Companionship, "Alive Enough", and Children

by Lauryn Hobbs

Companionship is readily defined as a feeling of fellowship or friendship. At a young age we find that we become attached to things and from there a feeling of friendship is developed. To the mind of a small child even something as minor as a blanket can provide the comfort of companionship. As a new age of technology comes upon us more and more words are being redefined to include forms of technology. When speaking of companionship one begins to wonder if technology can provide that basic human connection. In many ways we believe that it can, but on what terms can technology be the kind of companion that a human needs. For instance the show Catfish shows just how tricky technology can get by fooling people into a relationship in which they don’t really know the other person the way that they thought. On the other hand we have forms of technology that mimic the actions of an animal companion. On page 40 of “Alone Together” Sherry Turkle recaps a conversation with a small child about her Furby, “ I love Furby because it loves me… It was like he really knew me.” We find companionship in an object that we believe can interact with us, but on a subconscious level we realize that the connection isn’t as real. Friendship is a mutual affection between two or more people. Fellowship is people sharing the same interests. We have to ask ourselves on a basic level whether or not technology can provide this type of connection or if technology is one-sided in the fact that the human feels the connection, but the technology has a connection with whatever it is linked to rather than actual feelings.

Alive Enough
by Brittany Brown

The concept of “alive enough” began in the 1970’s with electronics that could play games with you. Today, the concept of “alive enough” has grown to encompass an electronics ability to socialize and feel. “Starting in the late 1990’s “digital creatures” came along that tried to dazzle children not with their smarts but with their sociability (28).” These “digital creatures” soon became “alive enough” for children to consider them real. Robots are considered to be “alive enough” if they have the ability to care, mourn, love, or feel. “It all began when children met the seductive Tamagotchis and Furbies , the first computers that asked for love (30).” They were “alive enough” to make children feel compassion for their toys.
However, children struggle with the concept of biological aliveness. “In the late 1970’s children spoke about an ‘animal kind of alive’ and a ‘computer kind of alive’. Now I hear them talk about a ‘people kind of love’ and a ‘robot kind of love’ (28).” The ability for children to indentify with robots has intensified from being “alive enough” to move, to “alive enough” to feel. If something can feel or has the ability to make you feel, is it alive or just “alive enough”? The point is, it doesn’t matter. If the feelings are there, then it is alive enough and that is how these children react. When caring for something that has a personality, wants, and needs children become attached and feel compassion. “We love what we nurture; if a Tamagotchi makes you love it, and you feel it loves you in return, it is alive enough to be a creature (31).”

by Alex Gomes

In a book that hopes to explain how technology affects society, you'd probably expect quotations and analysis to come from experts in the field: sociologists, programmers, and psychologists. However, in the first three chapters of Sherry Turkle's Alone Together: Why we Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, the majority of the quotations and are made by children. The children's ages vary from as young as four to as old as fifteen, and they only offer opinions from an uneducated, amateur, user-based standpoint.

And yet, these young sources manage to provide surprisingly insightful quotations.
According to the eight year-old Zara, "You can tell a teddy bear what it should feel, but AIBO 'can’t feel something else than what it is expressing.' AIBO has its 'own feelings.' She says, 'If AIBO’s eyes are flashing red, you can’t say that the puppy is happy just because you want it to be.' (p. 58) What children lack in expertise, they make up for in honesty and simplicity. They explain exactly how they feel. Additionally, children aren't comparing their robotic interactions against decades of person-to-person interaction, not the same way that adults do, anyway. The children in this book are learning the basics of communication in tandem with technology. In the case of AIBO, they're learning FROM technology.

As stated in the discussion questions, this shift raises a lot of possibilities for the future. Children are more adaptive to changes than adults; while the industry professionals might be better prepared to guess at what will happen in the future, it's the children who will actually make it happen.