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In 'The Empathy Diaries,' Sherry Turkle Considers The Burden Of Family Secrets

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in today for Terry Gross. Our guest Sherry Turkle is a professor at MIT who spent decades studying the impact of digital technology on our lives and culture. Among her books are "The Second Self," "Life On The Screen," "Alone Together" and, in 2015, "Reclaiming Conversation." Turkle's new book is about her own life growing up in Brooklyn in a working-class Jewish family, becoming a standout student and earning her way to Harvard, learning new social skills and becoming a brilliant scholar, and entering a world at MIT, where her gender and her original thinking created friction with the mostly male tech-oriented faculty. Turkle's book is also a story of family secrets and her discovery in her 20s of things she never knew about her past. We'll talk about what she learned in that journey and about how she thinks life in the pandemic has affected our relationship with our digital tools.

Sherry Turkle is the Abby Rockefeller Mauze Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT and the founding director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. Turkle's memoir is "The Empathy Diaries." She joins us from her home in Boston. Sherry Turkle, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

SHERRY TURKLE: My pleasure.

DAVIES: When you were little, your name was Sherry Zimmerman because your biological father was a man named Charles Zimmerman, who your mother had divorced. What did you know back then of him and the circumstances of the divorce, if anything?

TURKLE: I knew nothing. The first time I saw my name written out, I was 3 years old and I was kind of looking at old papers in a closet where my grandfather and grandmother kept, you know, old papers and old books. And I saw the name Sherry Zimmerman inscribed in a book. And I sort of knew that I had never seen that before. But instinctively I sort of knew it was mine. We never spoke about my biological father. We never mentioned his name. I knew not to mention his name. It was just a taboo in our family.

DAVIES: So your mom took you and moved in with her parents, your grandparents - right? - and her sister, your Aunt Mildred. Tell us a bit about that life, where you lived, what your living arrangements were like.

TURKLE: Yes. Well, basically, my mother, I later learned, when I was about 1 suddenly left my father and moved and called my Aunt Mildred on the phone and said, pick me up. I'm coming home. And my aunt, who was the only one in our family who had a car, and my grandmother picked her up at a street corner where she had packed some grocery bags with some clothes and brought us back to live with my grandparents. They lived in a one-bedroom apartment near the Prospect Park Parade Grounds in Brooklyn. And my aunt and my mother slept on a foldout couch in the living room. My grandparents slept in two twin beds and I slept on a cot between them. And then in the summer, we went to Rockaway Beach for a long, long summer at Rockaway Beach. I think we began in May and came back really in middle of September, which was a kind of bungalow colony where everybody in our part of it was Jewish. But I think there were parts of it that were Italian where it was kind of a paradise of really living in a community. But again, I was just part of the Bonawitz clan - I never saw my father - and belonged to this tribe.

DAVIES: Yeah, kind of a different New York City when a working-class family could have a little bungalow at the shore.

TURKLE: Yes. Yes.

DAVIES: So you're - you were not affluent people. What did your grandfather do for a living? This is interesting.

TURKLE: My grandfather was the manager of a Times Square movie theater. But really being the manager of a Times Square movie theater meant that you were a bouncer. During the war, he had worked at the docks in Brooklyn and then at the Navy Pier, I think. And then after the war, he'd again worked on the docks. And then he went through a very troubled time where he couldn't find work. And my aunt found him a job as the manager of one of the branch theaters in Times Square. It was one of those theaters where he called them his bums used to kind of live. So these were men who were pretty much homeless, but they came into the theater at kind of 8 o'clock in the morning and they stayed until it closed, maybe at 3 o'clock in the morning. So they - the theater was open maybe 19 out of the 24 hours a day. And then these men would be on the street, and then they'd come back in the theater and it was their home. And my grandfather was a very strict disciplinarian in this theater, but he kind of took care of these men. And he had respect for them if they, you know, didn't take drugs and didn't drink in the theater. And he had a kind of caretaking relationship with them.

DAVIES: And, of course, he wore a suit and tie every day. And I guess left and worked until the wee hours of the morning.

TURKLE: Yes.

DAVIES: Your grandmother, you say, did what she called depression cooking. What was this?

