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(Re)Experience Your Second Self

In 1984, MIT press published The Second Self by Sherry Turkle. When we look back at this book over 25 years later, Turkle’s book is prophetic, frightening, and inspiring. From a research perspective, Turkle uses the Piaget method to interview hundreds of people, including:

  • Children
  • Teenagers
  • Parents
  • College Students
  • Hackers
  • Office Workers

These interviews give us some insight into how computers are thought about in psychological terms rather than physical terms like food, weather, animals, or clothing. Turkle predicted that technology “catalyzes changes not only what we do but in how we think.”

How Technology Changes What We Do

As many people know, I am a slow adopter of technology. I do not own an iPhone. I bought my first cell phone in 2006, after giving up my pager. I have only taken seven pictures on my cell phone. Yet, technology has greatly changed me, a slow adopter. Let’s look at the field of mass media.

These different inventions, products, and services have all became common place in the last 10 years:

  • High Definition TV – Plasma, HDTV, etc.
  • Purchased Media – DVD, Blue Ray, Boxed TV Shows
  • Rented Media – Blockbuster, Netflix, Red Box, On-Demand Rentals
  • Internet Media – YouTube, Hulu
  • Recorded Media – On Demand, TiVo, DVRs

As a slow adopter of technology, I can tell you that I have an HD television, where I watch DVDs (Netflix, Red Box, and Blockbuster). I have programmed my television to where I can watch You Tube or Hulu. I watch a lot of television program using on demand and our DVR. With the notable exception of the “Lost” TV series, I rarely, if ever, watch live television programs.

Clearly, my consumption of mass media has been greatly affected by technology.

How Technology Changes How We Think

Turkle explains in her book that technology (computer, video games) affect our awareness of our…self. Technology seems to exist as an extension of our self and part of the physical world. We have these relationships with our devices. We see the excitement of people to get the latest iPhone earlier this summer. We see people that swear at their devices.

As I mentioned earlier, I do not an iPhone. I am a slow adopter of technology. Two years ago, I received a Garmin GPS as a holiday gift from my wife. I have a love-hate relationship with this Garmin device.

First, I have actually named my Garmin GPS. Her name is Dorothy. I call her Dorothy because the device came with a default female voice that sounds like a Dorothy from my childhood. Plus, Dorothy Gale was always lost in The Wizard of Oz. So, I named her Dorothy.

Second, I love Dorothy. I am directionally impaired, which means I frequently get lost. Dorothy helps me to find new places. She helps me get back home. I have programmed common places like “My Home”, “Joe’s Apartment”, and “Laura’s Pad” because it is like taking a shortcut through the woods. Dorothy always knows what I want.

Third, I hate Dorothy. She can be very demanding and condescending. Here is a typical turn:

  • In .25 miles, turn left.
  • Turn left. (I can’t because of a detour.)
  • Recalculating!
  • In .5 miles, turn left. Then, turn left.

Dorothy did not see the detour sign, but she tells me what to do. I hate how Dorothy talks to me. I hate that she cannot see the detour sign. I hate the word “recalculating” now.

When I am mad at Dorothy, I tend to hear the word now after each sentence. For example, the last set of instructions sounds like:

  • In .25 miles, turn left. (It is almost NOW).
  • Turn left NOW.
  • Recalculating NOW!
  • In .5 miles, turn left. Then, turn left. (It will be NOW soon.)

Sometimes, I hate “Dorothy” and I would prefer to be lost.


Designers should all have a copy of The Second Self and the follow-up book called Life on the Screen. The research is wonderful with all of the different interviews. Hackers, children, parents, scientists, office workers, and more are interviewed. You will never look at technology and your “self” in the same way.

Tell us how technology has impacted your daily life. We would love to hear from you.

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