“I am going to be a little boring,” Sherry Turkle announces as we sit down to tea in the living room of her sprawling Boston townhouse. “And you’re going to be a little boring, too.”
Turkle, for the record, is not boring. She is a psychologist and a professor at MIT whose primary academic interest—the relationship between humans and machines—is especially relevant in today’s networked age. Her most recent book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, explores our reliance on devices that can isolate us under the auspices of connection. Published in 2011, it poured 384 pages’ worth of water onto technological optimism at a time when most of the culture preferred to focus on the promise and allure of digital devices. In this environment, Turkle has been one of only a handful of experts willing to come out as tech-skeptical, which has made her a regular on the op-ed/Colbert Report/TED Talk circuit.
This tech critic, however, is not tech-phobic. She works with robots. She has an iPhone; actually, she has several. She texts with her daughter. She e‑mails with me. The first decoration I saw in her entryway was a large bowl brimming with computer accessories.
As we chat, it becomes clear that Turkle is not just not boring—she’s an exceptionally skilled conversationalist. After tea, we take a walk around her Back Bay neighborhood. Throughout our conversation, she occasionally touches my forearm. She speaks deliberately, pausing often. She laughs easily and heartily, a sign more of her warmth than of my wit. She has at her disposal what the best conversationalists have: a wealth of experience to draw from.