TURKLE: My grandmother took care of this family of five, which centered around my grandfather, who had a mercurial temper, who worked very long hours and wanted things just so. And one of the things that he wanted just so was to never feel that he couldn't provide for this family. That was really what was most important to him. And in order for that to happen, my grandmother had to maintain the illusion that she had enough food even during the Depression even when that was not true. And so she had this way of cooking where she would make, for example, these things called mandels, which were little rounds of pastry, which were then fried and browned, which you would put in a soup to give it a much more hearty feeling without having to add more meat or even more vegetables. And she would, you know, have special ways of making knishes or special ways of making kreplach - which also are sort of pastries filled with very, very little tiny bits of meat but a lot of pastry that would be very filling - and ways of stretching chicken soup with lots and lots of noodles. And I mean secrets of her - she called it Depression cooking that she would teach me as I would stay and spend the day with her cooking.

DAVIES: So you're living with five people in this one-bedroom apartment, and you felt loved by all of these people and supported. And it's interesting - I think you write that your grandmother kind of made a point of not teaching you to cook because you were a kid of whom big things were expected, right?

TURKLE: Yes, I was treated like the yeshiva boy who would be sent to study and would never, you know, need to work with his hands or would never need to get a real job. I would kind of be put aside for something greater. But the greater thing that I was going to be put aside for was not particularly to marry or, you know, about my finding Prince Charming. It was somehow that I was going to be, you know, using my brain to (laughter), you know, like Marie Curie or Eleanor Roosevelt, I think were more the - those were the two models that I think they vacillated between. I would either be Marie Curie or Eleanor Roosevelt. I think Eleanor Roosevelt was more the local favorite. So my grandmother made a point, much to my later dismay, of not teaching me to cook because she thought that given all that, I would learn because of my brains, I would have a maid and she would - this maid would do the cooking and I would not need to know these things.

DAVIES: We are going to have to take a break here. Let me reintroduce you. We are speaking with Sherry Turkle, a professor at MIT who studies the impact of digital technology on our lives. She has a new memoir called "The Empathy Diaries." We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE INTERNET SONG, "STAY THE NIGHT")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And we're speaking with Sherry Turkle. She's a professor at MIT who is widely known for her studies of the impact of digital technology on our lives and culture. She has a new memoir about her life. It's called "The Empathy Diaries."

So when you were little, you were living in a one-bedroom apartment with both of your grandparents and your mom and your aunt. And things were tight. But it was a family where you really felt loved and supported. Things changed when your mom remarried, married a man named Milton Turkle. So her name changed to Harriet Turkle. What about you? Your name was still Sherry Zimmerman?

TURKLE: Yes. My name was still Sherry Zimmerman. But my mother felt very strongly. And again, this is where the mystery of my life kind of begins for me. She had two more children. She wanted my name to be Sherry Turkle even though my name was Sherry Zimmerman because she wanted our new family to be one big happy family, the Turkles. So she had me pretend that my name was Sherry Turkle even though I knew my name was Sherry Zimmerman. And so I was always kind of lying.

DAVIES: And around then, you started school, right? And in school, it was your legal name (laughter). So you kind of had two identities.

TURKLE: Yeah. So I was Sherry Zimmerman at school. I was Sherry Turkle at home. I had to hide my books that said Sherry Zimmerman to be Sherry Turkle when I was with my new half-sister and brother who never knew that I was not a full Turkle. And I never knew why we were hiding my name.

DAVIES: I want to talk more about your life as a child. But I want to just, at this point, move forward in the story until the time when you're 27 years old. And your mother has passed away from breast cancer. And you're living - you know, you're living your own life as an academic. And you hire a private detective. And you track down Charles Zimmerman, your father. You write him. He agrees to meet you. Tell us about that first encounter and what you learned from him about your relationship.

TURKLE: It was very dramatic because I had hired this private detective. I knew very little. I only knew that he had been a teacher. I found this out, this precious detail, from my Aunt Mildred, who had given it to me really feeling as though she had, you know, given away my mother's secret, my mother's greatest desire to have me not know my father. But she told me. She told me this detail. And so with this detail, I could find my father. He was living in Queens. And I wrote him. And we made a date. I took the subway to see him. He opens the door. There's this shock of recognition that we look alike.

And he says to me, did you find me through The New York Times? And I'm thinking, here I've been looking through the telephone books trying to find Charles Zimmermans. Has he been looking for me all these years? And it turns out that - I say, no. I found you through a private detective. And it turns out that he's been advertising not for me, but he's written a disproof of Einstein that he's been advertising in the book review. And the advertisement reads, E=MC2 is not correct. Bronx high school teacher disproves Einstein. And it gave a post office address. And that was our first encounter.

