There’s a strong, specifically technocratic conflation between efficiency and good in Silicon Valley

Drones date online, but drones don’t think about it the way that humans do

The Work of Art in the Age of the Internet

We have a billion folks using our services now, and we want to get to 3 or 5 billion one day

Throughout Zuckerberg’s talk, people and Facebook friends were used interchangeably

there is general, assumed agreement on what social media is even as there is significant doubt as to whether society exists

There’s a stereotypical Pinterest user and I can’t escape the feeling that it is what I have become

The Like button tears aside this veil to reveal the cloying, pathetic, Willy Lomanesque need of marketers to have their brands be well-liked

Nathan is on Twitter [@nathanjurgenson] and Tumblr [].

Click the image for a history of Weird Twitter

Twitter seems to be making aspects of academic practice more visible

as long as people want to be seen reading, things to read will be printed

photos are disposable records of moments, to be taken in bulk and largely forgotten and unshared

“It made it more real to folks,” he said. “There’s nothing like a hundred YouTube videos to do that”

This makes the drone the greatest champion of neoliberal practices

The False Distinction Between “Online” And “The Real

The great sin of Facebook is that it made “like” far too important and too obvious

he is siphoning off my very lifeblood in the service of charging his Apple-issued heart replacement

Cyborg writing is the first instant of picking up the tools

Shaw thought the videos looked “pre-viral” and saw an opportunity to exploit them

“Boston Punk Zombie,” reads the crudely-scrawled avatar of a green-mohawked punk with the address

Sandberg assumes that the feminist question is simply, how can I be a more successful worker?

Nathan is on Twitter [@nathanjurgenson] and Tumblr [].

This is the second installment of Data Based,  a weekly Cyborgology feature producing original, insightful, and fun data visualizations.




Ned Drummond is a graphic designer and artist living and working in Washington, DC. For more information on her work, please visit If you have any Cyborgology-appropriate data you’d like to see visualized, please email Ned at ned [at]

The old Netflix Friends used people to personalize; the new Netflix with Facebook uses people to homogenize

If autonomous vehicles obey traffic laws, income from traffic violations should go down

It shows how necessary it is to now deconstruct, in the sense of Derrida, the theories about the virtual

The Internet is a surveillance state. Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, and whether we like it or not

Tumblr encourages unbounded use. It allows you to experiment and play

characterizations of digital or physical, virtual or material, necessarily obscure how each constitutes the other

Drones as killer robots, drones as children sent off to war

if engineers could come up with an iPotty that fits in your purse, links up to Twitter and takes photos, toilet access might catch up with phones” (thanks jenny!)

Nathan is on Twitter [@nathanjurgenson] and Tumblr [].

Data Based is a brand new Cyborgology feature producing original, insightful, and fun data visualizations.



Ned Drummond is a graphic designer and artist living and working in Washington, DC. For more information on her work, please visit If you have any Cyborgology-appropriate data you’d like to see visualized, please email Ned at ned [at]

at every history conference in the foreseeable future, there should be a women’s history Wikipedia Room

It’s a fair guess that the attorneys in the Cannibal Cop case have never heard of digital dualism

our discomfort with Google Glass is drawn by body horror, not fear of surveillance institutions

the cultural and technological impact of Grindr is much broader than most people realize

A future of frictionless, continuous shopping fits with Google’s vision for the world

we really don’t have a choice between mediated and unmediated experience

For Brin, Glass is for a privileged elite

self-quantification has a really important, prevalent, and somewhat ironic, qualitative component

And so it came to pass that SimCity was released and no one could play it

Theorizing about the Facebook interface calls for a radical departure from research orthodoxy in new media studies

we are more than any well-intentioned hashtag could ever embody


David A. Banks

Blitzkrieg cultural imperialism allows previously under-Instagrammed areas of our city to fulfill their potential as playgrounds for the rich

He’s never had a lot of patience for shirtless macho Americans who descend into jungles, declaring their inhabitants to be violent savages

Some wondered if the bird was a spy of sorts, others contemplated booking it for a news show

Still, we bet somewhere on his private island Richard Branson is weeping over the dangers of joining the ‘220-mile high club

The Telekommunist Manifesto, proposes ‘Venture Communism’ as a new working model for peer production


Jenny Davis

We replaced the flag of the revolution with pornography

It was difficult to find people who could fully utilize Google Fiber in their imaginations


Nathan is on Twitter [@nathanjurgenson] and Tumblr [].


