Robert Bialecki Professor Jones English 247, Critical Writing 27 October 2009

The article I chose to summarize is called “How Computers Change the Way We Think.” The article was written by Sherry Turkle, and it originally appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education on January 30, 2004. The single main idea of this article is that, as the title suggests, computers change the way we think. Her article provides several examples to illustrate her main point. Turkle begins the article with an original quote. She then mentions that written language is the most basic, predominant form of information technology there is. However, when we think about how technology affects the way we think, the first thing that typically comes to mind is the computer (Turkle 256). She then cites an example of her personal experiences with how computers change the way we think. Her experience took place in the late 1970s, when she had just joined the faculty at MIT. At this point in time, calculators were set to replace slide rules. During a lunch with her colleagues, several professors argued that calculators had affected the students’ ability to fully grasp the course material. When using a slide rule, a student had to manually insert decimal points. In order to do this, a student needed to have a mental sense of scale. However, the students who used calculators often made errors and seemed unable to perform basic calculations without a calculator. Therefore, they lost a true understanding of the course material (Turkle 256-257). In the 1980s, Turkle began studying in-depth how computers change the way we think. She believes that the effects computers have on the way we think will become even stronger in the next ten years. Turkle notes that beginning in elementary school,

students are exposed to a wide variety of computer programs (e-mail, word processing, computer simulations, virtual communities, PowerPoint software, etc.). Not only are they absorbing what appears on their computer screens, but they are also discovering new ways to think about the meanings of knowing and understanding (Turkle 257). Turkle then prepares us for her list of ways in which she believes computers are facilitating changes in the way we think. She mentions that it is not easy to label a particular change as good or bad. It’s open to interpretation. What’s important is whether or not these changes lead us in a direction that helps us better serve our human purposes. Turkle states that change isn’t determined by technology. Technology only motivates us to take certain directions. Human choice is more easily exerted when those directions are clear (Turkle 257-258). Turkle’s first example pertains to privacy. She mentions that nearly everything we do on the Internet leaves behind electronic traces. She believes that today’s generation of children aren’t as familiar with the right to privacy as previous generations are and that they’re used to electronic surveillance. Turkle notes that today’s adolescents and young adults willingly present personal information on the Internet and don’t seem to care about privacy violations and increased surveillance. She believes that in the next decade, students will need to be better educated about the notion of privacy (Turkle 258). Turkle’s next example deals with media that people use to express themselves online. She mentions that these media are important to adolescents because it allows for personal experimentation which is important in their development. However, the problem that arises is that when people overuse these media, it may become difficult for them to portray their true selves. They may become too inexperienced in sharing their true feelings with others. These

media allow the illusion of friendship without the commitments of actual friendship (Turkle 258259). Turkle’s third example pertains to the PowerPoint program. Turkle argues that PowerPoint is more than just a means of transmitting content. It also influences the way we think. With PowerPoint, presentation becomes just as important (if not more so) as content. She mentions that we live in a culture where appearance is often more important than reality. She calls it a culture of presentation. Turkle cites an excerpt from Edward R. Tufte, who feels that the PowerPoint program makes bulleting and clear thinking look like the same thing, when they’re not. Tufte also feels that PowerPoint encourages presentation as opposed to conversation. While PowerPoint can be a beneficial tool for teachers, young students are more likely to be captivated by the sounds, graphics, and fonts of the program. For young students, a PowerPoint slideshow is more likely to detract from discussion rather than encourage it (Turkle 259). Turkle’s next example focuses on word processing. Turkle feels that word processing has its own psychology and can transform a hardworking student into a better writer. This is because word processing makes experimentation easier. As opposed to writing on paper, word processing makes it easier to revise text, rearrange paragraphs, and alter the shape and tone of a piece. She notes that most professional writers would refuse to give up their computers. However, Turkle contests that word processing can also worsen the abilities of bad writers, since one can quickly fill a page with text without even thinking about what one is typing. Turkle feels that thinking ahead is now an uncommon notion (Turkle 260). Turkle’s fifth example deals with computers in general. Turkle assumes that people have an expectation for computers to be easy to use, despite the fact that most people don’t actually know a computer really works. She mentions that those who built and purchased the first

personal computers knew exactly how they worked. She also mentions that computers have become much more complex since then. While people know how to use computers, they don’t know how they work. Turkle expects this trend to continue into the future (Turkle 260). Turkle’s final example pertains to simulation. She notes that some thinkers feel that epistemic opacity allows us to use simulation tools to experiment creatively. However, these tools are beyond our understanding. Turkle believes it’s possible that passivity is a result of epistemic opacity. Turkle mentions that simulation is a prominent part of our culture. Many aspects of our culture utilize simulation technology. She predicts a substantial increase in the use of simulation technology in the next decade. Because of this, Turkle suggests that a new form of media literacy will need to be developed so that we better understand the culture of simulation. Although simulation technology is becoming more complex, it still puts constrained choices on its users, and the rules are clear. But that’s not always how the real world works (Turkle 261). Turkle feels that in the next ten years, our culture should rebuild itself around information technology. This culture should make it easier to see life as shades of gray, not just black and white. Technology should better our lives, not detract from them. Turkle equates information technology with identity technology. She feels that one of the next decade’s greatest challenges will be to implant information technology in a culture where democracy, freedom of expression, tolerance, diversity, and complexity of opinion prosper – and we must not fail (Turkle 262).

Works Cited Turkle, Sherry. “How Computers Change the Way We Think.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. 30 January 2004. Kress, Anne and Suellyn Winkle. NextText Making Connections Across and Beyond the Disciplines: pg. 256-262. 20 October 2009.