Over the past few months, a lot of theoretical work has been done to further develop the concept of “digital dualism.” Following a provocation from Nicholas Carr, a number of thoughtful people have chimed in to help both further explicate and defend the theory. Their responses have been enlightening and are worth reading in full. They have also clarified a few things for me about the topic that I’d like to share here. Specifically, I’d like to do a bit of reframing regarding the nature of digital dualism, drawing upon this post by Nathan Jurgenson, then use this framework to situate digital dualism within a broader field of political disagreement and struggle.
In his reply to Carr, Jurgenson helpfully parses apart two distinct-but-related issues. (Technically he draws three distinctions, but I will only focus upon two here). First, Jurgenson identifies what he calls “ontological digital dualism theory,” a research project that he characterizes as focused upon that which exists. Such theory would seem to include all efforts that seek to explain (or call into question) the referents of commonly used terms such as “digital” or “virtual,” “physical” or “real.” In contrast to this ontological theory, he then identifies what might be called normative digital dualism theory—a branch of analysis concerned with the comparative value that is attributed to the categories established by one’s ontological position. Such theory would thus analyze the use of value-laden modifiers such as “real” or “authentic” in describing the “digital” or the “physical.”
I posit that digital dualism, in fact, draws from both the ontological and the normative analyses. Specifically the digital dualist: (more…)
In a recent post titled “Digital Dualism of the Real,” Nathan Jurgenson (@nathanjurgenson) wonders if there are several kinds of digital dualisms and, if so, how we should label them. I am a bit surprised by such a concern as I don’t consider digital dualism theory to be divisible or “splitable,” given that I started to develop it in my own way in France. I have found Nathan’s theory of digital dualism very useful; however, because this new idea of different kinds of digital dualisms appears to me as an unwanted consequence of the recent debate with Nicholas Carr, I would like in this post to help him further develop his theory and make it even stronger. That’s why I will start my reflection here by coming back to Carr’s arguments, in order to deconstruct them in greater detail. Because, unfortunately, I think they all are false.
In a post published on his blog only two days before the Theorizing the Web conference, Nicholas Carr is trying to invalidate the digital dualism critiques coming from the Cyborgology’s blog authors. We can wonder why a Pulitzer Prize nominee author of influential books translated into more than 20 languages is so interested in the digital dualism theory. It is easy to answer that: Carr is clever enough to detect that a new generation of digital scholars is developing very strong ideas. And, because he is targeted by them as a digital dualist, he is compelled to attempt to demonstrate the contrary. But he is wasting his time. What are the main objections of Carr? (more…)
Digital dualism is pervasive, and the understandings that it informs—of ourselves, of our experiences, and of our very world—are a mess. Perhaps this can be chalked up to the fact that digital dualism arises from varying sets of flawed assumptions, and was never purposefully assembled as such by the people who embrace it. But guess what? As theorists, we have the opportunity not only to build new frameworks for understanding, but also to assemble those frameworks with both consciousness and intentionality. So with that in mind, what should a theory of augmented reality look like? What would we do differently from digital dualists?
It is of paramount importance that theories of augmented reality acknowledge complexities and differences—whether between materials, media, degrees of access, or subjective experiences—without falling into dualisms. (more…)
Photo credit: Evan Ludes
Last week, I started a somewhat ridiculously ambitious post wherein, by way of making a whole bunch of points I’ve been wanting to make anyway, I intended to push us all toward strengthening and clarifying our ideas around both digital dualism and augmented reality. In light of some really excellent work by Jenny Davis (@Jup83), PJ Rey (@pjrey), and Tyler Bickford (@tylerbickford), in addition to some old-fashioned conversation on these topics with PJ and Nathan Jurgenson (@nathanjurgenson), I’m now going to change course a bit. In this middle installment, I’m going to revisit the three problematic dualisms of digital dualism (Atoms/Bits, Physical/Digital, and Offline/Online), take up the two recent major critiques of the digital dualism framework, advance a few provocations in the service of breaking dualisms and promoting clarity, and then finally conclude for this week with a preview of this essay’s final destination.
