Sherry Turkle is still angry about the day Steve Jobs visited MIT

The woman who psychoanalyzed computer culture at MIT mostly remembers that she didn’t get invited.

From “A Critic of Technology Turns Her Gaze Inward” in Monday’s New York Times: 

In the spring of 1977, when Sherry Turkle was a young professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Steve Jobs came to visit. While he toured the campus and met with her colleagues, Turkle was cleaning her apartment and worrying over the menu for the dinner she had agreed to host.

It took nearly 50 years, when she was writing her memoir, “The Empathy Diaries,” for her to realize how angry that incident made her. She was at the beginning of her career chronicling how technology influences our lives, yet wasn’t asked to join her colleagues as they spent the day with the co-founder of Apple.

“Why not me?” she said in a video interview last month. It has taken her decades to come to that question, and it reflects her desire to turn the ethnographer’s gaze inward, to examine herself the way she has long studied her subjects. That is central to her new book, she said: “Here is the practical application of what it means to have a conversation with yourself.”

Turkle, 72, is big on conversation. In her 2015 book, “Reclaiming Conversation,” she argues that talking to each other, having an old-fashioned voice-to-voice exchange, is a powerful antidote to life on screens. A licensed clinical psychologist who holds joint doctorates in psychology and sociology from Harvard, she scrutinizes what our relationship with technology reveals about us, about what we feel is missing from our lives, what we fantasize technology can supply.

My take: I first met Sherry Turkle in the early 80’s, when she was still married to Seymour Papert. I think I’ve been a little in love with her ever since.

15 Comments

  1. Robert Harris said:
    My take is if she is angry after 50 years because she was cleaning her apartment and fixing dinner she has a lot more problems than not spending the day with Steve.

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    March 1, 2021
    • I think the point was that the guys invited their female colleague to prepare and host a dinner for Jobs, but didn’t invite her to spend the day with him. “What does a good woman have to do to get a job around here?” Turkle says about having to fight to get tenure at MIT. My wife, who was the only woman in her MIT architecture class, says she knows where Turkle is coming from.

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      March 1, 2021
      • Mark Visnic said:
        The point can’t be made enough Philip. Thanks for making it. We all should know why she wasn’t invited and we all should be dedicated to understanding how we can work to eradicate that bias in our interactions instead of remaining tone deaf.

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        March 1, 2021
    • Mark Visnic said:
      She isn’t angry after 50 years as much as she realizes after 50 years the anger that was suppressed then. Not enough has changed and if that isn’t clear after the last four years, one would do well to take a long hard look in the mirror!

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      March 1, 2021
  2. James Dearborn said:
    My daughter left the tech industry, including six years at Apple, because of the pervasive misogamy.

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    March 1, 2021
  3. David Emery said:
    From a friend who was at MIT at the time: “The difference between Sherry and my ex-boss Margaret Hamilton: Margaret would have invited herself..”

    (It seems that different departments at MIT had different approaches. See, for example, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Liskov, who is still one of the most influential CS professors.)

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    March 1, 2021
  4. Jerry Doyle said:
    Romeo A. Esparrago’s quoting Leo Tolstoy, “Much unhappiness comes from things left unsaid,” is appropriate for this occasion denoted by Ms. Sherry Turkle.

    It is presumptuous of me to attempt to analyze a licensed clinical psychologist who holds joint doctorates in psychology & sociology, but I suspect Ms. Turkle’s seething anger over the years has more to do with her failure “not” to speak up to her colleagues than with the actions “by” her colleagues. Ms. Turkle’s anger is with herself, not with her colleagues; and that is what she needs to address.

    How many of us may have similar feelings in later life when retrospectively examining a past event that happened that perhaps could have been reversed if “we” only spoke-up. I suspect if Ms. Turkle had stood her ground, called out her colleagues (who may not have been mentally & emotionally cognizant fully of their behavior of ostracizing one of their own) and voiced firmly her feelings of not being treated in a “fair & equitable” manner, then the good woman would have prevailed. Her colleagues then would have been forced to self-reflect (something psychologists & psychiatrists prefer not to do) and realize how badly their actions reflected on them in excluding Ms. Turkle after she called them out.

