely everywhere. In a surprising twist, relentless connection leads to a new solitude. We turn to new technology to fill the void, but as technology ramps up, our emotional lives ramp down.

MIT technology and society specialist Professor Sherry Turkle has spent fifteen-years exploring our lives on the digital terrain. Based on interviews with hundreds of children and adults, she visits the RSA to describe new, unsettling relationships between friends, lovers, parents and children, and new instabilities in how we understand privacy and community, intimacy and solitude.

Chair: Aleks Krotoski, academic, journalist and host of the Guardian's Tech Weekly.

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