No. 15 — Sherry Turkle 🧸 Transitional objects 🏛️ Wes Anderson x Kunsthistorisches Museum
On juggling balls and running gears, on jacquard bags and baby-blue cars
My name is Linda. I write a bi-weekly newsletter about computer science, childhood and culture - and there are 9497 of you listening. If you enjoy this issue, please share it with anyone you think may find it useful.
These past weeks I’ve been belly-flopping into new and looking for vocabularies between people who build technology and people who build cities. In addition, I’m two weeks away from a big deadline for the bind-up version of Hello Ruby, coming out in Finnish this fall, so work, work, (spring), work.
Last week I finished Sherry Turkle’s Empathy Diaries, a memoir of her life and career as a sociologist amid technology people.
Second Self, written in 1980s, is one of those technology books that only becomes more relevant as it ages. Empathy Diaries, on the other hand, is personal. It is graceful, clear, and maps Sherry’s intellectual lineage. I love how strong her voice is throughout the book, and how tech luminaries like Steve Jobs, Marvin Minsky or Seymour Papert pop by, often a bit cranky, childlike and so very focused on intellectual ideas.
Sherry, on the other hand, loves to think with objects. She used to start her classes by asking students to share an object they met during childhood or adolescence that had an influence on their path into science. Sometimes the very physicality of the objects offers children time to think, to use their imaginations, to make up their own worlds. Sharing these stories of juggling balls and running gears, of jacquard bags and baby-blue cars as objects to think with, to build an identity, made me smile.
Computers are of course mentioned as objects we think with. And I wonder how we, the generation that has always had computers, will grow to see them. Computers as transitional objects, like a baby blanket or a favorite teddy bear, are going to be more and more common. And I wonder if the small, boxy, squat things in our pockets will afford the same quality of experience as in a world less about screens?
There’s an activity that kind of handles this I’d be curious to hear feedback on. The idea is to look at everyday activities software has eaten up and discuss how they were done before. What have we gained? What might we have lost?
In computer science, a linked list is a linear collection of data elements whose order is not given by their physical placement in memory. But here it is a selection of things I’ve been reading lately.
I’m not a sociologist and know very little about psychoanalysis, so Sherry’s world threw me on a reading quest. While looking for writings on computers as transitional objects I found this fascinating blog called Thinking with Computers by Scott Richmond.
A history of the world in 100 objects series by BBC based on British Museum catalogue. Pair with the evergreen story on what happened when Wes Anderson curated an exhibition for Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum.
I’m hoping to surface and share stories from all of you and I’d love to see your creations! Here are a few teachers using Ruby in creative, fun and inspiring ways:
Matt Scadding’s students (who have impressed me before!) have built paper computers, but are far from finished, as they intend to include LittleBits hardware next. Can’t wait!
Salam Ruby is a very active instagram account in Persian. There is no official translation yet, but these grassroots efforts always feel so joyful, so right, so internet.
Or hit reply and answer below:
From Second Self, Turkle states: “In the 1970s and early 1980s, computers carried a modernist ethos: analyze and you shall know; by the mid-1990s, the complex simulation worlds of opaque computers offered an experience that called these assumptions into question. Culturally, the Macintosh carried the idea that it is more fruitful to explore the world of shifting surfaces than to embark on a search for mechanism, origins, and structure.” What does the culture of computing in 2020 carry?
Is there an object that made you fall in love with science/books/fashion/sports/misc?
Is a computer a transitional object for you? Why? Why not?