Sherry Turkle

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Expert on Technology’s Role in Transforming Relationships; New York Times Bestselling Author, “Reclaiming Conversation;” Author, “The Empathy Diaries” (March 2021); Sociologist and MIT Professor

Biography

We marvel at the new connections enabled by our digital devices. Yet they also create barriers to creativity and collaboration in the workplace and inhibit communication in personal relationships. If we are always thinking about our phones, we cannot be fully present to each other, says MIT sociologist and New York Times bestselling author Sherry Turkle.

Since the early days of the personal computer revolution, Turkle has sounded the alarm about technology’s role in undermining human empathy. This begins with its assault on the capacity for solitude, the place where empathy is born.

“To activate empathy, we need to create spaces where people can disagree on ideas while developing an understanding of other viewpoints,” says Turkle. “We know that conversations are limited by our prejudices as much as by our distractions. Empathy doesn’t begin with, ‘I know how you feel.’ It starts with the realization that you ​don’t know how another feels. In that ignorance, you start with an offer of conversation.”

Turkle – who is often referred to as the “Margaret Mead of digital culture” – has taught us how technology changes not just what we do but who we are. In her long-awaited new book, “The Empathy Diaries: A Memoir” (Penguin Books, March 2021), she examines how technology can both enhance our connections to each other but also get in the way, at home, in school, and in our business life. “Among other things,” she says, “our devices offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of intimacy or the challenges of empathy.”

Since the publication of her New York Times bestseller, “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age” (Penguin Books, 2015), Turkle has been moving from research on conversation to helping people cultivate empathy through participation and engagement. Part of that work has her conducting workshops for organizations, schools, and community groups. She believes empathy is a necessary component of citizenship. In our divided country, she says, we need to learn new techniques for listening to and engaging with each other.

As an advisor, speaker, and author, Turkle teaches leaders and employees in every sector how to strike a balance between leveraging the best of technology while maintaining healthy levels of engaged human interactions. Her insights around building sensitivity and fostering constructive communication “offscreen” give organizations the tools they need to build a more productive, innovative and inclusive culture.

# # #

Sherry 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. She is the founding director of the Initiative on Technology and Self, a center of research and reflection on the evolving connections between people and artifacts.

Her 2011 book, “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other” (Basic Books, 2011) sounded an early warning about the human costs of too much digital communication in our lives. It became the subject of a featured TED Talk in 2012, which has received more than 6 million views.

Turkle has been profiled in such publications as The New York Times, Scientific American and WIRED, and has been a featured commentator on CNN, NBC, ABC and NPR. She has also appeared on Nightline, 20/20 and The Colbert Report. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, she is a Harvard Centennial Medalist, and she has been a Ms. Magazine Woman of the Year.

She 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

Back to School: Using Empathy as a Pathway to Learning

April 19, 2021

Sherry Turkle: ‘Why Was I Asked to Make Steve Jobs Dinner?’

March 26, 2021

The New Yorker logo

Sherry Turkle’s Plugged-In Year

March 23, 2021

A Life Spent Focused on What Computers Are Doing to Us

March 23, 2021

In A World of Screens, Sherry Turkle Wants to Make Eye Contact

March 23, 2021

16 New Books to Watch For in March

March 22, 2021

Sherry Turkle: 'The Pandemic Has Shown Us That People Need Relationships'

March 21, 2021

Why Machines Will Never Feel Empathy: A Q&A With MIT’s Sherry Turkle

March 16, 2021

TIME Magazine logo

The Pandemic Made Us Strangers to Ourselves. Will We Have Learned Anything When it's Over?

March 16, 2021

Sherry Turkle on Family, Artificial Intelligence, and the Empathy Diaries (Audio)

March 15, 2021

TIME Magazine logo

Why Phone Calls Beat Video Chats (and Nothing Beats IRL)

March 14, 2021

8 New Books We Recommend This Week

March 11, 2021

WBUR radio logo

Sherry Turkle On What A Year Of COVID Teaches Us About Empathy (Audio)

March 11, 2021

The Path to More Engaged, Productive Relationships

March 11, 2021

In 'The Empathy Diaries,' Sherry Turkle Considers The Burden Of Family Secrets

March 10, 2021

Trust is Broken. Here's How to Rebuild.

March 9, 2021

16 International Titles to Watch For in March: A Lowdown On the Best Fiction and Non-fiction Books For the Month

March 4, 2021

How Is AI Shaping Who We Are?

March 3, 2021

Newspapers, Windex, Resilience.

March 2, 2021

In Memoir 'The Empathy Diaries,' Author Sherry Turkle Examines How Technology Influences Identity

March 2, 2021

Is Pretend Empathy Enough?

March 2, 2021

‘The Empathy Diaries’ Is a Beautiful Memoir About the Life of the Mind and the Life of the Senses

March 1, 2021

Wired logo

Sherry Turkle Talks Going Remote, Loneliness, and Her New Book

March 1, 2021

A Critic of Technology Turns Her Gaze Inward

February 26, 2021

16 New Books to Watch For in March

February 24, 2021

Kirkus Review: The Empathy Diaries

January 15, 2021

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

We marvel at the new connections enabled by our digital devices. Yet they also create barriers to creativity and collaboration in the workplace and inhibit communication in personal relationships. If we are always thinking about our phones, we cannot be fully present to each other, says MIT sociologist and New York Times bestselling author Sherry Turkle.

Since the early days of the personal computer revolution, Turkle has sounded the alarm about technology’s role in undermining human empathy. This begins with its assault on the capacity for solitude, the place where empathy is born.