DAVIES: Yeah. So...

TURKLE: (Laughter).

DAVIES: ...An odd thing to hear about your father, that he has disproven Einstein's theory of relativity. You take this in. You sit down. And you learn a bit about your early relationship, right?

TURKLE: Yes. But that shock of, did you find me through The New York Times, me thinking he's been advertising me...

DAVIES: He's been trying to find you. Right.

TURKLE: Yeah, he's been trying to find me and that thrill that he's been trying to find me. And then that - you know, all those times that I'd been waiting at the mailbox for a holiday card or a birthday card, all those years. And I didn't get anything. And he's been looking for me. But no, he's been advertising his disproof of Einstein (laughter). And then we sit down. And he feeds me bagels and lox and cream cheese and pound cake and kind of typical Jewish foods. And he eats only green things. He's kind of a raw food vegetarian. And it turns out he not only has disproved Einstein, he's also written books about raw food vegetarianism and world peace. He's kind of an eccentric in many ways.

But he begins to talk about my early life. And he sort of drops a bombshell. And the bombshell he drops is very casually, as though it's sort of not much to say. He says that when I was little, he used to do experiments with me, kind of Skinnerian-type experiments where he would not speak to me, leave me in a room by myself, not respond when I spoke, leave me in the dark. And then he went on with kind of a list of, you know, psychological experiments that he thought would make him the next Skinner. And then one day, my mother found him at those experiments. And that's the day she left.

DAVIES: So he was experimenting, doing experiments on the effect of deprivation of attention and affection for kids, essentially, using you.

TURKLE: Yes. And he just casually talked about our being scientists together in the same way that he was talking about disproving Einstein and his theories about raw food vegetarianism and world peace. And he talked about me as an object of experimentation. And at the time, I had - was already at MIT and thinking about, you know, how wrong it is to treat people as objects or to think that objects are people. I mean, I was thinking a lot about the conflation of objects and people in the early days of computation, you know, that people aren't objects, and objects aren't people. And here I was learning about my father talking about me as an object in that conversation.

And there was a funny moment when I said, well, what did Mommy think when she came in on you? And he said, well, she was very upset. But I told her, to calm her down, that she could have co-authorship on the papers that I would write about you and these experiments. He was kind of trying to placate her with the offer of - (laughter) you know, with the offer of co-authorship on these classic papers in which I was the object of these experiments. And I said, well, what'd she say? And he just said she packed some clothes and two baskets from the A&P. And she left the house. And the words he used was, and that was the end of that. And that was the end of that.

DAVIES: And then you - I don't know if you did right away. But you surely must have understood now why your mother and aunt were so protective of keeping you away from Charles Zimmerman.

TURKLE: Yes. So that meeting did so much. It reconciled me with my - my mother had been dead for many years, 10 years at least, when this meeting happened. And it reconciled me with her after her death because I had been so angry at her for keeping my father away from me. And yet she had never wanted to tell me why. We had never had that conversation. So a lot of "The Empathy Diaries" is about - and, of course, so much of my work is about - the importance of these necessary conversations, of not keeping these secrets because, of course, all I wanted to do was to tell her that I understood now and how sorry I was.

DAVIES: You know, so much of this is about the burden of keeping secrets. I mean, you had to keep your identity secret from your schoolmates and your school identity secret from your siblings. And then your mom carried this secret about what your father was really about. You know, and I wonder if you've ever thought if you would handle this differently. Was she a prisoner of a different age? Could she have had that conversation with you maybe not when you were 5, but at some point, to say, there are some things you should know about all this?

TURKLE: Yes. And I think that that's why this is - "The Empathy Diaries," as I see the book, it's a story of being a prisoner of a time in which telling the truth was not an option in her world. She didn't feel that it was OK to be divorced. That was first. She didn't feel it was OK to have been married to a man who could have done these things. That was such a - you know, she feared he was mentally ill and that if I knew or if anyone knew that she had been married to a mentally ill person that that would shame her in some other dimension that would almost disqualify her from remarriage or from life in society. I mean, I think she had anxieties.

