This post is a question. A highly self-indulgent question. About my dog. Consider yourself warned.
The question is this: why have I, a person who explicitly rejects mind-body dualisms, readily altered my dog’s physiology through medicine and surgeries, but strongly resisted altering his brain chemistry through anti-anxiety drugs? Or, in other words, why am I so cool with technologies of the body but distinctly uncomfortable with technologies of the mind?
After seeing today’s XKCD (above) I sort of wish I had written all of my digital dualism posts as an easy-to-read table. I generally agree with everything on there (more on that later), but I’m also pretty confused as to how Randall Munroe got to those conclusions given some of his past comics. I can’t square the message of this table with the rest of Monroe’s work that has maligned the social sciences as having no access to The Way Things Are. The table is funny specifically because the social scientists he pokes fun of, did a lot of work to make those answers plainly (painfully?) obvious. How does someone with an obvious resentment for the social sciences, also make a joke about how we were always already alienated? (more…)
When we talk about “digital dualism,” are we really talking about digital ideal theory? (I’ll explain what I mean by “ideal theory” shortly.) I’m not sure. But, I want to push the question because I think it’s very important for us to frame and discuss this critique in as precisely as possible. So, in this post, I’m going to try to argue that we are, in fact, talking about digital ideal theory–not necessarily because I actually believe this argument, but because we need to push this argument to see if, where, and how it breaks.
I ask this question because it seems to me that when we say “digital dualism,” we’re using the concept of an ontological dualism (reality vs virtuality) to describe a phenomenon or a view that isn’t necessarily dualist, and, as Nathan suggests here and Jesse Spafford summarizes here, isn’t necessarily ontological. What if the phenomenon we’re referring to when we say “digital dualism” isn’t an ontological dualism, but an idealized epistemological abstraction?
On Cyborgology we’ve talked a lot about digital social media’s use for and implication in various forms of sexual assault; there’s David’s post the Steubenville rape case, Whitney’s post on sexts and online bullying, and PJ’s post on rape culture and photography at Burning Man. In a press release about a bill before New York state legislature, law professor Mary Anne Franks uses the term “virtual sexual assault” to describe the posting of a sexually explicit image of someone without the subject’s consent. Now, I know this may shock some of you, but I’m not going to problematize the “virtual” part of that phrase–I’m taking that problematization as a given (just go read the above-linked posts). Instead, I want to problematize the concept of consent. I think it might need an upgrade.
Following feminist political theorists’ and philosophers’ critiques of the language of “consent,” I want to raise the question: Is “consent” really the most accurate, most productive lens through which to understand and address “virtual sexual assault”? Using some feminist political theory, I want to suggest that “consent” is ultimately a counterproductive tool in combatting sexual assault perpetrated on/via digital media (I know that’s a clunkier phrase, but it’s more accurate than “virtual”). Because the concept of consent is tied to a specific notion of property–private property–it isn’t easily translatable to digital ‘property’ (I talked about this a little last week). So, consent might not be able to address the so-called “virtual” or digitally-mediated aspects of this type of sexual assault. But, it’s also not particularly helpful in addressing regular-old meatspace sexual assault. As Carole Pateman famously argues, “consent” was never designed for women to exercise. It may well be one of those “master’s tools” that will always, no matter who uses it and with what intention, prop up the master’s house.
In a previous post for Cyborgology, I attempted to take what has been called “digital dualism” and repackage it into a slightly new shape—one that would bring into focus what I considered to be the concept’s most significant features. Specifically, I posited that digital dualism should be understood to include—and be limited to—any instance where a speaker establishes a normatively-charged hierarchy of ontological categories, at least one of which is technological. Thus, were a speaker to carve up the world into the “digital” and the “physical” while suggesting the former is somehow ontologically inferior to the latter (or vice versa), she would be instantiating digital dualism, as I defined it.
I next sought to situate digital dualism within a broader set of views that I characterized as “conservative.” Conservatism, I argued, is a cluster of ideologies unified by an effort to justify and further social hierarchy. I argued that ontological hierarchy of the sort that characterizes digital dualism often plays an instrumental role in the conservative project, as it serves to legitimate perceived differences in status. (For more exposition of this point, see my previous Cyborgology post). Indeed, I contend that digital dualism is very often deployed for conservative ends by those who seek to elevate themselves above technophillic masses.