Ira Google Glass

descartes2Watching the ideas materialize, disseminate, get knocked down and picked back up all in near real time is either the greatest advantage digital dualism theory has, or its biggest downfall—its best feature or worst flaw. Or both. Personally, I’m having a blast, even if it’s a bit of a distraction from my dissertation. It’s the spirit of this blog, a rare academic space to try ideas out, work on them, debate them, meet new people, and watch the idea, one hopes, get better and stronger. Or sometimes no one cares and we move on. This is what I love about my colleagues on Twitter (I’ll never type the word tweeps), this blog, and the Theorizing the Web conference.

The drawback is that the theory is still piecemeal, undercooked, not fully developed. I can understand why some folks who are used to ideas arriving “fully formed” in a book are being caught off-guard. Indeed, as far as theoretical discussions go, this digital dualism idea has emerged and progressed in a way I personally have not seen before. It started when I, some random graduate student, tossed out the idea on a mostly unheard of blog. But then lots and lots of smart people joined in, as Whitney has thoughtfully summarized; with additions, critiques, and countless examples, discussions are getting more nuanced, longer papers are being written, conference presentation are being given, people keep saying the word “book”. Kim Witten said it well earlier this week,

It isn’t even an argument on the internet, really. It is a bunch of people with different perspectives figuring out something new and exciting. I want to be a part of that. I’m fascinated by it. It’s why I’m in academia

Right on! In this spirit, let me express a frustration and write, mostly for myself, about how I see this debate progressing and why I want to shift directions a bit.  I’ll conclude by asking for some help. It started when an especially honest tweet fell out of me last week:

When I began graduate school and started to think conceptually about the Internet, one of the first things that annoyed me was people saying “real” to mean not-the-Internet. “Real” has a few different formal definitions and even more uses in practice. To make it too simple, I want to conceptually split questions of the “real” as a statement that something actually exists as a thing versus “real” to describe that which is more genuine, authentic, or true. Of course, these are deeply related concerns, but the primary focus on one or the other leads to different types of digital dualism critiques. I’ve always wanted to integrate these, but have been so far unsuccessful and thus want to change strategy a bit and pull them apart.

Ontological digital dualism is primarily concerned with “what exists”: are the digital and physical separate “things”? in different “realities”? “spheres”? are bits made of atoms? what about photons? I pointed a path towards this line of inquiry here by delineating four ontological positions based on strong versus mild digital dualisms and augmented realities. There has been significant debate on these terms, but Nick Carr, as much as we disagree, has always been right that the terms being used here are less than clear. Carr is right to say that, at the ontological level, almost everyone agrees that the digital has different and new properties and interacts with the rest of this thing we call reality.* This is what drives Nick Carr to say that the digital dualism critique isn’t useful. At the ontological level, yes, he makes a good case that we on this blog haven’t been overly convincing, though, I still think he is wrong. Evgeny Morozov has been especially persistent in taking Carr on, and we Cyborgologists are collectively working towards a convincing response—hold tight, we’re graduate students learning new literatures and writing dissertations on other things, so give us a minute. But something happened where these ontological questions have begun to dominate my own thinking, and I’d like to switch gears.

To get at this switch, let’s think about how it can possibly be the case that the ontology arguments aren’t (yet?) semantically clear, but, meanwhile, cases of digital dualism (“these kids with their Facebooks are trading reality for the virtual!”) seem so stark, so obvious. The situation can’t be as vague as Carr wants his readers to believe given the intuitive obviousness of digital dualism that so many people have latched onto. I think I have at least a partial answer for this.