DAVIES: When you look back at what you heard from your biological father, Charlie Zimmerman, about him doing these experiments of depriving you of attention, leaving you crying alone in a room, we don't know how many times he did this - right? - I mean, he was - what records he was keeping. You later went through psychoanalysis. Do you have any clue as to whether this might have harmed you in some way?

TURKLE: I think it harmed me. But I think that the trace that I'm most aware of is what I call hyper-vigilance, that in this whole story, I think I'm very attuned to small changes in my environment. I notice things. I think it's something I've used in my work that's been helpful. But I think it's also a great liability. It means that it's very hard to just relax. And I think that's been a struggle. You know, these are memories that I've never been able - I wasn't aware of these experiments until he told me about them. It wasn't as though I had an aha moment in my analyses where I remembered them. But when I put the experiences that I've later learned about together with what I know of myself, I talk about this hyper-vigilance as a trace that I believe that I can trace through my life.

DAVIES: We need to take another break here. Let me reintroduce you. Sherry Turkle is a professor at MIT who studies the impact of digital technology on our lives and culture. Her new memoir is "The Empathy Diaries." She'll be back to talk more after a short break. I'm Dave Davies. And this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANAT COHEN'S "HAPPY SONG")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. We're speaking with Sherry Turkle. She's a professor of the social studies of science and technology at MIT, also a licensed clinical psychologist. She's chiefly known for her studies of the impact of digital technology on our culture. Her most recent book on that subject is "Reclaiming Conversation," published in 2015. Her new book is a memoir. She writes about growing up in Brooklyn and becoming a respected academic, also about some secrets in her family, which she came to understand more deeply when she asked questions in her 20s. Her book is called "The Empathy Diaries."

I want to go back to your childhood a bit. You know, we learned something about your biological father and why your mother kept you from him. Your mother married Milton Turkle, I guess when you were about 5 or so. And you moved from the apartment that you shared with your grandparents in Brooklyn. And you still spent summers at beach houses in Rockaway Beach. And you write that the first time you went there after your mom married Milton Turkle, I think the first morning, your mom asks you to change into your bathing suit and then head to this outdoor shower there. Tell us what happens.

TURKLE: Yeah, I'm really not sure how this is going to go, this new marriage. My mom had never been married to - you know, I'm just used to my grandfather and my aunt and my, you know, and me. And my mom is all dressed up and beautifully made up. And her hair is lacquered. And she says, come with me, darling, where - you know. And go to the shower. And she says, this is very important that you see how a man looks. And this is what you've been missing by not having a father and brothers and sisters as you've been growing up. And she puts me into the shower with her naked new husband, Milton. And there he is all naked.

And I have no recollection if I'm naked too or if I'm asked to take off my bathing suit or if I'm just there with naked Milton. But I was totally upset. I knew this was not right. I remember being very upset by how he appeared to me and by how his private parts appeared to me. I just absolutely turned away and tried to open the lock. And he took my face in his hands and he says, no, this is good for you. This is - you have to look. This is good for you. And he used those same words that my mother had used. This is good for you. And I remember thinking they're in this together. They've had a conversation. This is good for you. I remember thinking, good for me when, how?

DAVIES: Yeah. I mean, from everything you write about your mother, she adored you and wanted the best for you. What do you make of this episode?

TURKLE: Well, I've given this a lot of thought because this was not a good - this is not a good moment. I think she wanted to be - she had an intellectual sister, Mildred. And I think she wanted to be - she saw this, she'd been reading, like, books about - I've looked at the sort of books of the time, the child-raising books of the time. And I think that there was a - there were sort of books about, you know, talking more frankly to your children about sex and, you know, letting little girls see little boys naked. And, you know, I really don't know what else to make of it because it never happened again.

But it was a terrible - I mean, it had a not good influence on me. And again, it had to do with - the terms of its effects on me, it reinforced this hypervigilance that I was talking about. You know, if I think about the vulnerabilities that I had to overcome in my own psychological work, I think that this kind of - what could happen next? You know, kind of like, you know, what in the environment that could change suddenly? You know, what - where are we and what could suddenly change that's completely unexpected? This is part of that. This is part of that narrative.

