Occasionally, when someone influences us, we know immediately, for example, watching someone on the news doing something spectacular, like rescuing a person from a burning building, or standing up against authority, like Malala Yousafzai. More often, we are not aware of the influence until decades later, as often happens with the influence of parents. Sometimes, we are influenced without being aware of the force of that influence, especially when the influence is held together only by threads, until something reminds us. This story describes that kind of influence on me by Sherry Turkle, author most recently of The Empathy Diaries.
When Turkle first influenced me during the 90’s, I was happily employed in technology management at Price Waterhouse, one of the world’s six major accounting giants. Sherry worked at MIT in technology, a loner, examining the effects of early social media and technology on human beings. I had always been a math and science nerd, long before we’d heard of STEM and its importance, with little interest in the soft sciences, like psychology, which to me seemed wishy-washy, not really science.
Turkle’s work demonstrated for me the link between technology and psychology, leading me to register for one of the few technology courses offered at Harvard that could be applied toward a psychology degree. At the time, Price Waterhouse (PW) had a policy that would reimburse employees for classes taken, related to their work, after earning an A or a B for coursework. This was one of the initial connection threads, whose future influence I could not have imagined.
After successfully completing that first class, then getting an ok from PW to continue work on the Master’s Degree, I was laid off shortly after 9/11 and immediately after the next class began, so, of course, before I could be reimbursed. My director, when telling me that I would no longer be working there, also told me that she had secured an ok for tuition reimbursement of my class. This was the second vitally important thread. Because of the promised reimbursement, I continued with that class, ultimately completing my Master’s Degree, even receiving an award for my thesis and research on gratitude in the 2005 Science-and-Religion Contest.
That degree led to a winding and happy career path through consulting, coaching, teaching, and ultimately, to a happy retirement, which now includes and embraces writing. Much of my writing includes my travels, each of which seems superficial and disconnected from each other. Then, out of nowhere, I hear Sherry Turkle’s name again, read her newest book, and recognize that she offers a perfect description of the connecting center, as she asks, “what might cause or allow someone to see themselves differently?” Turkle’s work examines technology as that connecting center, the mechanism that allows the change in vision, in possibility. Reading her work made me see that, for me, both travel and making the decision to travel served as the mechanism that allowed me to change. She asked an important question: What causes or allows someone to see themselves and their possibilities differently?
I have only recently been drawn to writing; now I am compelled to write. Recognition of the ‘decision to travel’ and ‘travel’, jointly, as a mechanism for change, rather than simply as wonderful experiences, allows me to fuel my writing and to connect the decisions and my travels with this significant unifying thread. Sherry Turkle’s work once influenced me to take a tiny step from technology into social sciences, leading me into more than an entirely different career — rather, a completely different way of seeing myself and my life. Once again, she is giving me a new way to see my past and view apparently separate choices, events, and threads as altogether unified.
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