Sherry Turkle

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New York Times Best-Selling Author of “The Empathy Diaries” (March 2021); Expert on Technology and Its Role in Transforming Relationships in a Digital Society; Sociologist and MIT Professor

Biography

The world is finally catching up to Sherry Turkle. For more than three decades, the MIT professor and New York Times best-selling author has warned that technology is undermining human empathy. Her research has demonstrated how screen technology tried to do one thing: keep us at our screens—compromising our capacity for solitude, a building block for identity and the ability to form relationships. And technology encourages the idea that the “friction-free” life is the good life. Turkle’s research shows how in business, education, and personal spheres, the value of friction-free existence has been over-rated, even destructive. Technology, Turkle has shown, makes us forget what we know about life.

In life, when we stumble and lose our words in face-to-face conversation, it can be painful, but we reveal ourselves most to each other. Online, we can make ourselves appear closer to our ideal selves than we know ourselves to be. Online, we preach authenticity but practice self-curation. We learn to fear vulnerability. But it turns out that vulnerability is what makes us human, productive, empathic and creative, in our personal and professional lives.

Now, with popular optimism about all things tech turning to wariness and hostility, Turkle’s groundbreaking work is prescient and addresses our most current dilemmas. Most to the point: As organizations embrace artificial intelligence, they will have to grapple with an existential question that Turkle strives to address: how can we still be most truly human in the age of machines?

As a sociologist and psychologist, Professor Turkle’s exploration of our lives on the digital terrain shows how technological advancement doesn’t just catalyze changes in what we do – it affects how we think. She has documented how in our embrace of convenience, we have shielded ourselves from having to converse and cooperate with other human beings. Turkle is the original and still leading expert on how these trends impact our social skills and emotional intelligence. Her keynotes and presentations aim to shift the way organizations and society think about technology – from an emphasis on convenience and simplification to an embrace of the messy, complex reality of how humans learn and become better people. Turkle’s research also raises critical questions about technology’s role in business productivity, asking whether multi-tasking actually leads to deteriorating performance in each of our tasks.

Referred to by many as the “Margaret Mead of digital culture,” Professor Turkle has investigated the intersection of digital technology and human relationships from the early days of personal computers to our current world of robotics, AI, social networking and mobile connectivity. Her New York Times best-seller, “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age” (Penguin Press, October 2015), focuses on the importance of conversation in digital cultures, including business, the professions and in education. Her previous book, “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other” (Basic Books, 2011), was a featured talk at TED 2012, describing technology’s influence on relationships between friends, lovers, parents and children, and new instabilities in how we understand privacy and community, intimacy and solitude.

Professor Turkle is the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology in the Program in Science, Technology and Society at MIT, as well as the founding director of Initiative on Technology and Self, a center of research and reflection on the evolving connections between people and artifacts. She has been profiled in such publications as The New York Times, Scientific American and WIRED. She is a featured media commentator on the effects of technology for CNN, NBC, ABC and NPR, including appearances on such programs as Nightline, 20/20 and The Colbert Report, and has been named a Harvard Centennial Medalist, and a Ms. Magazine Woman of the Year. In 2014, she was named to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 2017, she received the Everett M. Rogers Award from the Norman Lear Center at USC Annenberg.

Professor Turkle received a joint doctorate in sociology and personality psychology from Harvard University, and is a licensed clinical psychologist.

Sherry Turkle is available to advise your organization via virtual and in-person consulting meetings, interactive workshops and customized keynotes through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Videos

Books & Research

The Empathy Diaries: A Memoir

(Penguin Press, March 2021)

Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age

(Penguin Press, October 2015)

Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other

(Basic Books, January 2011)

Evocative Objects: Things We Think With

(The MIT Press, September 2007)

Simulation and Its Discontents

(The MIT Press, March 2009)

The Inner History of Devices

(The MIT Press, October 2008)

Media

The Chatbot I've Loved to Hate

August 18, 2020

MIT's Sherry Turkle on Technology and Empathy During - and After - the Pandemic (Audio)

July 23, 2020

Coronavirus and the Dream of an American Eden ($)

July 18, 2020

Staying Connected, Virtually: What We Lose Online (Audio)

April 1, 2020

America's Top 50 Women in Tech

November 29, 2018

3 Questions for MIT's Sherry Turkle on our Device Addiction and Loneliness

November 5, 2018

Is Your Company Overly Reliant on Technology?