For me, the strategy to move forward is to place ontology largely on the back-burner for a bit and focus on a somewhat different critique of digital dualism. The digital dualism I want to focus on is two-fold:

First, I want to refocus the definition of digital dualism to the moments where people downplay the role of the digital when speaking of something they think is material (wrongly called “real”) as well as downplaying the role of the material when speaking of something they think is primarily digital (wrongly called “virtual”). Regardless of your position on “reality”, this is digital dualism that underestimates the enmeshment of information and materiality, leading to ideas like Facebook comprises “virtual” rather than “real” friendships, that there is some “second self” that you inhabit online, and so on. Over the dinner table, in blog comments, in op-eds, in research papers, people often simply forget the material when talking about the digital and the digital in the material. Yes, people may almost never say the Internet is some distant other universe, but people do often overstate how distant and unrelated the material and the digital are. Those holding this digital dualist, zero-sum, conception of the on and offline are the ones surprised by research showing that those who do more online tend to also do more offline, opposed to the idea that people are trading “real life” in favor of living on Facebook.

Thus, digital dualism is the tendency to see the digital and material as too distinct, rather than enmeshed, consistent with the definition of the term I worked with one website to create:

n. The belief that online and offline are largely distinct and independent realities.

Second, I want to refocus on the question of how digital dualism—this tendency to underestimate digital-material enmeshment—often clears a clean path towards the claim that one (usually, but not always, the material) is more real, deep, human, and true. Not ontology, these are cultural value statements based on the idea that the on and offline are distinct rather than enmeshed.

My most passionate expression of this concern is my IRL Fetish essay where I argue that calling the digital “virtual” lets one simultaneously claim that which is not digital is “real.” It allows one to say that there is a crisis of the real, that it is disappearing in precisely the same moment that we are obsessed over it.** The real isn’t going away, what people are doing on Facebook is real and has everything to do with the offline. I end up concluding that that those asking us to disconnect and log off are too optimistic, just like Facebook is filled with the offline, the so-called offline, like Carr’s wilderness and Turkle’s Cape Cod, is similarly saturated with the online. Because I’m a giant dork, this is the argument that drives my interest. This is the anti-digital dualist, augmented, synthetic perspective that views information-saturation in what people call “offline” as well as the material, human, and political in what people call “online”.***

I very much welcome all the work people are doing on ontological digital dualism. I’ll drop by, promise.

I’d like to close with a question: do we need names for these different digital dualism perspectives? If so, what to call them? I’m asking, and would love to discuss this more in the comments.****

First, there’s ontological digital dualism theory that asks about what exists and is concerned with atoms and bits and photons and realities and spheres; Hayles, Haraway, and Latour seem like obvious starting points. I think this is a fine name for this perspective.

Next, there’s digital dualism theory that asks if a perspective or an idea or an articulation has or has not underestimated the enmeshment of the digital and the material.

Third, there’s the concern over the value statements that derive from the dualistic conceptualization, such as people fetishizing the digital as some new space impossibly pulled apart from messy material realities; or, opposite, but born of the same dualist fallacy, fetishizing the material as more deep, human, or true, what I like to call “the IRL fetish” or “digital dehumanization.”

So, what to call these last two concerns? In asking, I’m doubling down on the idea that this real-time and collaborative theorizing is a terrific feature of digital dualism theory, not a flaw.

Nathan is on Twitter [@nathanjurgenson] and Tumblr [].

*There are some who can make great arguments that “digital” and “material” aren’t words we should even be using, but let’s bracket that discussion for a moment since I’ve yet to fully digest this criticism, though I did write a head-scratching response

**One might note the significant and intentional argumentative overlap between my point about the so-called disappearance of the real with Foucault’s similar point about sexuality in his “repressive hypothesis” throughout “History of Sexuality: Vol I”. 

***Confession: I’m much, much more into the “digital dualism” theory than “augmented reality”.

****Again, understanding that the different perspectives are never cleanly separated but always overlapping to more or less of a degree at different times.