    “…. Much unhappiness comes from things left unsaid.”

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    March 1, 2021
    • S Lawton said:
      “How many of us may have similar feelings in later life when retrospectively examining a past event that happened that perhaps could have been reversed if “we” only spoke-up.”
      Oh, if only it were so. Most men in that time frame could not imagine a woman to be capable of being as competent as a man. Luckily there were some willing to allow a woman the opportunity and those women helped many more to see how wrong they were in their assumptions of a woman’s ability.

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      March 1, 2021
      • Jerry Doyle said:
        @S Lawton:

        In the late ‘70s I was an urban cowboy working in downtown Dallas @ Main & Commerce during the days & 2-steppin’ at the Longhorn Ballroom & Belle Star on Friday & Saturday nights. We closed the places down @ 2:00 am and proceeded to my favorite Truck Stop for breakfast. One night I witnessed an incident that left an indelible imprint on my mindset. A burly truck driver placed his hands inappropriately on a waitress. Velva Sue let out a loud harangue basically saying, “….get your f###ing hands off me & don’t ever, ever put your hands on me again!” This high school dropped-out changed the behavioral practice of truck drivers at that diner from there on as the news spread transcontinental via CB radio among long haul truck drivers “… that you don’t mess around with Velva Sue.” All other waitresses at that truck stop witnessed the incident as did I and my party. Suddenly, those other waitresses found their voices and no one messed around with them. It took Velva Sue to bring about behavioral change in that diner by “empowering” the other women waitresses to do similarly.

        Continue…..

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        March 1, 2021
      • Jerry Doyle said:
        Continued…..

        The women’s liberation movement (WLM) was a political alignment of women & feminist intellectualism that emerged in the late 1960s & continued into the 1980s which effected great change (political, intellectual, cultural) throughout the world. By 1977, Ms. Turkle was in the middle of that “powerful” movement. Ms. Turkle was not “helpless” in 1977 when Steve Jobs visited MIT. She was a licensed clinical psychologist with joint doctorates in psychology & sociology from prestigious elite ivy league schools and, she holds a professorial position. Ms. Turkle had a voice, but she failed to use that voice. Not only did she have a voice, she had the requisite skills, education and training to speak-up, but she didn’t. If a high school drop-out waitress can speak powerfully to a burly truck driver & in doing so, empower every other woman in that restaurant to do similarly, then why couldn’t Ms. Turkle speak up & tell her colleagues that with my position, with my skills, my training, my education, that I have NO intentions of being a domestic worker and cook preparing a meal for you all & Steve Jobs while he visits. If Ms. Turkle had found her voice she would have awaken her colleagues fully to the WLM movement underway and perhaps, have done the same for all other women colleagues at MIT. She didn’t, but the Dallas waitress did.

        Continue….

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        March 1, 2021
      • Jerry Doyle said:
        Continue….

        What this clinical psychologist does not understand is that her anger is not toward her former colleagues; her anger seethes at herself for not finding her voice when she had the skills to do so, the training to do so, the education to do so and the know-with-all to speak “powerfully,” but chose not to do so. Therein lies Ms. Turkle’s anger. Ms. Turkle is mad at herself.

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        March 1, 2021
  5. Jerry Doyle said:
    PS: I learned a long time ago that the best clinical psychologists or psychiatrists were bartenders and cab drivers; and, even my cat and dog.

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    March 1, 2021
  6. Michael Goldfeder said:
    What did she cook for everyone at dinner?

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    March 1, 2021
  7. Bart Yee said:
    Perhaps she and so many others worldwide could be a little consoled by the fact that Apple products have allowed so many more to have a larger, more visible and able “voice and presence” in the world, albeit for most an online presence. The use of smartphones in everyday life has given photographic and video evidence when there was hearsay, tracking to some who went missing, and connection when there was isolation.

    That Interconnection is more prevalent, and yet, pandemic notwithstanding, face to face interaction is still vitally needed, sought, and missed. I look forward to Apple disrupting itself to promote more people to people interaction as the pandemic wanes.

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    March 1, 2021

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