Search results for digital dualism

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

— 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...

Peasants at Table
"Peasants at Table" from the Prokudin-Gorskii Collection (ca. 1875)

Editor’s Note: This pieces is a modified repost from Peasant Muse.

Author’s Note: In the original post I used the term ‘analog dualism’, which has been replaced in the version below with ‘textual dualism’.  The sentiment and argument remain the same, as the shift from ‘analog’ to ‘textual’ more precisely describes the phenomena I am trying to uncover.

It is often the case with new technology that the promise of change it brings often outstrips its capacity to actually enact that change.  This is certainly true with several digital constructs that emerged over the past decade, like Wikipedia or the Open-Source movement, that are increasingly becoming obsessed with the promise and potential ‘social’ can bring to the issue of user equality.  Free from the constraints once imposed by more traditional analog methods, digital means of knowledge production and creation offer the promise of true independence and interdependence- yet often these new methods fall prey to (con)structural weaknesses that do little more than perpetuate the previous modes of inequality found in their analog ancestors, albeit in digital terms and conceptions that mask the true nature of their operation in the combined realms of both online and offline activity.

The argument presented above largely comes from a very cogent essay written by Nathan Jurgenson on the blog, Cyborgology.  Titled ‘Digital Dualism and the Fallacy of Web Objectivity‘, Jurgenson argues for abandonment of what he terms a ‘digital dualist’ perspective in favor a conception he calls ‘augmented reality’, defined in the quoted sections below 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...

This Toyota commercial is narrated by a young woman who gets her parents on Facebook because they supposedly are not social enough. While she scoffs at how relatively few “friends” her parents have, the parents are shown to be out living by mountain-biking some decidedly offline trails. The daughter remains confidently transfixed and anchored to the digital world of her laptop screen.

I spend lots of time on this blog pointing out what I call “digital dualism,” the fallacy of viewing the physical and digital as seperate worlds (think The Matrix). Instead, the position myself and others on this blog favor is what we call “augmented reality,” the realization that our world is one where atoms and bits come together. Read more about this idea if you want.

Enter Toyota. They are playing off the pesky social media misnomer that people are using Facebook instead of doing things offline. Research consistently disproves this zero-sum/one-or-the-other fallacy by demonstrating more...

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...

A dirty old chair with the words "My mistakes have a certain logic" stenciled onto the back.

You may have seen the media image that was circulating ahead of the 2018 State of the Union address, depicting a ticket to the event that was billed under a typographical error as the “State of the Uniom.” This is funny on some level, yet as we mock the Trump Administration’s foibles, we also might reflect on our own complicity. As we eagerly surround ourselves with trackers, sensors, and manifold devices with internet-enabled connections, our thoughts, actions, and, yes, even our mistakes are fast becoming data points in an increasingly Byzantine web of digital information.

To wit, I recently noticed a ridiculous typo in an essay I wrote about the challenges of pervasive digital monitoring, lamenting the fact that “our personal lives our increasingly being laid bare.” Perhaps this is forgivable since the word “our” appeared earlier in the sentence, but nonetheless this is a piece I had re-read many times before posting it. Tellingly, in writing about a panoptic world of self-surveillance and compelled revelations, my own contributions to our culture of accrued errors was duly noted. How do such things occur in the age of spellcheck and autocorrect – or more to the point, how can they not occur? I have a notion. more...

At the end of a press conference in January, Microsoft announced HoloLens, its vision for the future of computing.

YouTube Preview Image


The device, which Microsoft classifies as an augmented reality (AR) headset, incorporates a compilation of sensors, surround speakers, and a transparent visor to project holograms onto the wearer’s environment, a sensory middle ground between Google Glass and virtual reality (VR) headsets like Oculus Rift. Augmented and virtual reality headsets, like most technology saddled with transforming our world, reframe our expectations in order to sell back to us our present as an aspirational, near-future fantasy. According to Microsoft’s teaser site, HoloLens “blends” the digital and “reality” by “pulling it out of a screen” and placing it “in our world” as “real 3D” holograms. Implicit in this narrative is that experience as mediated with digital screens has not already permeated reality, a possibility the tech industry casts perpetually into the future tense: “where our digital lives would seamlessly connect with real life.” more...


A comment from a friend of mine on my recent post about the XBox One reveal got me thinking, about games and bodies and how exactly it is that we talk about both.

The thing about video/computer games – and in fact this is true of a huge amount of digital technology – is that we have this mythology built up around them that implies that they render bodies unimportant, that they divorce identity and movement and interaction from the physical embodied state in which most of us have historically experienced all of those things. This mythology is a classic example of Strong Digital Dualism, the digital and the physical profoundly disconnected and entree from one to the other amounting to an entry into a wholly different world where none of the rules are the same.

Which is clearly not the case. And games are a fantastic arena in which to see how un-true this is.


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...

Digital Divide

1. The digital divide is so over that it’s passé

This is a common trope I hear at conferences, whether academic or otherwise.  Before presenting at the American Sociological Association annual meeting last year, I got feedback from colleagues that I should explain what in the heck the digital divide is before launching into its connection to online activism. Huh? We are sociologists – we have all read Marx. Inequality is one of the pillars that holds up our discipline. We wouldn’t know what to do without gender, class and race gaps.  Why should the Internet be any different from the rest of society?

But I’ve been told to always listen to my audience, who need a gentle reminder that digital inequality is alive and kickin.’ But what is it, exactly? more...