Welcome to the first installment of the 2011 All-School Read!

Here you will find 2 pieces of reading, a series of guiding questions, and an opportunity to share your comments and reactions.  

How this Works:

Read the "backstory," "quotations for orientation," and "questions for consideration" for each installment before diving into the featured articles by Sherry Turkle and Virginia Heffernan.

After reading, please visit the "reactions" page and share your thoughts.

If you are still looking for more information about the relationship between technology and community, you can find additional articles and resources on the "Further Reading" page.  

Tune in on June 27 for the next installment. 

Reading #1 Sherry Turkle and the idea of Alone Together

Backstory: This selection is Michiko Kakutani’s  book review of Sherry Turkle’s recent publication, Alone Together.  Sherry Turkle has been considering the topic of technology-based media from the perspective of the human attraction to “gadgets” for over a decade. In the winter of 2010, she addressed the Middlesex community in a Hub Lecture.

General place of Turkle in the great field of technology critics: technology viewed through the lens of academic/socio-psychological skepticism: in Kakutani’s words of the reviewer, “a considerably darker view” of technology’s role in society.

Quotations for orientation (from the book review):

“technology is changing how people relate to one another and construct their own inner lives”

“we have come to expect less and less from human encounters as mediated by the Net.”

“online life tends to promote more superficial, emotionally lazy relationships.”

“creative, contemplative, carefully considered thought increasingly gives way to immediate, sometimes ill-considered reactions.”

Questions for your consideration as you read:

  1.  The reviewer notes of Turkle’s stance and tone, “Such sentimental whining undermines the larger and important points she wants to make in this volume.”  Is “sentimental whining” characteristic of mature and/or academic critiques of technology?
  2. The thesis of the book might be boiled down to something like the following: “technology creates an illusory sense of human relationship and might be changing human relationship and human nature itself.”  Would you agree or disagree with such a thesis?

Reading #2 Virginia Heffernan and the flight of “The Opinionator”

Backstory: This selection comes from an Opinionator blog post called, “Cell Phone Fears, Twitter Tears.”  Virginia Heffernan writes op-ed pieces on “digital and pop culture” for the New York Times.  “The Opinionator” offers “exclusive online commentary from The Times,” providing an online forum for the editorial voice of the publication.  Virginia Heffernan will be speaking at Middlesex as part of this All-School Read conversation on Saturday, September 24th, 2011.  She came to us through the Lavin Agency, whose founder, David Lavin, spoke to the school last year on the topic of public discourse. 

General place of Heffernan in the great field of technology critics: Approaches digital media both from an analytical/academic perspective and from the perspective of a user/aficionado.  Also brings the perspective of popular culture and cultural studies into the discussion.

Quotations for orientation (from her blog posting):

“Internet technology is, for hundreds of millions and even now billions of people, a source of great pleasure and interest.”

“I would like now to gently hand off the burden of proof for the curious and tenacious proposition that digitization destroys souls…You reject Facebook as a source of fun and interest, and furthermore believe its wrecking lives? Great! And maybe that’s true! Now assume the burden to show us exactly how — since many of the world’s 500 million active Facebook-users don’t share that view.”

“Taking simple, common-sense precautions with technology can go along way to keeping at bay the bigger emotional storms that threaten right now to sideline good minds and keep them from vigorous participation in what are fascinating digital times.”

Questions for your consideration as you read:

  1. The abbreviated thesis the Times offers for this article is as follows: “Making good decisions about new data on technology and our use of it requires sharp critical skills.”  How are these “sharp critical skills” to be developed?  Who or what is the authority to which we should turn?
  2. What do you make of the way Heffernan’s points are communicated, the actual media used, the blog?  If you make it as far as reading other readers’ commentary at the end of her article (68 readers’ comments and counting), what do those comments add to your understanding and navigation of the topic?
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