The Cyberyear in Review
A chess match pits man against machine
Will computers ever think like humans?
The pros and cons of
computers in schools
Biography and Curriculum vitae for
Within the amorphous realm of "cyberspace" is a whole world, and a world of worlds: cyber-friendships, cyber-workspaces, cyber-classrooms, even cyber-marriages.
More than 50 million Americans now interact with one another via computer networks and the World Wide Web. Every minute of the day, human beings are exchanging ideas, feelings and personal information through the screen.
In her latest book, "Life on the Screen," MIT professor Sherry Turkle says a new sense of identity is emerging out of the computer ageómore decentered and multiple. "We are using life on the screen to engage in new ways of thinking about evolution, relationships, politics, sex and the self."
The change has had positive and negative effects on people's lives. Physically, time spent in front of the screen is time spent indoors, alone, and isolated. Human interaction is stripped of facial expressions and body language, and experience lacks the senses of smell, taste, and touch.
But the Internet has created new and vibrant communities, linking individuals with similar interests from all over the world. In describing an online physics course, Edwin Taylor and Richard Smith said "the medium is largely race-neutral, location-neutral, status-neutral, age-neutral, disability-neutral, and would be gender-neutral except for the clue of first names. Student participation is greater than any of our face-to-face classes. Some kinds of personal warmth appear to be more freely exchanged in the absence of bodies."
But Turkle points to cases of virtual harassment to show how vulnerable life on the screen can be. "We must understand the dynamics of virtual experience both to foresee who might be in danger and to put these experiences to best use. Without a deep understanding of the many selves that we express in the virtual we cannot use our experiences there to enrich the real."
Our forum asks: How have computers changed the way you think about your self, your community and your world? Has the human spirit gained or lost?
Your questions are answered by professor Sherry Turkle, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is the author of "Life on the Screen" and "The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit."