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Book Review: The Inner History of Devices by Sherry Turkle, ed.

Review by Elizabeth Quill

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Cell phones, cyberspaces and video poker are not just functional technologies. And prosthetic eyes, dialysis machines and defibrillators are not simply medical tools. When people become intimately attached to technology, technology becomes imbued with personal meanings.

In this series of essays, anthropologists, psychologists and others share stories that attempt to address two profound questions: Do the machines and devices we use serve our purposes? And do the machines and devices change our purposes?

“What we have made is woven into our ways of seeing and being in the world,” writes Turkle, founder and director of MIT’s Initiative on Technology and Self.

The most powerful tales in the book address how people perceive and control their bodies. One writer discusses her relationship with her prosthetic eye: “I have come to think of my imperfect body as I think of my grandmother’s 1966 Ford Falcon. I have a certain loving acceptance that its shortcomings are just part of what it is.” Another deals with the science fiction of internal cardiac defibrillators: “How do the jolts of the ICD — traumatic biotechnological interventions — change the lives they seek to prolong? How do they change the deaths they attempt to postpone?” Others address how avatars help patients self-reflect, how virtual dissection changes medical education and how Slashdot.org gives addiction a good name.

Though sometimes intimate and sometimes absurd, these essays will make you think about what it means to be human in a technology-infused world.

MIT Press, 2008, 208 p., $24.95

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