Zygmunt Bauman

Zygmunt Bauman

Earlier this week, I posted a remembrance of the ways Zygmunt Bauman influenced us here at Cyborgology. In this post, I reflect on–and attempt to further develop–some of the aspects of Bauman’s thought that may be useful to us as we continue our work theorizing digital media.

Two things I most admired about Zygmunt Bauman were his ability to relate his theories to current events (even as he aged into his 90s) and the way he always manage to connect social theory and moral philosophy–how to achieve justice as a society and lead a good life as an individual.

To the former point, Bauman was remarkably prolific up until his final days. In a 2016 interview that sets the tone for my reflection here, he argued:

most people use social media not to unite, not to open their horizons wider, but on the contrary, to cut themselves a comfort zone where the only sounds they hear are the echoes of their own voice, where the only things they see are the reflections of their own face. Social media are very useful, they provide pleasure, but they are a trap.

This notion of social media as a pleasurable trap–and how Bauman comes to understand it this way–is the lens through which I would like to review his sizable body of work. more...

The Pew Internet and American Life Project and researchers from Elon University asked over a thousand “experts” about the future of money. Specifically, they were interested in the potential replacement of cash and credit/debit cards with smart-device technologies.

The majority of respondents (65%) believe that smartphones will largely replace cash and credit/debit cards by the year 2020. Others, however, believe that our infrastructure is too closely tied with a cash/card based system to be fully replaced. Further, most experts note that not ALL consumers will make the switch, as some will resist over concerns about privacy and anonymity. Finally, many predict that adoption will differ across demographics (with younger consumers replacing cash/credit at a faster rate than older consumers). Read the full report here.

Indeed, it is not difficult to imagine a largely smart-device based currency system—as this is already prevalent in Japan and growing in the U.S..  The next step is to imagine the social implications of such a system. I believe that these implications will be twofold: First, we will become more efficient consumers. Second, identity and practices of consumption will be more explicitly and directly linked—solidifying the connection between self and stuff. more...

Egyptian solidarity protest in Paris, Jan. 2011. Image by Jacques Delarue.

When it comes to thought and research on social movements and technology (separately and together), emotion is that crucial piece of the picture that everyone technically sees but hardly anyone explicitly acknowledges as worth paying attention to in its own right. Some of this is likely because emotion is hard to study in any way that social science would consider rigorous; it’s often taken as something fundamentally irrational and therefore fundamentally inexplicable. It is highly subjective. It is culturally and situationally constructed, and therefore conceptually slippery. It is interior; it is a difficult thing to see and to know. If explicitly drawing it out as an important factor is problematic for some, identifying it as a variable capable of carrying any causal weight is even more so.

Regarding technology and social movements combined, there is the question of how the digital and physical play out as far as what ends up really being important. What is the relationship between the two? Where exactly is the body in augmented contention and is the way in which it matters changing? What is really going on when we see a bunch of street protesters carrying smartphones?


Answer: They wield enormous (and terrifying) power, yet  they are ill-adapted to function in a changing environment.

In most corners of society, it’s a become a trope to say that the Internet has changed everything; but online communication is still far from integrated into the norms and practices of the academy, whose pace of change and adaptation is nothing less than glacial.  Anyone familiar with academic careers knows that conventional (read print) journal publications are the be-all end-all criterion in evaluating potential hires—the meaning behind the well-worn cliché: “publish or perish.”

The practice of using journal articles as the sole criterion in evaluating an academic’s productivity is an artifact of an epoch long-passed.  In the age of the printing press, journals were, by far, the most efficient and enduring form of communication.  They enabled disciplines to have thoughtful conversations spanning decades and continents.  They also facilitated the transmission of the knowledge produced through these conversations to younger generations.  In fact, it is nearly impossible to imagine the emergence of Modern science without existence of this medium. Thus, in the beginning, journals become symbolically and ritually important because they were functionally necessary. (While journals were medium du jour during Durkheim’s productive years, he surely would have recognized the reason behind their status in the cult of the academic.) more...

Presider: Jenny Davis

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. more...

by Space Invaders

Last week, fellow editor Nathan Jurgenson made a post entitled “Digital Dualism versus Augmented Reality” with a call for more concept work surrounding this topic.  I hope to make a contribution to that effort by discussion three competing theoretical paradigms of Internet research.  These three distinct perspectives perceive the Internet as either virtual reality, mediated reality, or augmented reality.  I argue (in the spirit of Saussure) that these three perspectives are only fully comprehensible defined in relation to one another.

Let’s start with the definition of “augmented reality” found in Wikipedia, society’s great font of prosumptive wisdom:

Augmented reality (AR) is a term for a live direct or a [sic… I fixed it] indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input, such as sound or graphics. It is related to a more general concept called mediated reality, in which a view of reality is modified (possibly even diminished rather than augmented) by a computer. As a result, the technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality. By contrast, virtual reality replaces the real-world with a simulated one.

This is an unsatisfying definition.  While it does contrast augment reality and mediated reality to virtual reality (mediated and augmented reality describe relationships between the online and offline worlds, while virtual reality describes their separation), it (self-admittedly) fails to distinguish between mediated and augmented reality.  As presented in this definition, mediated and augmented reality are basically synonyms.


Zygmunt Bauman has famously conceptualized modern society as increasingly “liquid.” Information, objects, people and even places can more easily flow around time and space. Old “solid” structures are melting away in favor of faster and more nimble fluids. I’ve previously described how capitalism in the West has become more liquid by moving out of “solid” brick-and-mortar factories making “heavy” manufacturing goods and into a lighter, perhaps even “weightless,” form of capitalism surrounding informational products. The point of this post is that as information becomes increasingly liquid, it leaks.

WikiLeaks is a prime example of this. Note that the logo is literally a liquid world. While the leaking of classified documents is not new (think: the Pentagon Papers), the magnitude of what is being released is unprecedented. The leaked war-logs from Afghanistan and Iraq proved to be shocking. The most current leaks surround US diplomacy. We learned that the Saudi’s favored bombing Iran, China seems to be turning on North Korea, the Pentagon targeted refugee camps for bombing and so on. And none of this would have happened without the great liquefiers: digitality and Internet. more...