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But Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet, published last winter and excerpted in this magazine last January ("Who Am We?" Wired 4.01), reaches well beyond the computer culture.
Hyperfiction novelist and Vassar College professor Michael Joyce observes: "Perhaps the single most underreported aspect of our time is that the most compelling and serious discourse about new technologies and cultural change proceeds from women.
With its screen surfaces, its learning by doing instead of learning the rules first, its hypertext (no one pathway through the text is the correct way or the best way), computing now is as postmodernist as it gets.
It's characterized, as Turkle puts it, by "the precedence of surface over depth, of simulation over the real, of play over seriousness." For philosophers who have lamented the lack of objects to represent the postmodern condition, computing now offers the information of the Internet and the connections of the World Wide Web; the windows, icons, and layers of personal computing; the creatures in a Sim Life game; the simulations of the quantum world routinely used in introductory physics courses.
Sherry Turkle knows what role-playing in cyberspace really means. Snow's famous phrase delineating "the two cultures" - science and the humanities - got it wrong from the outset.
In the house of the human mind, there are many mansions, many cultures.
The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit, published in 1984, was a broad-reaching study of the role of the computer as employed by its early users to think about themselves and their minds.
It was published just as the personal computer was becoming a consumer item in the American home.No matter that Turkle calls herself not a postmodernist but "a modern woman telling a postmodern tale." Her postmodern tale is about computing - the technology, she says, that brings postmodernism down to earth. And it will have to do, since it's all we have. ) Postmodernism celebrates this time, this place; and it celebrates adaptability, contingency, diversity, flexibility, sophistication, and relationships - with the self and with the community.Turkle is author of three seminal books - Psychoanalytic Politics, The Second Self, and her most recent, Life on the Screen - each a measured, meticulous, and ultimately mind-reordering exploration of the ways people think about themselves and their worlds in these postmodern times. The surface is what matters, to be explored by navigation, not by opening up the hood and peering inside. Modernism coexists with postmodernism, which makes sense if you think of modernism as the spirit of the Tofflerian Second Wave (all those railroads and smokestacks that we still use and need) and postmodernism as the spirit of the Third Wave.The British physicist and novelist presented his two-cultures idea to great acclaim in a 1959 book.Who then could have foreseen that Snow got it wrong because he was a modernist? Since modernism, concerned with form and essences - with abstractions - assumes that beneath any surface exists a timeless and placeless truth, modernists like Snow believed that at some essential level, science and the humanities might connect - if only they were properly scolded.Modernist Walter Cronkite could end his newscast with "That's the way it is." Dan Rather must end more tentatively with "That's part of our world tonight."Mainframes were modernist, but computing slipped into postmodernism when people got personal computers.