If you’re a regular reader of Cyborgology, chances are good that you caught the most recent “brouLOL” (yes, that’s like a 21st century brouhaha) over digital dualism and augmented reality. If you’re a careful reader of Cyborgology, chances are good you also caught (at least) one glaring omission in much of the writing featured in this wave of commentary. What was missing?
Ladies, gentlemen, and cyborgs, allow me to (re)introduce you to Jenny Davis (@Jup83) and Sarah Wanenchak (@dynamicsymmetry)—oh yeah, and my name’s Whitney Erin Boesel (I’m @phenatypical). None of us identify as men, and all of us have written about digital dualism. In fact, you may have seen our work referenced recently under some collective noms de plume: “the other digital dualism denialists,” “others on this blog,” “others,” “other Cyborgologists,” “other regular contributors,” etc. If you’re a crotchety sociologist with a penchant for picking apart language (ahem: guilty), it doesn’t get much better than this. During the conversation earlier this month, the named and cited Cyborgologists were (almost) always men—while Jenny, Sarah, and I were referenced obliquely (at best) in an unnamed “other” category.
I’m going to do three things in this post. First, I’m going to update my earlier work mapping out writing on digital dualism and augmented reality. Second, I’ll give you a hyperlinked play-by-play of last week’s discussion (or “pissing match”) between author Nicholas Carr and both named and “othered” Cyborgologists in order to illustrate how pertinent work by women theorists has been overlooked (on both sides of the debate). Third, I’m going to ask for your help in compiling a list of women, trans or genderqueer folks, and people of color who are writing about digital dualism, augmented reality, or closely related topics. My goal is to write a follow-up post later this month that highlights more of the overlooked and/or marginalized voices in the digital dualism debates, and which demonstrates clearly that dialogues about digital dualism aren’t just between “white boys with toys.” [And later this week, I’ll add my own critique of Carr’s digital dualism piece to the existing pool of responses.]
Please note that one thing I am not going to do in this post is speculate as to why, or with what motives, any particular men have neglected to cite or to consider work by women who theorize digital dualism and augmented reality. There’s no way I could know these things, and I’m not going to pretend that I could be as charitable in my treatment of strangers as I would be with my friends. More importantly, the subjective individual “why” is neither as interesting, nor as important, as the broader social factors that assist or encourage the lot of us to ignore women thinkers in the first place. The question to ask is not, “Why did he do that,” but “Why do so many of us do this, and to what effect, and with what consequences?”
The problem is that women’s contributions are often either overlooked or outright ignored—both in conversations about technology, and in conversations about theory—and that this silencing has a negative impact both on the quality of our collective scholarship and on individual scholars. With this in mind, I encourage you to read the rest of my essay not as an exercise in pointing fingers at specific men, but as a case study in gender, visibility, and the importance of being conscientious about whom and how we cite —for all of us who do this work, regardless of how we gender-identify.
An Updated Crash Course in Augmented Reality and Critiques of Digital Dualism
Nathan Jurgenson (@nathanjurgenson) both appropriated the term “augmented reality” and coined the new term “digital dualism” in February of 2011. I gave an overview of the next 18 months of related work in an August 2012 post about what I saw as a critical “hole” in augmented reality theory, which basically boils down to its missing ontology. In October of 2012, Jurgenson proposed to start patching the hole I identified with an updated typology framework that includes strong and mild variants of both digital dualism and augmented reality, and Davis offered a corresponding empirical typology. (Sarani Rangarajan (@nineran) offered a critique of Jurgenson’s first draft of the strong/mild typology, while Michael Sacasas (@frailestthing) proposed a typology of connectivity[i]; Giorgio Fontana (@giorgiofontana) offered some new definitions to reinforce the augmented reality framework.)