Using microchips, proud grandparents threaten to store thousands of images on portable show-and-tell miniscreens

The most important Google Glass experience is not the user experience – it’s the experience of everyone else

with Silicon Valley at the helm, our life will become one long California highway

Is a tweet labor? Is a Facebook post labor?

Drone makers have been courting the paparazzi

widespread bigotry and rape culture are just as big if not bigger barriers to a free and open Internet as over-zealous copyright laws and bandwidth caps

there is no good pre-internet metaphor for what it’s trying to do

sources confirmed that the president said “Go get ’em!” and quietly watched the drone fly off into the night sky

Drones permit and accelerate new topographies of warfare

The Auto-Tune or not Auto-Tune debate always seems to turn into a moralistic one, like somehow you have more integrity if you don’t use it

we might someday wonder why our childhood memories are held under DRM

Nathan is on Twitter [@nathanjurgenson] and Tumblr [].

I’m having a blast reading all of the recent posts about digital dualism. I (or someone else) will collect these all into a list and I’m sure I’ll write a response to them en masse, but here I’d like to point everyone to one particular response that is important and unique in its orientation. When Nicholas Carr set off this brouhaha (or is it brouLOL?) with a post on his blog, the responses came from many directions. I’m used to fielding critiques from the right, from the dualists, but what I found especially exciting was getting a response from the left, where Tyler Bickford argues that reality is more augmented than what I argue, that I do not go far enough in my critique of dualism and thereby reify the dualism I question. To conceptually situate his and my critiques, let me restate a theoretical mapping I produced last year:

Strong Digital Dualism: The digital and the physical are different realities, have different properties, and do not interact.

Mild Digital Dualism: The digital and physical are different realities, have different properties, and do interact.

Mild Augmented Reality: The digital and physical are part of one reality, have different properties, and interact.

Strong Augmented Reality: The digital and physical are part of one reality and have the same properties.

To be very brief, I argue that Carr, Turkle and many others (1) problematically waffle between categories and (2) they primarily fall within the mild digital dualism category, which I think leads to inaccurate conclusions. I created the “strong augmented reality” category to carve out a straw-position and did not have any contemporary writers to name as exemplars. Tyler Bickford will very much disagree with the label of this category, more on that in a bit, but I think he has articulated an argument from within this category.

One of the difficulties I have in these debates is articulating that the digital is really different, but still always part of one reality. After reading Bickford’s critique, I now think I have to articulate that point differently. Bickford is asking me to stop making such a big deal about how different the digital is because it recreates a dualism between that which is supposedly “digital” or not. And Bickford is absolutely correct when he states how high the stakes are on this point,

as Haraway, among others, has shown at length, the fantasy of “nature” is all tied up with fantasies of unitary subjectivity, of authentic personhood, of mastery, that are themselves pillars of some pretty terrible politics.

The organic unity of offline reality that the Sherry Turkles of the world are pursuing is a masculinist Western fantasy of mastery through domination, in which “nature” is posited in order to be transcended.

While Bickford of course agrees that Facebook is different than a coffee shop, he does not take a position on whether the digital and physical are the same or different because he does not view those as stable or useful categories in the first place. Further, Bickford says of the term “augmented reality”,

If you start with reality, and then you augment it, then you’ve got two distinct things that can always be distinguished. This is a dualist model!

Here, I’ll have to disagree, but take fault in the confusion. My point, following Hayles, is that materiality and the many different flavors of information always interpenetrate. Different experiences are, in part, a byproduct of different arrangements of these patterns of information. This is not a “dualism.” It would only be a dualism if I were to carve the world into digital versus not-digital. Instead, I think it is important to recognize that the world is mediated by many patterns/flows/whatever, be they atoms, language, voice, text, digital, etc. I hold that these things are part of one reality, but, importantly, have different properties.

At some level, yes, the boarders of these different properties are blurry, and it’s a good idea to never treat any categories hegemonically, but an email and a paper letter are the result of those different properties, different affordances, and I wouldn’t want to forfeit being able to talk about that. So I’ll concede that “digital” and “physical” and “online” and “offline” are all problematic categories and will instead insist that they can be salvaged by treating them as what Max Weber called “ideal types”, conceptual categories that are useful to think with, even if they are never perfectly realized in practice.

