This July, a new mobile app called SceneTap will further augment the hook-up scene. The app is linked to cameras in bars which count the number of patrons and based on facial features determine the average age and the male-to-female ratio. Of course, the decision to go to a particular bar (and not to go to another) effectively alters the dataset. We therefore make decisions about where to go based upon technologically transmitted data about physical bodies. The presence of our own physical bodies then become data to be recorded, transmitted, and factored into the social plans of others.
Several weeks ago, David Strohecker wrote a post about Tattoos and the Augmented body. In a response to this post, Ned Drummond wrote a thought provoking comment, in which she differentiates between “active” and “passive” cyborgs. I think this is an interesting distinction that deserves fleshing out. A deeper exploration of this distinction will be fruitful in pushing the theoretical boundaries of of what it means to be a cyborg—or an inhabitant of augmented reality.
The first thing to acknowledge is that “active” and “passive” are necessarily fluid states, rather than hard dichotomies. This is something Ned and I fleshed out in the comments section of the above mentioned post. Specifically, I said:
I would venture to say that active and passive use of technology probably ranges on a continuum, and individual cyborgs are more or less active/passive in different moments.
I would add to this that individual cyborgs can be simultaneously active and passive—actively using one technology while passively using another, or even actively using one part of a technology while passively using another part.
Before I can offer examples of the activity/inactivity continuum, I must offer a definition of active and passive interaction with technology. When Ned wrote about it, the distinction hinged on rule following. Those who use a technology for its intended purpose(s) are more passive, while those who use a technology in unintended ways are more active.
Let us use this blog as an example. Here we have a web space with the stated intention to create a dialogue about the enmeshment of atoms and bits. This space is available to anyone who has internet access, and the architecture of the site allows visitors to read posts, follow links, subscribe, and contribute through comments and tweets. Technically, this space could be used for a variety of purposes, most of which are not in line with the intentions of those who create and maintain the site. We could therefore say that writing about theoretical and empirical issues surrounding cyborgs and augmented reality is a passive use of this technology, while utilizing this forum to share personal news, make social plans, or try to find dates, is an active use of this technology.
At first glance, this definition seems fitting. Upon further examination, however, we run into problems. In particular, I would argue that using technologies for their intended purpose(s) is not necessarily a passive endeavor. On the contrary, one might be quite purposeful in their adherence to a technology’s intended use. Keeping with the example of this blog, many of us choose to write about cyborgs/ augmented reality instead of our weekend plans, and we do so for the purpose of maintaining a space in which dialogs about the enmeshment of atoms and bits can flourish. We recognize that structures are only maintained through actors, and so we actively gear our actions towards maintenance rather than de(con)struction. At the same time, it might simply not occur to us that we can use this space for anything other than cyborgology related conversations. In such cases, we do indeed passively interact with the technology.
What this means, is that the same (inter)action with/towards technology does not always hold the same meanings. Two bloggers might talk only about cyborgs and augmented reality; however, one will do so in an active attempt to maintain the integrity of the space, while the other may do so under the assumption that there is no choice except to talk about these topics within this particular structure/architecture. I therefore argue that the continuum of activity and passivity hinges not on rule following, nor on particular actions, but rather, on the intentionality of the actor.
Another example can be seen in Facebook usernames. Facebook intends to be a space that creates and maintains open connections. In line with this, users are expected to provide their real names to facilitate a network search for their respective profiles. Some people follow this “true name” rule, while others do not. Those who do not share their real names clearly use Facebook in a more “active” way. However, those who do follow the “true name” rule are not necessarily less active. While some who reveal their real names do so only because they were prompted to when creating their accounts, others use their real names in an active attempt to maintain the open community which the Facebook team promotes.
In sum, activity and passivity are located upon a continuum. All cyborgs are both active and passive, and vary in their activity/ passivity in different moments and when interacting with different technologies—sometimes engaging in multiple levels of activity/ passivity simultaneously. Location upon the continuum is based not upon rule following or even the (inter)activity itself, but upon the intentionality of the cyborg.
The Kiss Transmission Device was recently created in a lab in Japan. This is essentially an internet connected French kissing machine. Yes, you read that correctly. It is a machine that allows you to share actual French kisses via the internet. Okay, they are not actual French kisses…but kind of.
