Over-personalization of our environment has always existed. People gave names to their pets, their cars and their computers. Therefore, they have a tendency to give them human feelings too.
In this Discover Magazine interview, Sherry Turkle, a psychologist who directs the Initiative on Technology and Self at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, answered the questions from Josie Glausiusz. Here are some selected Q&As.
Why would anyone experience deep feelings for an object like a robot?
Toys like the Tamagotchi -- those little egglike digital toys that need you to feed them and clean up after them -- ask for nurturance. By doing so, they push a very profound button in us. As a species, we're programmed to attach to the things that we take care of and that blossom under our care. People don't just love their plants or talk to them because they have a connection with plants. It's because those are the plants that we nurture.
Could we ever come to care for robots in the way we care for friends or siblings?
We do care for robots. People who have Sony AIBO robot dogs are teaching them tricks, are thinking about their welfare, are bonded with them, and want to take them places. Children who have created pets online are worrying about those pets, and whether they've taken care of them, and whether they should get them a new coat. But it's a different kind of caring. Just because you have a robot dog doesn't mean that a biological dog should lose all of its allure.
Glausiusz also asked questions about our interactions with the Internet and how some people experiment with false identities.
Have you ever adopted an alternative identity online?
I've experimented with being a man and saw how people responded to me differently. I found it quite a fascinating exercise. One of the things that a lot of women notice in virtual communities is that if you're a man, people stop offering to help you -- especially when there is a lot of technical stuff to do.
Finally, please note that this interview is an extended version of the article published by Discover Magazine.
Source: Sherry Turkle, answering to Josie Glausiusz, for Discover Magazine, Vol. 24, No. 6, June 2003
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