Public and Private

Sherry Turkle's new book, Alone Together, ends in mourning. In October 2009, the author, an MIT professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology, went to her local synagogue for Yiskor, the special Yom Kippur service that remembers the dead. There she heard the rabbi deliver a sermon about the importance of talking to the deceased and communicating four messages to them: "I'm sorry. Thank you. I forgive you. I love you."


"That is what makes us human, over time, over distance," Turkle says of our ability to talk sincerely to other human beings, whether they belong to our past or our present. Our "knowledge of mortality" and our "experience of the life cycle" is conveyed in just such simple messages: "I'm sorry. Thank you. I forgive you. I love you." They are the most intimate words we can say to another. Without them, she suggests, we are machines akin to the robots in Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which imagines a future in which robots and humans are indistinguishable.