Research Portfolio | Science, Technology, and Society

Subjective Technology

Objects Enter the Inner Life

When the engineer describes her first Legos, the chef his rolling pin—neither is just talking about objects. Individually evocative, objects carry significant meaning for each of us. Sherry Turkle, sociologist, clinical psychologist, and Professor in the School's Science, Technology, and Society program, researches the relationships we build with significant things in our lives, focusing on why and how they matter.

“When my Palm crashed it was like a death,” says one PDA user. “I felt as though I had lost my mind.” Turkle investigates how objects like this enter the inner life, affect relationships, and carry ideas, sensibilities, and memory.

Thinking With Objects 

"We love the objects we think with, and we think with the objects we love," says Turkle, summarizing the root message behind three new books she has edited: Evocative ObjectsFalling for Science, and The Inner History of Devices. Each is a collection of essays about how objects and tools affect us.

Evocative Objects examines how things evoke emotions and thoughts; Falling for Science explores the objects that spark scientific curiosity; and The Inner History of Devices investigates how today's technologies are part of shaping new selves.

Subjective Technology

Together, the "object trilogy," as Turkle calls it, provides insights into how technology changes our sensibilities. "Beyond every instrumental technology—what technologies do for us—there is a subjective technology—what technology does to us, as people, to our relationships, to our ways of looking at the world," says Turkle, who is also the founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. 

Implications for Engineers 

As objects such as cell phones and computers blaze the trail for sociable robots and perhaps even cybernannies, Turkle's pioneering research is prescient. It has wide-ranging implications for engineers, designers and technologists—for everyone involved in conceptualizing or designing objects and tools for service in the world.   

Firing the Imagination

Her work also speaks directly to America’s need to bolster the ranks of young engineers and scientists. For 25 years Turkle has asked her MIT students to reflect on what brought them into science, and has learned how objects and tools—a microscope, a modem, a fishing rod—can fire the imagination, and set young people on paths to careers in science


For more information:
Sherry Turkle's website
MIT Initiative on Technology and Self


astronomical clock

  Detail, Astronomical Clock
  Prague City Hall, the Czech Republic