Alone Together

Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other
Lecture by Sherry Turkle at Dartmouth College

Alone Together book coverSherry started her presentation by thanking her high school teacher, a particular inspiration, and who was in the audience.

I was drawn by the title of the lecture, which expresses some of the ambivalence I have with technology, and with social media in particular. Her presentation was a number of anecdotes related to her anthropological research on technology and its effects on various age groups.  Her stories were very accessible, but you had the sense that there was serious and dense research behind it all.

Some phrases that I liked:

  • We are the computer’s killer app!
  • Teenagers feel more secure with phones near, and yes, they tell you that they need to sleep with their cell phone because of the alarm.  Their phone has become a phantom limb.
  • Addiction is a misnomer.  Technology is powerful, useful, and we shouldn’t be trying to do without “cold turkey”.
  • Technology provides the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.
  • We need to keep technology, while keeping the sacred spaces that make us human.  Example? Texting at funerals, one of those events where we are supposed to be all together, focussing on one another.
  • A teen who talks longinly about a sit down phone call where you give your full attention.
  • What is democracy without privacy; what is intimacy without privacy?
  • A teen who receives 100 text messages received during an interview, and who says, after looking at them: “How long will I have to do this?”
  • What does it mean as a child progresses from adolescence to adulthood to always have a grown-up on tap?  Example: the college kids who text their mom 10 times a day.
  • The tragedy of the 15-year old birthday party, and that moment when they all pull out their phones and start texting.
  • Feelings must be validated by texting them.
  • Technology creates an illusion of privacy.
  • Too busy communicating to think, to create.
  • But there are advantages and lots of people are already writing about that.  For example, what would we have known about what’s happening in Egypt right now?

After her presentation, she entertained some questions from the audience.  In particular, she was asked about the caliber of students today vs. 15 years ago. She said the writing is worse, they pay less attention. Technology helps some writers, by making it easy to do lots of drafts, but for others it hinders, by making your first draft look like you can hand it in.  The quality of writing is also affected by less reading.  Internet search seems to encourage shorter reading efforts (avoiding the “long form”, or books over 40,000 words).

In a cautionary note, she sounded the alarm on our surrender of privacy, and alluded to her grandmother’s flight from a totalitarian regime in Europe. What if government isn’t benign?

Comcast Extreme in the Upper Valley

Comcast has been offering some intriguing high speed internet offers lately (actually, I get their offers about every other day in the mail).  In particular, they are offering an Extreme internet package with 50 Mbps down, and 10 Mbps up.

I have been using this service for about a month now, and I am very satisfied.  Although I rarely see the advertised download speed, I have occasionally had downloads at 30 Mbps.

My typical speeds are around 20 Mbps down, and 10 Mbps up.  For example, a 30 Mb file takes about 12 seconds to download, or about 24 seconds to upload.  And these are actual speeds – measured using SFTP with large files.

Christmas 2.0

This is a very funny video – new technology meets old:

Internet and TV

While wading through much information, I came upon this handy chart from Tivo that provides a good summary of the key offerings that are hot right now:

Tivo vs Google TV vs Apple TV

Now this is from Tivo, so you have to keep that in mind, but it does highlight some differences.  Tivo does provide most of the same functionality as Google TV and Apple TV, but what do they offer instead.  Google offers Apps, better and more familiar web integration (although it seems that they are still working out all the kinks).  Apple TV is cheaper ($100) and smaller, and offers iTunes integration (including the iPhone remote application to run it), but what probably turns out to be greater cost over time ($1 per show or $10 per movie).


  • Tivo – $20/month for 2 years or $99 + $20/month for 1 year
  • Cable DVR: additional $2 to $5/month
  • Google TV: about $400 (which includes a BluRay player)
  • Apple TV: $100

The Secret to Technical Support

Likelihood of a computer issue being solved