A user of the device caresses an internet connected straw-like mechanism with their tongue, causing the device to transfer the motion to a second straw-like mechanism, ostensibly located in the mouth of a romantic partner. Developers hope eventually to make the device more “tongue like” by adding personalized flavor, moisture and breathing patterns.
The developers view this as a device that will aid in the maintenance of long-distance romantic relationships, allowing geographically separate partners to connect on a physical level. They also talk about marketing celebrity kisses—allowing users to swap spit (er, swap straw movements) with the likes of Justin Bieber or any other celebrity willing to sell a physical piece of hir sexuality.
A quick glance at the comments section of the above linked article shows that reactions are largely alarmist and dismissive. Users of the device are painted as pathetic, and the presence of the device seems to indicate an increasing technological wedge separating human beings and human bodies from one another. For example:
DualQuad440: “Really sad….Do we really need to become more disconnected from people by kissing plastic objects…”
dmari2083 : “Whatever happen to going to the local bar and picking up a lose(sic) woman the old fashion way, hell even a pr0stitut3 if you cant score on your own, but a kissing machine come on you have to be kidding right?”
What these commentators miss is that as sexual beings, humans have always used the technologies of the time in pursuit of romantic fulfillment and sexual gratification; love letters, phone-sex, and now cyber-sex and sexting are all examples. These technologies do not diminish face-to-face sexual interactions, but augment them, as forms of foreplay and/or romantic reminiscence.
On a theoretical level, each new technological medium of romantic/sexual expression forces us to re-examine the enmeshed (but also distinct) relationship between technology and physicality. The Kiss Transmission Device is no exception.
What makes the Kiss Transmission Device so theoretically interesting is its capacity for a particular kind of replicability. The ability to replicate is present in all of the aforementioned technologies. Even love letters can be replicated and shared outside of their intended audience(s) (e.g. James Joyce’s love letters to Nora). With the Kissing Transmission Device, however, one no long replicates texts and images, but bodily (inter)actions, replete with meaning.
The following questions (to which I do not have answers) illustrate the ways in which a device such as this pushes us to (re)define the complex relationships between digital and physical; ownership and intention; public and private; intimate and commercial.
1) If I use the Kiss Transmission Device voluntarily with my lover, and we then break up, and he continues using it even though I no longer wish to kiss him, is this a sexual violation?—What if he shares my kisses with his friends?
2) If I save the electronic kisses from an old lover, and use them while in a new relationship, have I cheated?
3) If I save an electronic kiss, and use it later, when the creator of the kiss is no longer engaged, is this masturbation?
4) If someone sells their electronic kisses, is this prostitution? If not, then why not— what makes it different?
Essentially, these questions can all be collapsed into one: How real is a physical act that is digitally transferred?
The panel: “Arts of Existence: Self and Subjectivity Online” promises to be both exciting and thought provoking. The papers in this panel explore the complex negotiations of publicity, privacy, inclusion, exclusion, and the meanings that these issues hold for the self. Jessica Vitak’s paper, a theoretical piece, examines the costs and benefits of open versus selective interaction via social media. She juxtaposes her theoretical musings against earlier CMC theories of the self (i.e. SIP and the hyperpersonal model) arguing that interrelated temporal, technological, and cultural shifts require us to think about mediated interaction in new ways. Mark Matienzo, through a case study, explores (everlasting) life and death in a mediated world. Using Zygmunt Bauman, Matienzo examines two opposing strategies for negotiating the potential permanence of the self in the contemporary era of pervasive technology. Finally, Aimée Morrison, through a study of mommy bloggers, explores the complex negotiations of candid-intimacy and open access. Morrison’s work looks at the ways in which bloggers simultaneously present their experiences to an open public, while carving out an intimate community. All of these papers illustrate how our digital selves and physical selves are deeply intertwined, and examine how negotiations of self and community necessarily span multiple spaces, places, and audiences.
