The Inner History of Devices

The Inner History of Devices

Edited by Sherry Turkle

Memoir, clinical writings, and ethnography inform new perspectives on the experience of technology; personal stories illuminate how technology enters the inner life.





Memoir, clinical writings, and ethnography inform new perspectives on the experience of technology; personal stories illuminate how technology enters the inner life.

For more than two decades, in such landmark studies as The Second Self and Life on the Screen, Sherry Turkle has challenged our collective imagination with her insights about how technology enters our private worlds. In The Inner History of Devices, she describes her process, an approach that reveals how what we make is woven into our ways of seeing ourselves. She brings together three traditions of listening—that of the memoirist, the clinician, and the ethnographer. Each informs the others to compose an inner history of devices. We read about objects ranging from cell phones and video poker to prosthetic eyes, from Web sites and television to dialysis machines.

In an introductory essay, Turkle makes the case for an “intimate ethnography” that challenges conventional wisdom. One personal computer owner tells Turkle: “This computer means everything to me. It's where I put my hope.” Turkle explains that she began that conversation thinking she would learn how people put computers to work. By its end, her question has changed: “What was there about personal computers that offered such deep connection? What did a computer have that offered hope?” The Inner History of Devices teaches us to listen for the answer.

In the memoirs, ethnographies, and clinical cases collected in this volume, we read about an American student who comes to terms with her conflicting identities as she contemplates a cell phone she used in Japan (“Tokyo sat trapped inside it”); a troubled patient who uses email both to criticize her therapist and to be reassured by her; a compulsive gambler who does not want to win steadily at video poker because a pattern of losing and winning keeps her more connected to the body of the machine. In these writings, we hear untold stories. We learn that received wisdom never goes far enough.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262201766 224 pp. | 5.375 in x 8 in 4 b&w photos


$35.00 X ISBN: 9780262516754 224 pp. | 5.375 in x 8 in 4 b&w photos


Sherry Turkle

Sherry Turkle is Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT and Founder and Director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. A psychoanalytically trained sociologist and psychologist, she is the author of The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit (Twentieth Anniversary Edition, MIT Press), Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet, and Psychoanalytic Politics: Jacques Lacan and Freud's French Revolution. She is the editor of Evocative Objects: Things We Think With, Falling for Science: Objects in Mind, and The Inner History of Devices, all three published by the MIT Press.


  • Sherry Turkle and the contributors use memoirs, psychoanalysis, and ethnography to illuminate our attachments, our grief, our compulsions, our use of things to explore life and death, to shape new selves. Their insights make this book important reading not only for professionals but for everybody who wonders where innovation is taking us.

    Edward Tenner

    author of Our Own Devices: How Technology Remakes Humanity and Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences

  • What a remarkable book—like a magic toolbox out of this volume come objects with stories: cellphones, dialysis machines, defibrillators, websites, and much more. Using fieldwork, clinical work, and memory work, Sherry Turkle and her terrific contributors make the material world a place of living meanings that tell a great deal about who we are—and who we are becoming. Even more: this is a sophisticated book that is great fun to read.

    Peter Galison

    Joseph Pellegrino University Professor, Harvard University