I never much liked Sherry Turkle’s early work because she seemed to take an uncritical, gee-whiz look at web interactions and identity. Now it appears she’s having second thoughts.
She rejects the thesis she embraced 15 years earlier, as she notes that the online world is no longer a space of freedom and reinvention. Instead, we have been trapped by Facebook profiles and Google cache, in which verbs like “delete” and “erase” are mostly metaphorical. Turkle quotes one high school senior who laments the fact that everything he’s written online will always be around, preserved by some omniscient Silicon Valley server. “You can never escape what you did,” he says.
The Internet is full of absurdities, from the booming economy of virtual worlds — a user recently paid $335,000 for land on a fictitious asteroid in Entropia Universe — to the mass retweeting of Justin Bieber. It’s always fun to mock the stilted language of teenagers and lament the decline of letter writing. But these obvious objections shouldn’t obscure the real mystery: If the Internet is such an alienating force, then why can’t we escape it? If Facebook is so insufferable, then why do hundreds of millions of people check their page every day?