Skip navigation

Tag Archives: cyborg

This was originally posted at Cyborgology – click here to view the original post and to read/write comments.

What Facebook knows about you, via the Spectacular Optical tumblr (click for more images)

Rob Horning has been working on the topic of the “Data Self.” His project has a close parallel to my own work and after reading his latest post, I’d like to jump in and offer a conceptual distinction for thinking about the intersection of the online/data/Profile and the offline/Person.

The problem is that our online presence is too often seen as only the byproduct of our offline selves. Sometimes we talk about the way online profiles are passive reflections of who we are and what we do and other times we acknowledge our profiles are also partly performative adjustments to the “reality” of the person. However, in all the discussion of individuals creating this content what is often neglected is how the individual, in all of their offline experience, behavior and existence, is simultaneously being created by this very online data. We cannot describe how a person creates their Profile without always acknowledging how the Profile creates the person.

Read More »

Advertisements

The Cyborgology editors are throwing a conference on April 9th called Theorizing the Web. Leading up to the event, we will occasionally highlight some of the events taking place. I will be presiding over a paper session simply titled “Cyborgology” and present the four abstracts below. As readers of this blog already know, we view cyborgology as the intersection of technology and society. We define technology more broadly than just electronics, but also to things like architecture, language, even social norms. And the four papers on the Cyborgology panel offer a broad scope of what cyborgology is and how it can be used.

First, we have David Banks’ paper titled, “Practical Cyborg Theory: Discovering a Metric for the Emancipatory Potential of Technology.” David discusses what theoretical cyborgology is and what it can do. Bonnie Stewart offers a discussion of the social-media-using-cyborg as a sort-of “branded” self in her paper, “The Branded Self: Cyborg Subjectivity in Social Media.” Bonnie pays special attention to, in true cyborgology fashion, the way in which digital and physical selves interact and blur together. Next, Michael Schandorf argues that Twitter norms are akin to the non-speech gestures we make while talking (e.g., like moving our hands). What makes his paper, titled, “Mediated Gesture of The Distributed Body,” so appropriate for the Cyborgology panel is Michael’s focus on the physically and socially embodied nature of digital communication. Even digital communication does not exist alone in cyberspace but in an “augmented reality” at the intersection of atoms and bits. Last, Stephanie Laudone’s paper, “Digital Constructions of Sexuality,” empirically describes how sexuality is both affirmed and regulated on Facebook. This, again, highlights the embodied nature of Facebook while looking at how digital space operates differently than physical space.

Find the four abstracts below. Together, they will make for an exciting panel. We invite everyone to join us at the conference in College Park, MD (just outside of Washington, D.C.) on April 9th. And let’s start the discussion before the conference in the comments section below. Thanks! Read 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 outdated 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).

I have used this perspective of augmentation to critque dualism when I see it. For instance, Read More »


Here, Amber Case states something commonly repeated on this blog: we are all cyborgs. As such, she calls herself a cyborg anthropologist, similar to how we conceive of the study of technology and society as Cyborgology (perhaps without such strict disciplinary terms – but that is another discussion).

However, there is much disagreement between Case’s usage of the term and how I (and others) on this blog define a cyborg.

First, Case argues in the video above that the human cyborg is a recent invention. A product of new technologies that compress our mental capacities over time and space. On this blog, however, we tend to use the term much more broadly. For instance, one fundamental technology that structures other technologies built upon it is language. Post-structuralist thinking has long taught us about the power of language to drive what and how people think, how selves are formed, how power is enacted, and so on. Other technologies, such as spatial organization (think the architectural technologies of the amphitheater or panoptic prison) have profound impact on the mental processes of humans. The human mind has never been independent of technology, and, as such, we have always been cyborgs.

My second disagreement surrounds Case’s argument that Read More »

Yes, even a CGI-filled big-budget glowing Disney spectacle can provide opportunity for theorization. Of the recent Internet-themed blockbusters – namely, Avatar (2009); The Social Network (2010) – Tron: Legacy (2010) best captures the essence of this blog: that the digital and the physical are enmeshed together into an augmented reality.

This seems surprising given that the film is fundamentally about a separate digital world. Indeed, the first Tron (1982) is all about strict a physical-digital dualism and the sequel plays on the same theme: physical person gets trapped in a digital world and attempts to escape. However, Tron: Legacy explores the overlapping of the physical and digital. The story goes that Flynn, the hero from the 1982 film, develops a digital world that does not have the imperfections of its physical counterpart. His grand vision was to gloriously move humanity online. Simultaneously, the beings in the digital world wanted to export their perfection out of the digital world and to colonize the offline world, removing all of its imperfections (that is, us). Flynn comes to realize that enforced perfection (read: Nazism) is unwanted. Instead of a highly controlled and orderly universe, what has to be appreciated is what emerges out of chaos. And it is here that the film makes at least two theoretical statements that are well ahead of most movies and popular conceptions of the digital.

First is the tension between Read More »

You probably have heard about Facebook Places, a feature that brings the site up to speed with other location-sharing services like Foursquare and Gowalla that allow users to document where they are, as well as potentially who they are with and other comments about that location.

The term “augmented reality” is often used to describe the layering of digital information onto the physical world [examples of where it is now, and where it might be going]. However, I have argued that augmented reality can also refer to our digital profiles becoming increasingly implicated with the material world. If the early days of the web were about going online as anyone you wanted to be, today, our Facebook profiles are more anchored in the reality of those we know in the physical world -and now are further enmeshed with physicality given these new location-based services.

New technologies –most prominently the sensor-packed smartphonemake possible our cyborg-like lives in an increasingly augmented reality [theorist Donna Haraway is especially important here]. More than just the augmentation of our digital profiles with physical-world information, we should also think about the ways in which digital documentation impacts our everyday, offline lives. With documentation in mind, do we alter our behaviors? Is it possible that we might experience a place differently when we are documenting it using a service like Facebook Places? Might we even change what place we go to? Or asked differently, to what degree can the tail of digital documentation come to wag the dog of lived experience? ~nathan