DAVIES: You know, if there were any doubts about Milton's relationship with you or his new family or his appropriateness as a father, they were clarified years later when your mom, who battled breast cancer for nine years, mostly without telling you, finally died when you were near the end of your term at Radcliffe College. And Milton had lost his wife. He had - you know, you were his stepdaughter. He had two natural kids with your mom. And so it was a crisis in his life. It was a crisis in everyone's life. But he - well, he had a series of demands of you at that point and of others in your family. You want to just tell us how he reacted to your mom's death?

TURKLE: Yes. Well, the most important basic things that my mom had not told me about her illness - because she wanted me to go away to college, which had been my dream. It had been my dream since junior high to go away - to not just go away to college but go to Radcliffe. John F. Kennedy had gone to Harvard. I wanted to go to Harvard. When I rode away to Harvard and they said they didn't take girls, I want to go to Radcliffe. They told me I can go to Radcliffe. So she knew that if she told me that she was ill, I would stay home and go to college in New York City. So that's kind of the baseline.

Anyway, when I find out that she's dying - and then when she dies, I go back to college after she dies because that's what she wanted. And Milton calls me back to Brooklyn and says, I want you to end college. I want you to come back and take care of my two children and basically take the position of the women of the house. That's what would happen in the old country.

DAVIES: And what did you tell him?

TURKLE: I said, no. This isn't the old country. I mean, I think he was desperate. I think he just felt completely not up to the task of raising his family by himself. And he saw me, as, you know, the center of the household. And then he says, without missing a beat, as though he thought - perhaps thought that there might be this negative outcome to the conversation, he proposes that he's going to ask my mother's sister, my wonderful Aunt Mildred, to marry him because he says that in the old country, that would happen too. He asked Mildred to marry him. And it really was, you know, the end of, you know, it really broke my family apart.

DAVIES: Right. I mean, your grandparents wouldn't speak to him.

TURKLE: Yes.

DAVIES: And you really lost - threw a lot of your old papers and things away. It was a traumatic break in your family. You know, it's interesting. When I think of the male influences you had growing up, I mean, you - there were things to admire about your grandfather, but he had a mercurial temper. And then there was your father who had performed these deprivation experiments on you. And then there was Milton, who was clearly a damaged fellow in many ways, just not a lot of really solid male role models. And as you pursue this brilliant academic career that you did, you - you know, you study the impact of technology on our lives. And you end up not at Harvard, but at MIT, which is kind of a boys' club. I mean, this is fascinating. I mean, there are people who are engineers and technicians where you're going to be looking at the dawn of the computer age. But on its social impact, what was it like to be in that world, a woman among these men who had a whole different kind of way of looking at things?

TURKLE: Well, we're skipping just to briefly say that after these men who didn't appreciate me, I entered at Harvard. And in my both my undergraduate and graduate education, I had a roster and was drawn towards a roster of teachers and mentors - men because there were no women at Harvard on the faculty. So I would just want to say that it wasn't necessarily by choice. But men who encouraged and nurtured and mentored me.

And I think that that made all the difference in the world in terms of models and who didn't make moves on me, who didn't abuse me, who didn't - I mean, I don't have stories of, you know, who really were respectful and really appreciated me and encouraged me as a scholar and as a person and were empathic and kind. So I - you know, I just want to say that for me, going to Harvard and Harvard Graduate School and the University of Chicago, there were a series of mentors that really make a difference.

DAVIES: We need to take another break here. Let me just reintroduce you. We are speaking with Sherry Turkle. She's a professor at MIT who studies the impact of digital technology on our lives. Her new memoir is "The Empathy Diaries." She'll be back to talk more after a short break. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And we're speaking with Sherry Turkle. She's a professor at MIT who's known for her studies of the impact of digital technology on our lives and culture. She has a new memoir called "The Empathy Diaries."

You know, you pursued a really interesting intellectual journey. You spent a lot of time in France and studied these French psychoanalysts. And you kind of crafted your own way of pursuing your intellectual interests about how minds change. And at a time when sociologists were tending to use more quantitative measures, you wanted to do a Ph.D. in both sociology and psychology and be trained as a psychoanalyst. Why did you want to take that approach? What did you think it offered that was distinctive and important?

TURKLE: When I went to France, I was there at a very special time. I was there during the - just in the aftermath of the May 68 days. When I saw how this public event, this political event had changed the way people saw how the world works, how they thought about their minds, their possibilities for change in their lives and their families, and I became fascinated by the idea that - how we think about our lives. You know, it's not just intellectual. It's emotional and personal and inner, that the inner world and the outer world really are thought and feeling or all experienced together. And when I came back to study that at Harvard, the people who study the psychology of thinking were on one floor, and the people who study the psychology of feeling were on another floor.