August 15, 2018

There Will Never Be an Age of Artificial Intimacy

August 11, 2018

NBC News Logo

Is Your Kid Friends with Alexa? A Psychologist on What That Means for Their Development

August 5, 2018

Sleepwalking Towards Artificial Intimacy: How Psychotherapy Is Failing The Future

June 7, 2018

Think Different? Apple Takes Its Message Seriously

June 5, 2018

Commentary: Why Hating Facebook Won't Stop Us From Using It

April 11, 2018

Vox Logo

How We're Becoming Slaves to Technology, Explained by an MIT Sociologist

March 27, 2018

When Is a Child Instagram-Ready?

February 21, 2018

The Assault on Empathy

January 1, 2018

Washington Post logo

Why These Friendly Robots Can't Be Good Friends To Our Kids

December 7, 2017

Huffington Post logo

A Robot Is Not A Best Friend (Video)

November 29, 2017

CBC logo

Would You Let Your Kids Play With AI Robots?

November 27, 2017

In the Future, We’ll Love Our Robot Pets, But Will They Love Us Back?

November 14, 2017

Our Smartphone Obsession Looks a lot like the Obesity Epidemic, MIT Psychologist Says

November 9, 2017

An MIT Psychologist Explains Why So Many Tech Moguls Send Their Kids to Anti-Tech Schools

November 7, 2017

Mattel Pulls Aristotle Children’s Device After Privacy Concerns

October 5, 2017

Huffington Post logo

Pioneers: MIT Professor Sherry Turkle (Video)

October 2017

Walking The Tech Tightrope

May 5, 2017

Sherry Turkle, Mark Doty, to Speak at Phi Beta Kappa Exercises

March 23, 2017

Huffington Post logo

What Can You Learn from Watching the People Around You? (Audio)

February 15, 2017

KUOW logo

We Never Talk Anymore! (Audio)

November 8, 2016

thewire.in logo

Talking To Sherry Turkle About Relational Communication and the Digital Media

October 20, 2016

Sherry Turkle Says There’s a Wrong Way to Flip a Classroom

October 13, 2016

Emotional Fantasy: AI Can Pretend to Love Us, but Should We Love It Back?

May 26, 2016

Huffington Post logo

Sherry Turkle On How Technology Can Impact Human Connection

April 21, 2016

A Conversation with MIT's Sherry Turkle About Conscious Consumption of Tech

April 11, 2016

TIME Magazine logo

7 Steps to Saving Conversation at Work

November 30, 2015

Washington Post logo

The Book That Will Have Everyone Talking About How We Never Talk Anymore

October 1, 2015

Sherry Turkle’s ‘Reclaiming Conversation'

September 28, 2015

Stop Googling. Let’s Talk.

September 26, 2015

Sherry Turkle's Solution To The Downside Of Screen Relations: Conversation

April 20, 2014

Biography

The world is finally catching up to Sherry Turkle. For more than three decades, the MIT professor and New York Times best-selling author has warned that technology is undermining human empathy. Her research has demonstrated how screen technology tried to do one thing: keep us at our screens—compromising our capacity for solitude, a building block for identity and the ability to form relationships. And technology encourages the idea that the “friction-free” life is the good life. Turkle’s research shows how in business, education, and personal spheres, the value of friction-free existence has been over-rated, even destructive. Technology, Turkle has shown, makes us forget what we know about life.