A distinct feature of academically oriented blogs like Cyborgology is that these are spaces in which theories take shape over time through conversation, contradiction, progression, and stumbles. Rather than a finished product, readers find here a theoretical process, one that is far from linear and often fraught. It is in this messy and fractured way that theories of digital dualism and augmented reality continue to develop here at Cyborgology and connected sites. In this spirit of processual-theorizing, I want to further refine my material mapping of digital dualism for yet a third time*. With the ongoing dualism debates, the time is ripe for theoretical rethinking and adjustments. (more…)
Note to readers: This article and its corresponding links discuss rape, victim blaming, “slut” shaming, and rape culture generally.
The disturbing events in Steubenville, Ohio have spurred some insightful reporting and analysis (collected by Lisa Wade at Sociological Images) that, one would hope, raise awareness about rape culture. As a social scientist that studies social media, I am particularly interested in how privacy and connectivity have been framed within the context of the case. I cannot help but notice the sloppiness with which many reporters write about the “dangerous mix of alcohol, sex and social media that many teens navigate nowadays.” Studying the role of social media in everyday life may appear as trivial or superficial: something fun or novel to study. But Steubenville shows us exactly why writers and scholars need to understand social media better. (more…)
When someone sends a text to my phone, are they any less responsible for their comments than if they had said the same thing face-to-face? If someone says a photo I post is “unflattering” or “unprofessional,” do I feel like this says something about me as a person? Why has it become so common to equate the unauthorized use of someone else’s Facebook account to the violation experienced during rape, that the term “fraping”* has come into popular usage? These are some of the questions I think that digital dualism prevents us from answering satisfactorily. In framing an alternative to dualist thinking, I argue that it is important to account for people’s changing sense of self (hinted at in the examples above). To do this, we must examine the material conditions of subjectivity, or, put simply, how what we are affects who we are.
Interestingly, my argument that we ought to take serious account of people’s changing sense of self closely aligns me with with Nick Carr’s recent counter to the digital dualism critique. In fact, in re-reading his post, I realize that he is arguing for almost exactly the kind of theoretical frame work that I am working to develop. (more…)
So far, I have been a silent observer of the Dualism debates unraveling over the past few weeks both here on Cyborgology and around The Web (as well as in conference lobbies, coffee shops, and university hallways). Super brief recap: Nicholas Carr is cheezed off at Cyborgologists for their insistence on critiquing digital dualism and digital dualists, and argues that supposedly “dualist” experiences should be taken more seriously. Alternately, Tyler Bickford is peeved that the critique of digital dualism is not taken far enough, and that the Augmented Perspective assumes, incorrectly, that there is some base reality from which to augment. Cyborgologists have worked furiously to address these points, arguing about the role of bodies and emotion, correcting misleading characterizations, clarifying linguistic ambiguities, reintroducing the “Other” theorists, and pushing the theoretical program forward.
Alright, pop quiz: Is there a reality outside of human experiences? Please circle YES or NO.
Chances are you find this question either very silly or very complicated, possibly both. But I argue that this question is actually lurking in the background of much this month’s earlier digital dualism debate, and that giving it some attention straightens a lot of things out—especially the compelling (but ultimately incorrect, I argue) charge that augmented reality is itself a dualist framing.
To illustrate why this question matters, consider the following fictional (but not entirely unlikely) scenario, in which I either am or am not a jerk:
This guest-post and #TtW13 review is cross-posted with permission from Technophilosophy, a French digital theory blog.
On Saturday, March 2nd, 2013, I made a presentation in New York as part of the International Conference Theorizing the Web. Organized by Nathan Jurgenson (@nathanjurgenson) and PJ Rey (@pjrey) [Yes, I also wonder what his real name is], both doctoral students in sociology at the University of Maryland (Washington, DC), the event was held in the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY), on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. A prestigious and perfectly equipped venue (no Wi-Fi issues), which promoted the sharing of high quality insights. (more…)