And I just decided that in my career, whether or not - wherever that took me, I was going to study thinking and feeling together. And I wrote - from my dissertation, I wrote about the May days and thinking and feeling. And then when I began to study the computer culture, people were saying the computer is just a tool. And I'm talking to people who were talking about how it's a second self and they're identifying how they think about their minds and their feelings by thinking about their mind as a computer. And I'm saying, no, no, no, this is an intimate machine. This requires the most intimate kind of exploration of how people are thinking about the self.

DAVIES: And so when you're doing fieldwork and you're talking to kids or hackers or software engineers about what digital technology does to them, it's not a fixed script. You're listening and following up. You're being empathic as you're doing the research.

TURKLE: Yes. And they're talking about when I put a little piece of my mind - I remember talking to one 13-year-old girl who said, when I'm programming, I'm putting a little piece of my mind into the computer's mind. And I come to see myself differently. And she goes on to talk about how she's having problems with smoking and drinking actually, this 13-year-old. She's sneaking alcohol. But when she thinks about programming, it's a way to think about controlling herself. She's talking about the computer as a way to think about changing her life. But when I go back to MIT and I tell this story to my colleagues at MIT, they say, oh, come on, the computer is just a tool. And I'm thinking, no, they are not thinking about really the depth and the emotional meaning of what they're making.

DAVIES: I want to talk just a bit about the pandemic and what it's done to our connection to all of these digital tools that we have. You know, you've written a lot about the importance of face-to-face conversations, of not limiting yourselves to text messages, of, you know, intermediated conversations through machines. You know, we've lost a lot of face-to-face conversations. We're doing a lot of video conferencing. What do you see as the impact of what we've been going through?

TURKLE: Well, we've missed each other. We've missed that full embrace of the human because we've spent so much time on Zoom. When you're on Zoom, you give the other person the impression of eye contact by staring at a green light when you're really not seeing anything at all. So to give somebody the impression of empathy, you end up looking at nothing, and that's pretend empathy and that's not where real empathy is born. So I think we've missed - we've had an experience where we've really missed each other in a very profound way. And I think we can't wait to get back to each other. On the other hand, there's a great danger because the thing that being on screens does for us, whether in a pandemic or not in a pandemic, is it makes us feel less vulnerable. And we become accustomed to enjoying that lack of vulnerability by doing so much of our personal business and our business business hidden behind a screen. And I think that there's a danger that we will allow that to carry over to our post pandemic life more than we should.

DAVIES: Are there opportunities now for improvement?

TURKLE: Yes, because we have some wisdom now. If a school system comes to a parent now and says, oh, my God, do I have a system for you? Here's a technological system on a screen that can really measure your child's work and deliver this educational thing, you know, on this computer program, after this experience, a parent is not going to be wowed. This parent is going to say, excuse me, my child needs a mentor. My child needs a teacher. My child needs a relationship. My child has had a screen for a year. I now understand that my child needs to be with some people who will nurture him or her. There's opportunities to assert ourselves in a deliberate way about the balance we need. And I think that this experience, you know, of the pandemic, it's what the great anthropologist Victor Turner called a liminal time. It's like a time out of time. It's a time betwixt and between where you get a chance - the rules are broken and you get a chance to reassess what you really need. And I think that's what we have now. We have a chance to come back and not be wowed by technology and reassess the virtue of the human and relationships and to act more deliberately in our relationship with them.

Another way I would put that is that we've had a chance to kind of step away from our country and see it at a distance in so many areas of life - in race relations, in political relations, in gender relations and also in our relationships with our technology. And seeing things fresh and seeing them anew gives us a chance to come back and act more deliberately in all of these areas. And that's why, even though this has been such a frightening and alienating experience, I think it also is a chance to start fresh. And I end up feeling optimistic about the future.

DAVIES: Well, Sherry Turkle, thank you so much for speaking with us.

TURKLE: My pleasure.

DAVIES: Sherry Turkle is the Abby Rockefeller Mauze Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT and the founding director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. Her new memoir is "The Empathy Diaries." Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews some creepy tales about our relationship with technology, a new short story collection from John Lanchester. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF HERBIE MANN'S "BLUE DIP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.