Our work on digital dualism and augmented reality continued over the winter. Davis used Jurgenson’s typology to theorize embodiment. Wanenchak wrote about how dualist-influenced emotions can persist even when one fully recognizes that there is but one augmented reality, and Davis considered what might be behind some people’s feelings that digital interaction is less “real” or meaningful. Guest author James Vincent (@jjvincent) drew a parallel between academic critiques of digital dualism and New Aesthetic artwork, and guest author Legacy Russell (@legacyrussell) built on the digital dualism critique to establish what she calls “Glitch Feminism.” PJ Rey (@pjrey) and I began an ongoing project to flesh out both an ontology of augmented reality and a theory of augmented subjectivity; we wrote on the origins of the augmented subject and produced a genealogy of the term “augmented reality” as first steps. Jurgenson looked at digital dualism in coverage of the Manti Te’o case, and David Banks (@DA_Banks) previewed his (amazing) Theorizing the Web 2013 (#TtW13) talk on the political origins of digital dualism.
By the time you click on all the pieces I’ve listed above, and then click all the pieces linked in those pieces, you’ll have a pretty good picture of the work that’s been done on digital dualism and augmented reality from February 2011 through February 2013. But if you skimmed the last two paragraphs, here’s the tl;dr you need for the next section: every single member of Cyborgology not only writes about digital dualism, but also produced something on digital dualism in the first two months of 2013.
Denialism, Duellism, and Dude-liness (in four waves)
The fun starts with a blog post from author Nicholas Carr, in which he lays out a rather scathing assessment of the digital dualism critique (and takes shots at both Nathan Jurgenson and David Banks personally). Carr draws on several pieces by Jurgenson (with particular emphasis on “The IRL Fetish”), as well as on Banks’s preview of his TtW13 talk. Carr refers to the rest of Cyborgology en masse; though he references Wanenchak’s ‘dualist emotions’ post in his comments section, Carr can be bothered neither to link to Wanenchak’s post nor even to mention her by name.
Banks responds to Carr by further contextualizing digital dualism both historically and politically, and by refuting Carr’s accusation that in his TtW13 preview post he treats people “as dopes.” In a footnote, Banks suggests that Carr made a grave error in failing to engage Rey’s 2012 piece “The Myth of Cyberspace.”
Jurgenson responds to Carr largely by addressing Carr’s misreadings of his work, but closes with some analysis around the nature/technology dichotomy. Jurgenson also points out two places where Carr would have done well to engage Rey.
Wanenchak links to Banks’s and Jurgenson’s responses to Carr, then responds to Carr’s accusation that critics of digital dualism have neglected to consider people’s feelings and emotions. She also refutes Carr’s reading of her work in his comments section.
Chris Baraniuk (@machinestarts) focuses mainly on the exchange between Carr and Jurgenson in his post about “digital duellists,” and draws on material from email interviews he conducted with Carr in 2011 and with Jurgenson in 2013. He spends a sentence mentioning Banks’s and Wanenchak’s responses to Carr, and engages extensively with Rey’s work on “the myth of cyberspace.”
Tyler Bickford (@tylerbickford) focuses mainly on the exchange between Carr and Jurgenson to lay out an interesting critique: that the term “augmented reality” is itself inherently dualist, and that while he agrees with Jurgenson’s cumulative critique of digital dualism, Jurgenson also undermines that critique by insisting that the digital and the physical are “different.”[ii] Bickford draws heavily on Donna Haraway; he also mentions Banks’s response to Carr, Davis’s empirical typology of augmented reality, and my “hole in our thinking” piece. Notably, Bickford stated on Twitter that his goal in writing his response was, in part, “to make [the discussion] about gender/feminism”; he also noted that work by women Cyborgologists was being overlooked, and that he too had done so even despite his feminist intentions in writing his response:
— Tyler Bickford (@tylerbickford) March 3, 2013
— Tyler Bickford (@tylerbickford) March 3, 2013
Sacasas responds primarily to Bickford, but reframes the conversation as one between Jurgenson, Carr, and himself that’s been going on since the publication of Jurgenson’s “The IRL Fetish.” Sacasas agrees with Bickford’s critique that “augmented reality” is itself dualist, and that the term “reality” should be thrown out of the discussion—but where Bickford provides what is possibly the first “strong augmentationalist” critique of augmented reality, Sacasas ends on a mild dualist note by closing with a paean to face-to-face interaction.
Jurgenson responds to Bickford by revisiting his own strong/mild digital dualism/augmented reality framework, and briefly references Sacasas’s response to Bickford. Jurgenson concludes that Bickford makes some valid points about how he (Jurgenson) has articulated his ideas around digital dualism and augmented reality, and that he is continuing to think about Bickford’s points.
