In the final section of Life on the Screen, Turkle pushes the limit of public acceptance of virtual identity as she dives straight into the internet culture, specifically Internet Relay Chat (IRC) rooms and communities in MUDs and MOOs. What Turkle aims to drive home is the shift from person to persona, from protean self to saturated self (180, 182). Responding to the often-hyped attitude toward online personae, Turkle muddies the waters of the question of "psychotherapy or addiction" (196). While IRC subjects may describe themselves as "addicted to flux" (179), others feel that MUDs provide a "psychosocial moratorium," or a series of consequences intensely experienced while a core self is constructed (after Erik Erikson's theories about adolescent identity development) (203). In other words, text-based interactions provide an "electronic trace" of one's "foibles and defensive reactions" (206).

As an administrator of Lingua MOO, I can attest to the validity of Turkle's explanations, and to the "positive effect on self-understanding" (207). The evocation of emotions in MOOspace is the subject of a recent article of mine on pathos and MOOs (See my "pathos@play.prosthetic.emotion" in CyberSpaces: Pedagogy and Performance on the Electronic Frontier, a special issue of Works & Days 25/26, 13.1-2 (1995), edited by Charles J. Stivale). The blurring of boundaries between self and Other, what Turkle describes as "projection and the development of transference" (207), rings true.

More troubling for some readers, however, is Turkle's account of cybersex in the closing chapters of Life on the Screen. Turkle offers excellent disclaimers about the cautions necessary where children have access to these communities, and yet she also warns against "parental panic" (225). In an equally balanced portrayal of cyberspace, Turkle suggests that we neither opt for simplistic utilitarian models of this technology, nor should we adopt an apocalyptic or utopian view (232). On the contrary, Turkle gives her readers a balanced discussion of the complexities we all face when viewed through the "new lenses" of online life.

(See also the chapter on MUDs and MOOs in Victor Vitanza's CyberReader and see Bob Timm's review in this issue of Kairos)

Back to Turkle review

Back to Reviews Section