In life, when we stumble and lose our words in face-to-face conversation, it can be painful, but we reveal ourselves most to each other. Online, we can make ourselves appear closer to our ideal selves than we know ourselves to be. Online, we preach authenticity but practice self-curation. We learn to fear vulnerability. But it turns out that vulnerability is what makes us human, productive, empathic and creative, in our personal and professional lives.

Now, with popular optimism about all things tech turning to wariness and hostility, Turkle’s groundbreaking work is prescient and addresses our most current dilemmas. Most to the point: As organizations embrace artificial intelligence, they will have to grapple with an existential question that Turkle strives to address: how can we still be most truly human in the age of machines?

As a sociologist and psychologist, Professor Turkle’s exploration of our lives on the digital terrain shows how technological advancement doesn’t just catalyze changes in what we do – it affects how we think. She has documented how in our embrace of convenience, we have shielded ourselves from having to converse and cooperate with other human beings. Turkle is the original and still leading expert on how these trends impact our social skills and emotional intelligence. Her keynotes and presentations aim to shift the way organizations and society think about technology – from an emphasis on convenience and simplification to an embrace of the messy, complex reality of how humans learn and become better people. Turkle’s research also raises critical questions about technology’s role in business productivity, asking whether multi-tasking actually leads to deteriorating performance in each of our tasks.

Referred to by many as the “Margaret Mead of digital culture,” Professor Turkle has investigated the intersection of digital technology and human relationships from the early days of personal computers to our current world of robotics, AI, social networking and mobile connectivity. Her New York Times best-seller, “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age” (Penguin Press, October 2015), focuses on the importance of conversation in digital cultures, including business, the professions and in education. Her previous book, “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other” (Basic Books, 2011), was a featured talk at TED 2012, describing technology’s influence on relationships between friends, lovers, parents and children, and new instabilities in how we understand privacy and community, intimacy and solitude.

Professor Turkle is the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology in the Program in Science, Technology and Society at MIT, as well as the founding director of Initiative on Technology and Self, a center of research and reflection on the evolving connections between people and artifacts. She has been profiled in such publications as The New York Times, Scientific American and WIRED. She is a featured media commentator on the effects of technology for CNN, NBC, ABC and NPR, including appearances on such programs as Nightline, 20/20 and The Colbert Report, and has been named a Harvard Centennial Medalist, and a Ms. Magazine Woman of the Year. In 2014, she was named to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 2017, she received the Everett M. Rogers Award from the Norman Lear Center at USC Annenberg.

Professor Turkle received a joint doctorate in sociology and personality psychology from Harvard University, and is a licensed clinical psychologist.

Sherry Turkle is available to advise your organization via virtual and in-person consulting meetings, interactive workshops and customized keynotes through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Speech Topics

For a more in-depth understanding of these topics, book an interactive workshop or confidential advisory meeting with Sherry Turkle.

“[In the 2020s] I see a historic trend to introduce more friction, to slow us down, to look up and talk to each other and to appreciate what only we as humans can give each other. The trend for the next decade: the embrace of what we don’t share with machines. Empathy. Vulnerability. The human-specific joy of the friction-filled life.”

— Sherry Turkle, Fortune, December 2019

Simulated Love Gone Wrong: How to Find the Right Role for Robots

Sherry Turkle is not taken with new cute robot Jibo’s seductive and friendly repartee. When we have toys for children that declare their love and want to chat, we bring to life a longstanding fantasy that machines might be our companions – that they might seem to not only be smart, but also to care about us. But there, says Turkle, we run into a problem: Simulated thinking may be thinking, but simulated feelings are not feelings, and simulated love is never love. Our “success” in making robots that pretend to empathize involves deception with significant consequence. When we offer simulated companions to our elders, we break a generational compact that we will be there for each other. When we offer sociable toys and digital pets to our children, we embark on an experiment in which our children are the human subjects. Will we be honest enough to confront the emotional downside of living out our robot dreams? Turkle asks us to ponder where this is heading – and to put machines in their proper place as helpful and responsive, not proxies for family and friends.

