Simulation and Its Discontents

From Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life

Simulation and Its Discontents

By Sherry Turkle

With William J. Clancey, Stefan Helmreich, Yanni Alexander Loukissas and Natasha Myers

How the simulation and visualization technologies so pervasive in science, engineering, and design have changed our way of seeing the world.





How the simulation and visualization technologies so pervasive in science, engineering, and design have changed our way of seeing the world.

Over the past twenty years, the technologies of simulation and visualization have changed our ways of looking at the world. In Simulation and Its Discontents, Sherry Turkle examines the now dominant medium of our working lives and finds that simulation has become its own sensibility. We hear it in Turkle's description of architecture students who no longer design with a pencil, of science and engineering students who admit that computer models seem more “real” than experiments in physical laboratories.

Echoing architect Louis Kahn's famous question, “What does a brick want?”, Turkle asks, “What does simulation want?” Simulations want, even demand, immersion, and the benefits are clear. Architects create buildings unimaginable before virtual design; scientists determine the structure of molecules by manipulating them in virtual space; physicians practice anatomy on digitized humans. But immersed in simulation, we are vulnerable. There are losses as well as gains. Older scientists describe a younger generation as “drunk with code.” Young scientists, engineers, and designers, full citizens of the virtual, scramble to capture their mentors' tacit knowledge of buildings and bodies. From both sides of a generational divide, there is anxiety that in simulation, something important is slipping away. Turkle's examination of simulation over the past twenty years is followed by four in-depth investigations of contemporary simulation culture: space exploration, oceanography, architecture, and biology.


$30.00 T ISBN: 9780262012706 232 pp. | 5.375 in x 8 in 10 figures


William J. Clancey, Stefan Helmreich, Yanni Alexander Loukissas, and Natasha Myers.


  • As computer simulation techniques have been transforming the practices of designers, engineers, and scientists, Sherry Turkle and her collaborators have been operating, at close quarters and over an extended period, as ethnographers among the simulators. This long-awaited volume presents their observations and reflections. It is an indispensable source of insights into the changing nature of learning, research, and expert practice in the digital era.

    William J. Mitchell

    Program in Media Arts and Sciences, MIT and author of World's Greatest Architect

  • It's remarkably easy to forget that there ever was a time when design engineers and architects manipulated 3-dimensional objects and scientists estimated model variables on blackboards. Turkle's latest book reminds us that, in science as in everyday life, technological change often slips past us and transforms our sense of what we're doing and why we're doing it without our remembering to notice. As she's done so often before, Turkle remembered on our behalf.

    Don Ross

    School of Economics, University of Cape Town and Department of Finance, Economics and Quantitative Methods and Department of Philosophy, University of Alabama at Birmingham