But this critique does force me to cringe at some of my past articulations and forces me to make future ones better. When I say that the digital and physical are different, I should be instead saying that there is no such thing as the purely digital, or the purely physical, but that everything is the product of various mediators, including atoms, bits, text, language, and much else.

Some of Bickford’s critique also stems from the baggage of the term “augmented reality”, which he takes to mean that there was once reality, and then something came in and augmented it. That’s not how I posit the term, but I get why one might read it as such. In fact, if one can make a convincing case that the term necessarily needs to be read as such, I’ll throw the term out. When I say augmented reality, I just mean reality. However, Bickford states,

why do we need to use “real” or “reality” at all? At best it grants the possibility that there might be phenomena in this world that are not “real,” which is nonsensical; at worst it reaffirms this fantasy of original unity that presupposes a deeply hierarchical politics.

I do not say “reality” to mean that anything is or is not real, but just as a commonly-used catch all for the various unit-of-analysis that people take on. Here, Bickford states that,

Rather than “the digital” and “the physical,” can’t we just have “lots of different stuff”?

While I still maintain that the very different properties of say a light photon and an atom are important, Bickford is persuasive that many people, myself included, use the term “digital” too quickly as a catch-all for very different things. I’ll concede this point, and, again, am already thinking of how I’ll differently articulate my position in the future.  By saying “the digital is different than the physical”, I am not making clear that nothing is entirely digital or physical, and one can never talk about one without making reference to the other. Though, again, I do not want to throw away the words, but rather consider them as useful “ideal types.”

Michael Sacacas agrees with me, I think, when he states,

I think this analogy applies to the online/offline debate. As concepts, the offline and the online are symbiotic. Experientially, they are often entwined and enmeshed, or however else one may put it. But under certain conditions, they are distinguishable. One may decide that neither ought to be privileged, but that is not the same thing as denying that they are indistinguishable altogether.

All this said, I think the idea that there is no such thing as “digital” is an interesting one, but not something I’m ready to commit to. My two reasons listed above are (1) I do think there are different flavors of information, even if their boarders are a bit blurry and (2) if you disagree with 1 and think various “digital” things may not be inherently linked, practically, I’d like to be able to enter into discourses that see Facebook and Twitter as of a type and coffee shops and living rooms as a type. But I remain open to entering into that conversation differently than I currently do. I’m still trying to absorb this critique. My intuition is that after further discussions, I’m going to have to concede more than I have here.

If you haven’t clicked yet, please read Bickford’s post I am responding to.

Nathan is on Twitter [@nathanjurgenson] and Tumblr [].

digital poetics has reignited artistic emphases on processorial, fragmented conceptualizations of literature

TED talks just to keep from looking at the cops

Real life isn’t lived in just the “digital” or “physical” realm. It’s actually an interplay between both realms

If we want to protect privacy, we should be more clear about why it is important

a trend emerged where visual anonymity led to less disclosiveness

Is documentary vision a new way of dreaming? Does it enmesh the “virtual” with the “physical”?

Novels about robots are still novels. Get over it

I’d rather be a cyborg than a romantic

we need to believe in a “second self” as a fantasy

Timeline creates an infographic of our lives

We don’t like cultural capital to be appropriated without authenticity

So, this week, the Theorizing the Web conference happened, which is why this roundup is a day late. Thanks everyone for coming, following, participating, donating, being awesome, and so on…

Also, Nicholas Carr, the author of The Shallows posted a critique of this blog’s critique of “digital dualism” on his Rough Type Blog.

The posts he took on are my coining of “digital dualism“, my IRL Fetish essay, and my recent refinement of the term, as well as David Banks’ post about his #TtW13 talk (note that the work by other authors of Cyborgology is left out).

I respondedDavid Banks respondedTyler Bickford respondedMichael Sacacas responded. More to come!

Nathan is on Twitter [@nathanjurgenson] and Tumblr [].