Jessica Vitak (@jvitak), “Theorizing the Future of Computer-Mediated Communication: The Changing Role of Self-Presentation, Audience, and Interaction”
Fifteen years ago, self-presentation online was, in many ways, a simple affair. Individuals navigated chat rooms, created personal websites, and posted in discussion forums, typically while retaining some semblance of anonymity or pseudonymity. Many of the interactions occurring through mediated channels involved relationship formation with strangers, and the theories that developed to explain computer-mediated communication (CMC) reflected this focus. For example, Social Information Processing theory (SIP; Walther, 1992), challenged the cues-filtered-out perspective by arguing that interpersonal relationships can and do form via text-based online interactions, albeit at a slower pace than comparable face-to-face interactions. The hyperpersonal model (Walther, 1996) expanded on SIP, suggesting that CMC’s unique affordances—namely the reduced-cues (i.e., text-only) environment and asynchronous nature of most communication channels—allowed for the development of more socially desirable relationships than could occur through face-to-face interaction. As noted by Walther (2007), message features—including the ability to edit messages before sending, minimize cue leakage, and reallocate cognitive resources—allow individuals to more thoroughly engage in selective self-presentation, which in turn leads receivers of these messages to create idealized impressions of and affinity toward their interaction partner.
Engaging in selective self-presentation is not new to CMC. Goffman’s (1959) seminal research on self-presentation describes interactions between an individual and his audience as a performance in which some traits are accentuated while others are concealed; he refers to “front stage” and “backstage” performances to differentiate between various audiences. Schlenker (1985) suggests that context, audience, and environment are key factors driving a specific self-presentation. Leary (1995) posits that individuals self-present in ways that conform to their audience’s values or evoke a desired response. For each of these researchers, audience composition is the foremost factor in selecting a self-presentation strategy.
When considering how individuals self-present and interact through mediated channels in present day, it is clear that much has changed since the 1990s, with some of the most notable changes found in social network sites (SNSs). The key difference between interactions occurring on a SNS such as Facebook and interactions occurring in a chat room or discussion forum is that the vast majority of users have an established offline connection prior to connecting online (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007). Furthermore, SNSs typically flatten multiple audiences into one unified group (i.e., the user’s “Friends”) in a process known as context collapse. As noted by boyd (2008), managing distinct self-presentations to multiple audiences on SNSs is complicated due to the searchability, replicability, and persistence of any action performed on the site. Therefore, users may adopt a variety of strategies through which to maintain consistent (but varied) presentations of the self to multiple audiences, including creating multiple accounts, employing advanced privacy settings, or following a lowest common denominator approach, as suggested by Hogan (2011).
Theories of CMC have yet to consider the impact of technological changes on relationship maintenance strategies, and the most commonly applied theories—SIP and the hyperpersonal model—cannot explain many of the current uses of social media. In order to begin developing theories to explain these behaviors, we should first turn to existing communication theories and consider how they may inform similar behaviors occurring online. For example, social exchange theory (Thibault & Kelley, 1952) posits that individuals try to maximize rewards and minimize costs associated with interpersonal relationships. But can this theory account for communication features unique to CMC? SNSs lower costs associated with interaction, but those interactions may also be viewed as less meaningful when compared with richer channels such as face-to-face, especially within strong-tie relationships. Likewise, SNSs lower the costs associated with establishing a virtual connection, but increasing one’s network beyond a reasonable size may decrease perceived attractiveness (Tong, Van Der Heide, Langwell, & Walther, 2008). On the other hand, higher-cost behaviors within the site, such as creating Friend Lists and using targeted rather than network-wide message distribution, may decrease concerns related to privacy and audiences, but require a greater commitment of time and knowledge than users may be willing (or able) to provide.
Based on these observations, it is important to determine how users balance costs associated with making disclosures in a semi-public space and the benefits derived from maintaining relationships with a large and diverse set of connections. Therefore, a new theory of CMC should be able to ascertain the conditions under which the costs of engaging in interaction through the site become greater than perceived benefits.
Mark Matienzo (@anarchivist), “Everyone Is Here In The Future: Digital Preservation, Digital Suicide, and Other Archival Strategies of Networked Im/mortality”
The reality of social media is that it is ultimately powered by people even more so than it is by technology. As such, death, both figurative and literal, must be considered a major factor in understanding our relationship to social media, as well as digital information of all kinds. Rhetoric within the digital preservation community has shifted from describing a monolithic, final “resting place” for digital information to a continually managed “life cycle” for both content and systems that manage that content (Abrams, Cruse, and Kunze 2008; Higgins 2008). Nonetheless, as a networked society, we have only begun to grapple with mortality in relation to the longevity of our user-created content (Darrow and Ferrera 2006; Odom et al. 2010; Walker 2011).
