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Alone Together

Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other

By Sherry Turkle
  • Read in 19 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 12 key ideas
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Alone Together by Sherry Turkle

Technology has changed our lives tremendously – in some ways for the better and in some ways for the worse. Alone Together explains how even though a great deal of new technology, like smartphones and social media, is supposed to bring us together, it actually makes us lonelier in the end.

Key idea 1 of 12

You won’t have to take care of your elderly parents in the future; robots will do this for you.

Have you ever wondered who'll take care of your parents as they get older? You? Your siblings? Someone else?

Well, many people believe that robots will eventually become our caretakers. In some places like Japan, they may even be a necessity.

Some 25 years ago, Japanese demographers concluded that Japan wouldn’t have enough young people to take care of the elderly in the future. So they began developing a robot called Wandakun that would be able to help.

Wandakun is a fuzzy koala that purrs, sings and speaks a few phrases when it's touched. It can serve as a companion to the elderly. Speaking about Wandakun, one 74-year-old man said, “I fell in love after years of being quite lonely...I swore to protect and care for the little animal.”

For many people, robots have changed the very notion of “care.” We used to think “care” meant caring about someone, but now it often means taking care of someone – something a robot may be able to do.

In 2005, the International Symposium for Contemplative Studies discussed the potential uses of caregiving robots. Speaking of a machine that cuts people's toenails, one attendee said, “That is a caring computer. Or [one that] talks with you if you are lonely. Same thing.”

Some people don't think there's an important difference between a real person and a robot performing caregiving tasks. They're both taking care, which is enough.

Miriam, a 72-year-old who lives in a nursing home, is quite fond of her seal-like robot Paro, with whom she talks and shares secrets. In the end, Paro doesn't and can't truly care about her, but the nursing staff and scientists who created Paro don't think this is a problem.

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