I’ve poked fun at these lazy op-eds before and, indeed, it must be tempting to retreat into the safe conceptual territory of “The Internet is fake!” when a juicy story of lies, deception, and computers makes headlines. The Te’o case is an almost unbelievable account of a football star allegedly tricked into falling for, and eventually mourning, a woman who didn’t exist. It’s the kind of fiction only non-fiction could invent. [More on the Te’o case]

What I’d like to point out is that people have incorrectly called this a cyber-deception, a digital-deception, an online-hoax, when this is not exactly right: it was a deception, and one that happened to involve digital tools in a significant way. This mistake is what I call “digital dualism”: conceptually dividing the digital and physical into separate realities. Dualists speak of “real” interaction as opposed to digital interaction, digital selves, and a digital life, like Neo jacking into The Matrix. [More. On. Digital. Dualism.] more...

When I first began as a graduate student encountering social media research and blogging my own thoughts, it struck me that most of the conceptual disagreements I had with various arguments stemmed from something more fundamental: the tendency to discuss “the digital” or “the internet” as a new, “virtual”, reality separate from the “physical”, “material”, “real” world. I needed a term to challenge these dualistic suppositions that (I argue) do not align with empirical realities and lived experience. Since coining “digital dualism” on this blog more than a year ago, the phrase has taken on a life of its own. I’m happy that many seem to agree, and am even more excited to continue making the case to those who do not.

The strongest counter-argument has been that a full theory of dualistic versus synthetic models, and which is more correct, has yet to emerge. The success of the critique has so far outpaced its theoretical development, which exists in blog posts and short papers. Point taken. Blogtime runs fast, and rigorous theoretical academic papers happen slow; especially when one is working on a dissertation not about digital dualism. That said, papers are in progress, including ones with exciting co-authors, so the reason I am writing today is to give a first-pass on a framework that, I think, gets at much of the debate about digital dualism. It adds a little detail to “digital dualism versus augmented reality” by proposing “strong” and “mild” versions of each. more...

Reason #15,926 I love the Internet: it allows us to bypass our insane leaders israelovesiran.com

— allisonkilkenny (@allisonkilkenny) April 22, 2012

Sherry Turkle
Sherry Turkle, Author of Alone Together and a New York Times opinion piece on our unhealthy relationship to technology.

Sherry Turkle published an op-ed in the Opinion Pages of the New York Times’ Sunday Review that decries our collective move from “conversation” to “connection.” Its the same argument she made in her latest book Alone Together, and has roots in her previous books Life on the Screen and Second Self. Her argument is straightforward and can be summarized in a few bullet points:

  • Our world has more “technology” in it than ever before and it is taking up more and more hours of our day.
  • We use this technology to structure/control/select the kinds of conversations we have with certain people.
  • These communication technologies compete with “the world around us” in a zero-sum game for our attention.
  • We are substituting “real conversations” with shallower, “dumbed-down” connections that give us a false sense of security. Similarly, we are capable of presenting ourselves in a very particular way that hides our faults and exaggerates our better qualities.

Turkle is probably the longest-standing, most outspoken proponent of what we at Cyborgology call digital dualism. The separation of physical and virtual selves and the privileging of one over the other is not only theoretically contradictory, but also empirically unsubstantiated.  more...

SodaHead, an opinion gathering website, recently asked its users about “Internet Addiction.” From user responses (N=602), they produced the infographic below.  In the present post, I am not going to discuss this infographic in its own right. Instead, I am going to discuss “Internet Addiction” (from here on referred to as IA) as a condition—one that is slated for inclusion in the upcoming DSM-V. Specifically, I will argue that its existence rests on faulty assumptions, and that it is a problematic diagnostic category.

From SodaHead.com

To deconstruct IA as a diagnostic category, I must begin with a brief discussion on the philosophy of science—specifically addressing the mutually constitutive relationship between research design and social reality. Simply put, no research is objective. The very questions that we ask are bound by the logics of culture, politics, and language—as are the measures we use to answer these questions. Moreover, new studies are rooted in existing research, further limiting the lens with which reality is viewed and understood. In turn, research findings influence how we think about our physical and social world, the language that we use, and the logics with which we understand ourselves and that which surrounds us. IA, as a diagnostic category, a social problem, and a potential identity, must be understood within this context. more...