This paper will use Zygmunt Bauman’s (1992) analysis of mortality and modernity to examine two divergent strategies for negotiating the permanence of the self in Web-based contexts. The first strategy involves planned immortality using online memorials and digital preservation services aimed at individuals. Services such as Chronicle of Life (2011) provide individuals a means to “ensure” their “preservation” — or at least that of their memories — through time. The second strategy is the act of “digital suicide” or self-negation of online presence as a conscious act by individuals that are still alive “in the real world.” The paper will investigate the case of “why the lucky stiff” (Wikipedia contributors 2011) a high-profile member of the community for the Ruby programming language, and his choice to remove nearly every trace of himself online. We will also analyze the response of the Ruby community to why’s choice to commit digital suicide.
Aimée Morrison (@digiwonk), “Hiding in the Crowd”
In The Female Complaint, her survey of twentieth century women’s culture and its “intimate publics,” Lauren Berlant notes of her own methodology that “all sorts of narratives are read as autobiographies of collective experience. The personal is the general. Publics presume intimacy.” Personal mommy blogging, this paper argues, forcefully enacts this productive tension linking the story of the self to broader public discourses, and the yoking of the private to the public in the collective online autobiography produced in this genre.
For the most part, in narrating the whys, whats, and hows of their own practices, mommy bloggers seem to understand their texts as at once public and private, in ways that are for the most part enabling rather than paralysing or paradoxical. Mommy blogs are public in the sense that these texts are searchable on the broader public Internet and often draw an audience of regular readers who are strangers to the blogger at the outset. However, mommy blogs are also private, in that they are often aimed at a regular and circumscribed readership of members of a limited and bounded mommy-blogging community. In order to learn more about these less public writers and the intimate publics their texts construct, in later 2008 I undertook an anonymous online survey of mommy bloggers, querying them directly about their practices as related to publicity and privacy. More than 200 personal mommy bloggers revealed what they choose not to write about as well as what they do, for what kind of audience, and why. By disclosing and witholding information by turns, courting some readers and discouraging others, these writers collectively labour to turn an individual set of private experiences into a public discourse that can nevertheless retain the intimacy of private speech among close confidants.
This essay will begin by describing the survey’s content and how the survey was conducted. Next, it will outline the fundamentals of the surveyed writers’ blogging practices: who is writing, and why they write. We then turn to questions of audience. Ultimately, the notion of an idealized (either positively or negatively) or actual readership is a strong check on blog content, and developing, catering to, and maintaining relationships with a desired audience, and repelling or minimizing unwanted audiences, is a fundamental part of personal blogging. Personal mommy bloggers, I conclude, do indeed deliberately court and manage ‘intimate publics’ among whom they attempt to achieve a functional, pragmatic balance between the freedom of full self-disclosure and the necessary constraints of social life in public. As Berlant writes, “an intimate public is an achievement” that is won by dint of both pragmatic and affective labour. The intimate public thus created “provides material that foments enduring, resisting, overcoming, and enjoying being an x”, with ‘x’ in this case being ‘mother.’ And so the surveyed writers articulate how and why they breach normative standards of privacy to create a supportive forum for candid self-expression that nurtures a community of shared practice around the emotional, physical, and intellectual labour of parenting, and the identity work involved in shifting into and growing in the multiple roles of woman, mother, worker, wife, daughter, and friend.
In the social sciences, we often hear about, talk about, and preach about the relationship between theory and methods. Here, I present a poignant example their interconnectedness.
In a recent post, I argued that the accomplishment of authenticity in a cyborg era is particularly difficult. Drawing on Goffman, Turkle, and others, I argued that we live in a time of constant documentation, exposing the identity work that is supposed to remain hidden in the so-called “back stage.” I purported that our online and offline selves are not only mutually influential, but that we also engage in preemptive behavior in order to accurately present our ideal selves through multiple mediums.
Overall my theoretical point is this: As social actors we expect authenticity in others, and in ourselves. In a time of constant documentation, our online personas become our reflections, and they must not only be ideal, but also truthful. As such, we do not document falsehoods, but preemptively create documentable situations in an effort to present a self that is simultaneously ideal and authentic.