“To activate empathy, we need to create spaces where people can disagree on ideas while developing an understanding of other viewpoints,” says Turkle. “We know that conversations are limited by our prejudices as much as by our distractions. Empathy doesn’t begin with, ‘I know how you feel.’ It starts with the realization that you ​don’t know how another feels. In that ignorance, you start with an offer of conversation.”

Turkle – who is often referred to as the “Margaret Mead of digital culture” – has taught us how technology changes not just what we do but who we are. In her long-awaited new book, “The Empathy Diaries: A Memoir” (Penguin Books, March 2021), she examines how technology can both enhance our connections to each other but also get in the way, at home, in school, and in our business life. “Among other things,” she says, “our devices offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of intimacy or the challenges of empathy.”

Since the publication of her New York Times bestseller, “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age” (Penguin Books, 2015), Turkle has been moving from research on conversation to helping people cultivate empathy through participation and engagement. Part of that work has her conducting workshops for organizations, schools, and community groups. She believes empathy is a necessary component of citizenship. In our divided country, she says, we need to learn new techniques for listening to and engaging with each other.

As an advisor, speaker, and author, Turkle teaches leaders and employees in every sector how to strike a balance between leveraging the best of technology while maintaining healthy levels of engaged human interactions. Her insights around building sensitivity and fostering constructive communication “offscreen” give organizations the tools they need to build a more productive, innovative and inclusive culture.

# # #

Sherry 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. She is the founding director of the Initiative on Technology and Self, a center of research and reflection on the evolving connections between people and artifacts.

Her 2011 book, “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other” (Basic Books, 2011) sounded an early warning about the human costs of too much digital communication in our lives. It became the subject of a featured TED Talk in 2012, which has received more than 6 million views.

Turkle has been profiled in such publications as The New York Times, Scientific American and WIRED, and has been a featured commentator on CNN, NBC, ABC and NPR. She has also appeared on Nightline, 20/20 and The Colbert Report. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, she is a Harvard Centennial Medalist, and she has been a Ms. Magazine Woman of the Year.

She 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

From Empathy to Engagement: How to Build a More Productive Workplace

For decades, MIT Professor Sherry Turkle has been warning us about the dangers of allowing digital exchanges to overshadow face-to-face conversations. Her research shows that communicating through devices inhibits a person’s ability to develop empathy and, without empathy, everything suffers – from our homelife to our workplaces. So, in an era dominated by digital communications, conversation must be cultivated. In this presentation, in which she draws on her new book, “The Empathy Diaries,” Turkle discusses how we are at a point where we have the tools to be deliberate in our use of technology as we honor the importance of non-digital conversations in building a culture of empathy. In her discussion of workplace dynamics, she helps bridge the divide between senior management and younger members of the organization who are often reluctant to converse outside the digital realm. Beyond the organization, Professor Turkle explains why empathy needs to be part of a new definition of citizenship in our time of unprecedented political and social division. She explores a way of seeing empathy that is not passive but an active and civically engaged endeavor.

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”

“A beautifully wrought memoir about how emerging technology makes us think and feel [. . .] Anyone who studies, develops, or produces technology—and anyone who uses it—will gain crucial insights from this profound meditation on how technology is changing us. A masterful memoir by a pioneering researcher and incisive thinker.”

— Kirkus (starred review)

“[R]evelatory and forthright . . . Turkle’s candor and transparency are totally in keeping with her personal and professional commitment to understanding human emotional motivation and our capacity for empathy, not only towards others but also towards ourselves.”

— Booklist

“ [R]ichly detailed . . . Anyone who has felt the struggle to fit in will identify with [Turkle’s] story.”

— Library Journal

“Since digital culture became part of our intimate lives, Sherry Turkle has helped us understand our complex, evolving dance with technology, using the power of data and analysis. Now, with raw and refreshing authenticity, she shares her personal journey, which serves as a powerful and poignant reminder that it is in our relationships with one another—not technology—that we find our most important source of meaning and healing.”

— Vivek H. Murthy, MD, MBA, surgeon general of the United States, author of “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World

“In this beautiful, compulsively readable memoir, Sherry Turkle,  who has asked why we expect ‘more from technology and less from each other,’ excavates the eras of her continually surprising 20th century life. In her hands, empathy is the instrument of knowledge, illuminating the uses and pleasures of crucial human values now under threat. This is the story not only of a woman but of her humane and exhilarating mind.”

— Honor Moore, poet and memoirist, author of “Our Revolution: a Mother and Daughter at Midcentury”

“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

“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, renowned cognitive psychologist and author of “A Synthesizing Mind”

“Sherry Turkle’s memoir is a page-turner, and I was so drawn in by its vivid narrative and exquisitely drawn characters that it took me a while to realize that this is also a strikingly original book about empathy. Her searing encounters with a stark lack of empathy in two of the most important men in her life—her scientifically driven father and renowned first husband—led her to the discovery that empathy is not simply an interesting research topic or ‘feminine’ virtue but, as it became for her, a ‘strategy for survival.’ The Empathy Diaries is a magnificent capstone to Sherry Turkle’s studies of the human costs of our romance with technology. Drawing on firsthand experience, she shows us how empathy is a lifesaving necessity in human relations and, potentially, a key to our survival as a species.”

Carol Gilligan, author of “In a Different Voice” and, most recently, “Why Does Patriarchy Persist?”

“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” and 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 University–Newark

“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”
  

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Turkle, Sherry