Computer Systems Must Allow More Freedom / Personality of End User Dominates His Computer Use, Says Turkle

Article excerpt

Computer training and systems must allow more personal freedom if many of today's workers and students are to willingly enter the inform ation age, according to Dr. Sherry Turkle, a member of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Program in Science, Technology and Society and author of the bestseller "The Second Self: Computersand the Human Spirit."

The computer, she said, is "a powerful psychology medium, a mind tool." Like the Rorschach test, the end user's personality dominates his computer use.

Firms and schools which adopt standardized computer systems and training, therefore, must take steps to insure individual freedom in system acceptance and applications. Failure to do so could hamper their productivity in the modern economy and result in unexpected relationship changes.

"Once somebody decides that a computer calls for a way of being that is not their way, it is very hard to get them back the other way," she said.

Computers are unique among modern mechanization in their attraction to mankind, Turkle indicated. As a 12-year-old student told her, "when you program a computer, you take a little piece of your mind and you put it in the computer's mind, and you come to think of it differently.

"And as she later said," Turkle continued, "you come to think of yourself differently."

Computers offer three "hooks" to emotional affection that are not associated with VCRs, European sports cars, or diamonds, she noted.

- Computers offer a "mind to mind" relationship. The key to the videogame explosion, for example, was a player's ability to "psyche out" not the game program, but its programmer.

- Computers offer a promise of perfection mankind continually seeks. With modern word processing, users have the ability to create perfect texts, whereas with the typewriter, correction fluid and a dictionary are a must.

- Computers offer an illusion of companionship without intimacy.

This is the key, Turkle said, for in our sped-up society, people today are suffering under a strange paradox. They are lonely, and yet they are terrified of intimacy.

"If you step back and think about it, the computer plays into this problem in a particularly meaningful way. It is interactive and yet reactive," she said.

"It isn't necessarily a bad thing. It has to do with our ability to project pieces of our mind into another matter."

Turkle identified three different styles in which people approached computers. The styles, she said, proved a strong indicator of how users think of themselves.

Risk vs. Reassurance - Many people use computers to "create a safe structured universe," she said. …