If one accepts these premises, it becomes possible to formulate generalized strategies for critique, beginning with contestations of (conservative) digital dualism and then abstracting to arguments that might be directed against other conservative ideologies that rest upon hierarchical ontologies.
what’s a bot and what’s human and where do we draw the line and should we draw that line
Yesterday, we learned that the most infamous Weird Twitter account, @Horse_ebooks, wasn’t a algorithmically-programmed “bot” but instead the product of a person tweeting as if. The revelation was accompanied by a live performance of the account in a Manhattan art gallery. While much is being written about the account, I’d like to share one thought about the live performance and what this all says about what is real and virtual, “bot” and human. In one day, @Horse_ebooks went from bot to human, and as I’ll argue, embodied in an art gallery, right back towards bot. (more…)
Chen Guangchen faced detainment and physical abuse after mobilizing protests and law suits against the Chinese government
In 2006, my final year of undergrad, I participated in a Chinese language and culture scholarship program. We learned to speak and write in Mandarin for two semesters, followed by a month long trip in the summer. As tends to happen, I’ve forgotten most of the language. The lessons, however, have stuck with me. Along with humbling experiences of climbing the Great Wall, walking through the Forbidden City, and sampling tea in the rural mountains, I remember a few incidents in which Chinese censorship took me by surprise. For instance, on the day after we visited Tiananmen Square, I studiously went to an Internet café to learn more about the events that transpired at the historic site. Besides iconic images of tanks and soldiers, I was admittedly uninformed about most of the details. The tour guide only made one quiet allusion to the Cultural Revolution, and quickly changed the subject. The Internet, I hoped, would help me grasp the cultural and historical magnitude of the space I’d just inhabited. No such luck. Google was more tight-lipped about Tiananmen Square than our knowledgeable but cautious guide.
Becoming a parent has inflected how I see everything in the world, including the practice of “being online.” I apologize for using scare quotes so soon into this essay, but it feels necessary. “Online” contains several types of possible connection, as Jenny Davis and others at Cyborgology have argued. And the “being” part is what needs to be at stake: how does the way in which we exist change when that existence is networked and distributed? The anthropology of “being online” therefore includes a consideration of the ontological effects on people as much as empirically measurable effects of using iPads and Facebook.
A common narrative, and one Cyborgology has consistently disputed, is that “technology” or “social media” or “the digital” have impinged on an authentic mode of life that previously existed and which we retroactively call “offline.” This narrative relies on constructing images that can quickly code as “authentic,” as in this video that Nathan Jurgenson has dissected. The graphic above, from a New York Times essay, crystallizes this narrative as it makes us of family and child-rearing as an icon of authentic offline living. Devices and the information they present come between a parent and the child. They blot out the child’s pleading face. Tellingly, the phone is represented as blank–the viewer is not asked to make a judgment about the value of what the person is doing with the phone (checking Twitter? responding to an email? calling 911?), they are asked to condemn its vacuity. (more…)
I get really nervous when people start making claims about what is and isn’t “real” music. Like Princess Leia in The Empire Strikes Back, “I have a bad feeling about this” because these arguments, like the “cave” the Leia was exploring, are not what they seem. Usually they use “music” as a proxy to talk about something else–gender, race, (sub)culture, class, etc. They don’t have a lot to tell us about music, even though they may reveal other things, like the social values and biases implicit in the argument. I’m so certain of this that I wrote a whole book on it. (more…)
Following the various articles about digital dualism that have been posted on Cyborgology (and elsewhere) over the past couple of years, it seems to me that more needs to be done to explain the consequences of digital dualism. Examples of digital dualism drawn from mainstream media opinion pieces partly reinforce this problem, with digital dualism seen merely as a rhetorical trope of editorial writing, with no real consequences aside from being theoretically misleading. The danger here is that digital dualism is seen as belonging to popular writing about new technologies. There are far fewer examples of policies based upon dualist thinking, even though this is where digital dualism has potentially dangerous consequences. (more…)
We live in a cyborg society. Technology has infiltrated the most fundamental aspects of our lives: social organization, the body, even our self-concepts. This blog chronicles our new, augmented reality.