Here is the methodological conundrum: If the constructed nature of selves and identities must remain hidden not only from others, but also from ourselves, then how can we get people to talk about the labor involved in the identity construction process? In other words, how do we support the theoretical assertion?
It could be argued that the theoretical assertion is indeed supported by a lack of data—people do not admit to preemptive construction of documentable situations because it threatens the authenticity of the self that they are working to maintain. This, however, relies on circular logic, and is not enough by itself.
After doing some reading, and informal pre-testing, I think the solution might be to ask people to play the role of the sociologist. Ask them not only about themselves, but about what they believe other people are doing. The gap between what *I* do, and what *everyone else* does shows not only that the preemptive construction of documentable situations is likely going on, but also that this is a practice which we hide from ourselves.
As pointed out by Nathan Jurgenson in a recent e-mail conversation: “the method becomes the meaning.” The method here is strongly guided by the theoretical argument. We cannot ask explicit questions about identity work because identity work must remain hidden. We must instead rely on the astute observations of social actors about the social life that surrounds them.
Thoughts, critiques, and practical suggestions are welcome.
The self is a tricky thing to accomplish. Who we are is signified by a seemingly infinite number of factors: our physical appearance, the groups we belong to, the events we attend, the things that we say, how we say the things that we say, the friends that we keep, the work that we do, the way that we spend our leisure time, the amount of leisure time we allow ourselves etc. Each of these factors reflects the decisions that social actors have to make about who they are, and about the lines of action they will take in order to be defined in a particular way. In short, social actors are required to engage in significant amounts of “identity work”.
This work, however, must remain hidden. The “catch” in constructing a self that will be accepted by others, is that the self must come across as authentic. The self must appear to be spontaneous, uncalculated, and effortless. Said differently, identity work must remain invisible, it must be strictly relegated to the backstage (Goffman 1959).
To engage in invisible identity work is a complex process under even the best circumstances. I argue, however, that in a time when selves are constructed simultaneously and dialectically in online and offline spaces (see Facebook-Homepage for a Cyborg Planet) the accomplishment of an authentic self becomes significantly more difficult. Social media not only allows, but requires us to make deliberative decisions about self-presentation. We explicitly decide which pictures to post and/or tag on our Facebook pages, we craft concise and witty tweets before sharing them with our followers (and often simultaneously with our Friends on Facebook), we choose to interact with Friends on the public spaces of Facebook walls rather than sending private messages, and we display architecturally elicited categorical information about ourselves, such as our income, music preferences, sexual orientation, relationship status, education and jobs. Above all, we hit “post”, “publish”, or “share” before these decisions become publicized to our network, and so become part of what defines who we are.
I have thus far said three things: 1) the social construction of identity is a laborious process; 2) the labor of identity construction must remain unseen; and 3) the architecture of social media asks us to present ourselves in explicit ways. A tension is therefore created between the prevalence of interaction media which facilitate explicit self construction, and the appearance of a self, constructed through such media, that must appear to have organically emerged.
In light of this tension between the goal of authenticity and the labor-exposing nature of social media, how do we accomplish authentic selves in a cyborg era?
Recent scholarship now argues that we shape our offline selves to more accurately depict the selves that we present online, creating a sort of triangulation of the self. Although I certainly agree with this, I think it can be pushed further. I believe that we also preemptively alter our offline selves in order to authentically convey ourselves online in a particular way. This is a subtle but important difference. The former indicates a shift in the offline self as a response to online self-presentation. The latter indicates a-priori choices in offline action/interaction so that the online self can be constructed in an ideal and also authentic way. In sum, we not only present ideal selves online, and then try to live up to these selves in offline settings, we also preemptively act and interact in the offline world so that our actions and interactions can authentically become part of our online self-presentations.
More generally, this point speaks to the enmeshment of online and offline in the construction and enactment of the self. Who we are and what we do in unmediated spaces is influencing of, and influenced by, who we are and what do in cyberspace(s). In this, a cyborg era, we are more than tethered to the online world and our technological devices, (Turkle 2008 [.pdf]) we are holistically and dialectically intertwined with them.
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.