My mother died of cancer when I was nineteen. It marked my life in so many ways. At first I thought that I must surely be marked for an early death. She was 40 when she became ill – I was in fifth grade at the time – and 50 when she died. I identified with her and assumed the same would happen to me. It made me wonder about children, about marriage – I took my time on everything because I didn’t trust how long I would last. And then, at 40, when I didn’t become ill, I didn’t feel marked. I leapt into late motherhood. Through my daughter, Rebecca, I lived parts of life that I hadn’t been able to experience with my mother. Travelling with her. Watching her grow into a woman. Being there when she fell in love. Rebecca announced her engagement. At her wedding, she wanted her to wear something that had belonged to my mother. I was so moved. But I only had one piece of costume jewellery–art deco chandelier earrings that I had obsessively worn after her death. They were awful. I showed them to my loving child. Rebecca offered to wear them to the rehearsal dinner. With the right outfit, they could be fun.
I committed to buying something that my mother would have loved. Something art deco because she lived for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Costume jewelry because that was what she knew. Clip-ons because she did not have pierced ears. I found them. They were called “deco retro cubic zirconia rectangular.” I did not pretend they had been hers. I told Rebecca that these were my mother’s representative.
Sherry Turkle is Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science at MIT. She has written on our relationships to technology, most recently in Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other and Reclaiming Conversation. She has also edited three volumes on the role of objects in our lives, including Evocative Objects: Things We Think With, Falling For Science: Objects in Mind, and The Inner History of Devices.