The Other AI: How to Address the Impact of “Artificial Intimacy”

From self-driving cars to digital assistants like Siri and Alexa, artificial intelligence is fast becoming ubiquitous. But while we are quick to embrace technologies that make our lives or jobs easier, we’re slow to observe the dangers: interacting with objects that have no empathy detracts from our own, causing us to become less fully human in the process. Sherry Turkle argues this is because AI can stand for not only artificial intelligence but also artificial intimacy – the false sense that we can trust devices as we might trust humans. When companies fail to properly communicate the limited nature of these technologies and instead promote them as reliable friends, consumer backlash can become potent. In this presentation, Turkle explains the pitfalls of allowing artificial intimacy to grow unchecked. With vivid cases from the iPhone to insurance companies, she reveals to companies how they can (and should) ensure AI is not deliberately sold as a replacement for human trust or companionship and avoid suffering the consequences of what customers tend to see as a personal betrayal by their machine friends.

How to Be the Empathy App to Bridge the Empathy Gap

We are living in a time where empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of others – is under assault. The empathy “gap” is widening in many societies around the world. Among college age students, studies conducted over a 30-year period have shown a 40% decline, with most of the drop coming after 2000. A generation has grown up believing it is possible to share our attention during almost everything we do and feeling that we “would rather text than talk.” What are the costs of a “flight from conversation” in personal life, among one’s family and friends? What are the costs in the business world? And most importantly, what can we do about it? Sherry Turkle believes technology has offered the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship and then – as it got really good – the illusion of friendship without the demands of intimacy. While we have always known that only people can be empathic, we only really get good at it with our full attention to each other.

To Increase Creativity and Productivity, Be an Empathic Organization

One of the realities of corporate life is that office technology leads us to make a Faustian bargain with everyday office technology: What we gain from efficiency and responsiveness is compromised by what we lose because of the isolation, disengagement and distraction that comes with digital life. Sherry Turkle calls our work dilemma that of “pilots in the cockpit.” Often, we are too busy communicating online to have the conversations that count – on the phone or face-to-face. At every level, people craft ways to move phone or in-person conversations to screens on which they feel less vulnerable and more in control.

Turkle makes an impassioned case for companies to pivot back to conversation-based interactions that spur fully formed relationships. Ultimately, the aim is to become an organization that values empathy, authenticity and engagement. When employees recognize the difference between relational and transactional encounters, they can place a higher value on the former and build better relationships with clients and co-workers. The empathic organization understands that the capacity for solitude, and for relationship and conversation go together. With these underpinnings, employees will be more effective at establishing and maintaining relationships as they develop a competence for attention and focus. They will thrive – and so will your business.

Media

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Books & Research

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Recommendations

“The audience loved her. Lots of good tweets about her talk, and relevance to our field”

— Germaine Schaefer, Heart Rhythm Society

Advance Praise for “The Empathy Diaries”

“Sherry’s life story is that of a woman who made her own way—both in the academic world and in the larger cultural conversation—by following her passions without fear and with tremendous integrity. In so doing, she has helped us all understand a vital aspect of our lives with much greater clarity. ‘The Empathy Diaries’ is a case study in courage and where it can take us.”

— Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Global

“In this brilliantly integrated memoir, Sherry Turkle traces her metamorphosis from the gifted child of a disturbed man to the preeminent ethnographer of digital culture. One part intellectual history, one part daddy dearest, one part portrait of the critic as a young woman, this is a one-of-a-kind page-turner. Bravo!”

— Gish Jen, author of “The Resisters”

“I’ve long marveled at the remarkable and inspiring career of Sherry Turkle. Her path, so courageously interdisciplinary, has been strewn with dazzling insights. And now, in just the kind of brave and brilliant memoir one would expect from her, she gives us her personal story, explaining how, in a mind like hers, the deeply personal is transformed into ideas that can be shared by us all.”

