The Second Self (computers and the human spirit)

Sherry Turkle

Publisher The MIT Press
ISBN 978-1-85604-485-1
RRP £14.95
Reviewed by Deryn Graham FBCS
Score 6 out of 10

TheSecondSelf This book is little changed from its original form printed in 1984. Described as a 20th anniversary edition, the author has only made minor revisions to the 1984 text and notes with italics used to indicate any substantial additions.

As it is a reprint, there are two introductory chapters: the original 1984 introduction and another to the MIT Press Edition (2004). The first introduction has something ‘Hawkin-ist’ about it in its slightly autobiographical tone, describing how the author was trained as a humanist.

The book discusses the changing relationships between human and computers/computer technologies, how the computer has provided an opportunity for cognitive studies of both humans and machines through the building of intelligent artefacts.

It is highly thought provoking and would provide an excellent vehicle for interesting discussions during research seminars for instance.

Turkle explores the social and psychological implications of human interaction with artefacts ranging from traditional programming tools to toys and games, which have taken place over the last 20 years.

She achieves this by revisiting the first publication of the book in 1984, which was based upon interviews with various social groups of people – children, students, artificial intelligence) scientists, - in an attempt to establish where computers fit in a metaphysical sense.

Much of the content is subjective, with a great deal of anecdotal evidence, which is one of the book’s strengths in promoting discussion. At the same time, it is a weakness in terms of the lack of clinical, objective, scientific hard evidence, mostly due to the qualitative nature of the subject matter.

As at the start, because it is a revision edition, the author has added an Epilogue (2004). Although there is referencing within the ‘Appendixes’, Notes, and an Index, there is no separate list of references provided.

When reading the second introduction and subsequent chapters, I had to keep flicking to the notes in the back pages. This is not only irritating, but is also something of a distraction.

Overall, because the revisions (notes) are regrettably not incorporated directly, the book is somewhat disappointing.

That said, priced at £14.95, the paperback does represent reasonable value for money.


Further information: The MIT Press