Jurgenson also responds (on his personal blog) to Baraniuk, and takes issue with some of Baraniuk’s framing both of the exchange with Carr and of Cyborgology’s position on technology—though he also feels these problems stem from Carr’s inaccurate reading of the anti-digital-dualism argument. Jurgenson also posts the full text of the email interview he did with Baraniuk about the exchange with Carr, in which he comments to Baraniuk that Carr failed to engage with work by Rey, Davis, Wanenchak, and myself.
Alright, so now what?
In January of 2011, I was lucky enough to attend Donna Haraway’s retirement celebration at The University of California, Santa Cruz. The event was incredible: it featured performances, presentations, speeches in-room and via Skype, a delicious potluck lunch, critter masks, and a ritual. What I remember most from that day, however, were the repeated references to Dr. Haraway’s “generous citation practices.” Friends, colleagues, and students (both past and present) made this point over and over again: that Haraway went out of her way to cite even email threads and in-person conversations, even with her students, and that her commitment to making these citations had had positive impacts—both professionally and emotionally—for the people she cited.
Those repeated expressions of praise and gratitude made an incredible impression on me. They reminded me how important it is to cite the people who influence our thinking, and made me realize that citation can be an important political act. What I took home that evening from “Messing With Haraway” was not only a deeper appreciation of an extraordinary scholar, but also an updated picture of the scholar I aspire to become.
Citation matters, folks. Sure, we can’t all read everything—but when we don’t do due diligence in referencing the people and work we have read and do know about, we make it easier and more acceptable for other people both to do likewise and to avoid discovering that work in the first place. Failing to put Harawasian effort into our citations makes it easier for more powerful voices to be heard, and contributes to drowning less powerful voices out; more often than not, it also leads us to produce work of lower quality (just wait until my next post, in which I’ll point out how much work on digital dualism Carr overlooked).
Yes, “academia is a feudal system” (to quote the cliché I’m already sick of hearing). Yes, when tenure time comes, we’ll all be judged according to our individual output; The University will not care what kind of colleagues we have been, how we have worked with others, what we have accomplished collectively. Without a doubt, we are structurally incentivized to view The Academy in “survival of the fittest” terms. But my god, don’t we want to change this? Aren’t we committed to forging a mode of scholarship that’s more just, that’s more accessible and accountable, and that moves beyond the much-maligned model in which a bunch of white men with PhDs sit around talking to themselves and believe they’ve conquered the world? Would any of us be engaged in the somewhat transgressive practice of public, inter- and non-disciplinary theory work that Cyborgology and similar blogs represent, if not?
I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I want a different Academy—and while I probably won’t get one in my own lifetime, I remain committed to working toward that goal.
This is the part where I need your help. I want to get a post up later this month that highlights the work of women, trans and genderqueer folk, and people of color who are working on or writing about digital dualism, augmented reality, or similar topics. Please respond in the comments to this post with names of people who are doing this work, and include a link to that work if at all possible. I’ve started a list of my own, and have gotten a few more suggestions on Twitter, but I think it would be helpful to keep the working suggestions list in a public place where everyone can see who’s been mentioned so far, so I’m offering up the “comments” section here. Like I said, we can’t all read everything—but I’m willing to bet there’s a fair amount of interesting, quality work on these topics that’s being overlooked, and I want to start making it easier for all of us to find that work.
No matter how brilliant someone’s work is, you can’t cite it if you don’t know it exists—so let’s take that first step.
[Note: I edited this piece on 12 March 2013 in order to clarify my point about women Cyborgologists being lumped into the “other” category, and to update my listing of recent work on digital dualism in response to Nathan’s comment below.]
Like a lot of woman scholars, Whitney Erin Boesel also theorizes digital technologies on Twitter. She’s @phenatypical.
“No Girls Allowed” sign image from http://guerillawomentn.blogspot.com/2012/04/where-are-women-ny-times-ethicist-picks.html
“No Women” sign from http://siliconvalleymamas.com/2011/06/join-the-club-gender-discrimination-in-2011/
“Manarchist” meme image from http://www.theprecarious.com/content/manarchist-explosion
[ii] I absolutely cannot wait to return to this point in my next post. Watch this space.