— Rebecca Goldstein, MacArthur Prize Fellow; National Humanities Medalist; author of Plato at the Googleplex

“This is a scintillating memoir. Turkle acts at once as storyteller, ethnographer, and psychologist of her own life—one stretching from a straitened Brooklyn Jewish girlhood shadowed by an unspeakable secret to a womanhood of academic accomplishment amidst the excitements of Radcliffe, Harvard, Chicago, Paris in the years after the upheaval of ’68 and MIT just as our computer world is born. Along the way she gives us a vivid account of ideas crucial to the last half-century of intellectual life, tracing their inner history with bracing clarity.”

— Lisa Appignanesi, author of “Everyday Madness: On Grief, Anger, Loss and Love” and “Mad, Bad, and Sad: Women and the Mind Doctors”

“By respecting her own emotional, social, and intellectual history with careful—even loving—attention, Sherry Turkle shows what rescue from the crisis of technological disconnect looks like. Intimate, compassionate, and critical, her book instructs, edifies, and heals. A paradigmatic personal narrative, yet ‘The Empathy Diaries’ is a tour de force of social science, saluting and protecting the precious intangibility that no machine can match—the quality that makes us human.”

— James Carroll, author of “The Truth at the Heart of the Lie”

“Like a Harvard educated Nancy Drew, Sherry Turkle searches her past for clues to her true self and hits the mother lode in this fascinating, fearless memoir. Her struggle with the legacy of long-held family secrets as she forges her own unique path to authenticity and forgiveness is a story countless women will identify with. Reading ‘The Empathy Diaries,’ I felt my mind—and my heart—expanding. Sherry Turkle is not only a great writer and teacher—she’s great company.”

— Winnie Holzman, cowriter of the hit musical Wicked; creator of the television series My So-Called Life

“‘Use concrete events to think about large ideas. Use large ideas to think about concrete events.’ Sherry Turkle follows the advice of her professor, Samuel Beer, and ‘The Empathy Diaries’ is the compelling result. The stages of Turkle’s narrative unfold so gracefully, in prose of such candor and clarity, that it’s easy to overlook how many tasks this memoir performs. ‘The Empathy Diaries’ is about a childhood and a coming of age. It’s about a courtship and marriage. It’s also about the progress of Turkle’s engagement in the dynamic and overlapping fields in which this professor of social sciences, science, and technology is a crucial, authoritative, and, yes, empathetic voice. In every way, this is a book about an education. Fans of Turkle’s earlier work will certainly want to read ‘The Empathy Diaries;’ but so too should everyone struggling in the cyber maze in which we find ourselves. A remarkable book.”

— Rachel Hadas, PhD, Board of Governors Professor of English, Rutgers UniversityNewark

“I read it with delight. An honest, insightful, compelling, and sometimes painful account of the intellectual and emotional forces that shaped Turkle into a pioneer in the study of digital culture and how computers change the way we think about ourselves. Turkle’s is not only a personal story, but also a story of our digital age.”

— Alan Lightman, Professor of the Practice of the Humanities, MIT; author of “Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine”

“Sherry Turkle has been daring and original for a long time—bearing witness to the emergence of artificial intelligence but also writing forcefully, while surrounded by true believers at MIT, about its limitations. In ‘The Empathy Diaries,’ she dares even further by investigating a tightly held family secret, affirming in the process the wisdom of the human heart. ‘The Empathy Diaries’ tells a fascinating story—one that manages to be profound and entertaining at the same time.”

— Susan Quinn, author of “Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair That Shaped a First Lady”

“Over the decades, Sherry Turkle has provided the most penetrating analyses of the relations between the human and the computational worlds. In a remarkably revealing memoir, Turkle explores the personal as well as scholarly sources of her understandings and, in the process, provides a brilliant panorama of our time.”

— Howard Gardner, author of “A Synthesizing Mind”

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Turkle, Sherry