Photo: PJ Rey


A discussion of Burning Man may, at first, seem out of place on a technology blog; however, as sociologist Fred Turner has previously observed, the ideology of Burner culture is profoundly co-implicated with the prevailing ideology of Web.  It is more than mere coincidence that this particular festival has exploded in proximity to Silicon Valley.  It is also more than coincidence that Google and other tech company virtually shut down during this event.  The week-long temporary city in a desert attracts people from around the world. The community is founded upon the (seemingly paradoxical) principals of “radical self-reliance” and “communal effort.” For a week, Burners collectively construct a festive atmosphere that separates themselves from the institutions and customs of their everyday lives. There is a vibrant gift economy with a focus on the decommodification of goods and services (though, of course, like the Internet, much money changes hands behind the scenes: for infrastructure, transport, illicit ticket sales, drugs, etc.). Everyone is encouraged to participate in all aspects of the community (to “prosume” their surroundings), and in doing so, to reach a better understanding of self. This is all embodied in the Ten Principles of Burning Man. more...

This brief essay attempts to link two conceptualizations of the important relationship of the on and offline. I will connect (1) my argument that we should abandon the digital dualist assumption that the on and offline are separate in favor of the view that they enmesh into an augmented reality and (2) the problematic view that the Internet transcends social structures to produce something “objective” (or “flat” to use Thomas Friedman’s term).

Instead, recognizing that code has always been embedded in social structures allows persistent inequalities enacted in the name of computational objectivity to be identified (e.g., the hidden hierarchies of Wikipedia, the hidden profit-motive behind open-source, the hidden gendered standpoint of computer code, and so on). I will argue that the fallacy of web objectivity is driven fundamentally by digital dualism, providing further evidence that this dualism is at once conceptually false, and, most importantly, morally problematic. Simply, this specific form of digital dualism perpetuates structural inequalities by masking their very existence. more...

[Edit 09/07/11 @ 5:03PM EST]  It has been mentioned in the comments, and elsewhere, that while the Postal Service is facing a solvency problem, that problem is the direct result of Republican-led legislation that burdens them with excessive overhead. I completely agree with this sentiment. The 109th Congress, passed the “The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act” in 2006, which you can read in full here. The law requires that the USPS  pre-fund 75 years-worth of pensions, and prohibits them from selling  goods that are not directly used for sending letters and packages. I suggest you read more about this legislation here and here. I encourage all of you do to your own research and post what you find in the comments.]

galveston federal building

Photo Credit: Wikipedia – The Galveston Federal Building, built in 1937, is a multi-purpose building with many different government agencies. Don’t bleed the Post Office dry, make it a 21st Century Civic Center

Reading the news lately, makes it seem as though the Post Office is giving its final economic death rattle. Post Master General Patrick Donahoe spoke at a Senate hearing yesterday, and according to the Christian Science Monitor:

Donahoe reiterated a list of cost-cutting measures he has been proposing in recent months to erase the agency’s deficit, which could reach up to $10 billion this fiscal year. They include eliminating Saturday mail delivery, closing as many as 3,700 postal locations, and laying off 120,000 workers – nearly one-fifth of the agency’s work force. (This doesn’t include another 100,000 jobs lost to attrition that the agency does not plan to replace, for a total of 220,000 lost positions.)

These  are  disgraceful solutions to what could be considered an exciting opportunity to innovate. The Internet is being blamed for many of the Post Office’s problems, and it is safe to say that email has put a significant dent in their revenues. But revenues are only half the story. Expenditures are equally important. Duany, Plater-Zyberk, and Speck in their book Suburban Nation relay a conversation with a former (unnamed) Postmaster General who explained that most of our postage goes to the gas for the trucks and vans that carry mail to the suburban fringes of municipalities. Indeed, the USPS has the largest civilian truck fleet in the world. In an era of austerity, we need to look for ways to reduce spending while maintaining affordable services. I just think we need to spend less money on machines, and more on people. The internet can help us do this.


The power of social media to burrow dramatically into our everyday lives as well as the near ubiquity of new technologies such as mobile phones has forced us all to conceptualize the digital and the physical; the on- and off-line.

And some have a bias to see the digital and the physical as separate; what I am calling digital dualism. Digital dualists believe that the digital world is “virtual” and the physical world “real.” This bias motivates many of the critiques of sites like Facebook and the rest of the social web and I fundamentally think this digital dualism is a fallacy. Instead, I want to argue that the digital and physical are increasingly meshed, and want to call this opposite perspective that implodes atoms and bits rather than holding them conceptually separate augmented reality.

In a 2009 post titled “Towards Theorizing An Augmented Reality,” I discussed geo-tagging (think Foursquare or Facebook Places), street view, face recognition, the Wii controller and the fact that sites like Facebook both impact and are impacted by the physical world to argue that “digital and material realities dialectically co-construct each other.” This is opposed to the notion that the Internet is like the Matrix, where there is a “real” (Zion) that you leave when you enter the virtual space (the Matrix) -an outdated perspective as Facebook is increasingly real and our physical world increasingly digital.

I have used this perspective of augmentation to critque dualism when I see it. For instance, more...

Google Earth software [creates] a more realistic world that blurs the line between virtual life and reality and helps make the program look more like a variation of the Star Trek Holodeck.