Personal Computers with Personal Meanings

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The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit(1984)MIT press[1] by Sherry Turkle – chapter 5 Personal Computers with Personal Meanings.



  • culture formation
  • personal computing
  • transparency of information
  • liberation
  • personal politics

Summary of issues raised in the text or texts:

The beginning of this text is about a the generation of children that have grown up within a computer culture. Children use the computer in their process of world and identity construction. The computer enters into their process of becoming and into the development of their personalities. In a way this sets them apart from adults who tend to be more settled.

The computer as a catalyst of culture formation. The first personal computer owners shared the same quality of relationship with the computer, an aesthetic of using the computer for transparent understanding.

The computer served as a tool for people to do something technical or mathematical they thought they were incapable of doing. For a particular personal computer user learning to program had a symbolic meaning. making him feel that he was a member of a technical culture. The early computer users thought it was necessary to understand the whole computer in order to understand the complexity of their society

Machines impose their own rhythm. their rules, on the people who work with them, to the point where it is no longer clear who or what is being used. Machines in this sense also include bureaucratic machinery of corporate structures. For the early computer users the computer at home becomes a tool that compensates for the ravages of the machine at work. Most of the first generation personal computer users were "technical people". Most of them were dissatisfied with their jobs.

Personal politics. Computers were for a long time a symbol of depersonalization, the first generation of personal computer users re-casted them as "tools for conviviality" and "dream machines for a long time Computers were the symbol of the "big"--big corporations, big institutions, big money. The first generation of personal computer had the computer acquire an image of decentralization, community, and personal autonomy. The first generation personal computer culture evolved a particular style of working with the machine and the style itself became a political metaphor. Personal computers fueled solutions for ecological problems.Decentralized technology would mean less waste. Personal computers fueled ideas for alternative education. Schools would become obsolete as computers brought an individualized curriculum. Personal computers became symbols of hope for a new populism in which citizens would band together to run information resources and local government.

As a note of critique upon these views Sherry Turkle says that the satisfactions the computer offers are essentially private. People will not change an unresponsive government with a computer in the den. The "holistic" relationship that personal computers offer should not be a kind of opiate. For the first generation of personal computer users the use of a computer was satisfying because it was like a compensation for dissatisfaction in the world of politics and work.

Discussion Notes & Afterthoughts:

  • The role of children being able to cope with computer culture is overly romanticized
  • Demanding of transparent information in politics and society because of a stronger understanding of complexity.
  • Populism is a specific term in politics. In the context of this essay, the term is slightly confusing.
  • It could be worth exploring whether beliefs in autonomy and self-reliance through personal computing might have their roots in American Transcendentalism:[2]