Digital dualism denialism

wilderness

We talk a lot about “being online” and “being offline” or “going online” and “going offline,” but what do those terms mean? The distinction between online and offline is an outdated holdover from twenty years ago, when “going online,” through America Online or Prodigy or Compuserve, was like “going shopping.” It was an event with clear demarcations, in time and space, and it usually comprised a limited and fairly routinized set of activities. As Net access has expanded, to the point that, for many people, it is coterminous with existence itself, the line between online and offline has become so blurred that the terms have become useless or, worse, misleading. When we talk about being online or being offline these days, we’re deluding ourselves.

That, anyway, is the argument that some writers at the blog Cyborgology have been making over the past couple of years. They’ve been building, in fits and starts, a case against what they call “digital dualism.” The phrase was introduced by Nathan Jurgenson in a post in February 2011. He took umbrage at people’s continuing use of the words “online” and “offline” to describe their experiences, particularly the implication that the online and the offline are separate realms:

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.

He proposed, instead, an “opposite perspective,” which he termed “augmented reality.” The augmented reality view sees “the digital and physical [as] increasingly meshed”:

I am proposing an alternative view that states that our reality is both technological and organic, both digital and physical, all at once. We are not crossing in and out of separate digital and physical realities, ala The Matrix, but instead live in one reality, one that is augmented by atoms and bits.

The observation that “our reality is both technological and organic, both digital and physical,” is banal. I can’t imagine anyone on the planet disagreeing with it. Being natural-born toolmakers, human beings have always lived in a world that is both technological and organic, that is at once natural and, as Thomas Hughes put it, “human-built.” Nor can I imagine that anyone actually believes that the offline and the online exist in immaculate isolation from each other, separated, like Earth and Narnia, by some sort of wardrobe-portal. Jurgenson uses the charge of digital dualism to dismiss a host of very different critiques of digital media, by people like Sherry Turkle, Evgeny Morozov, Jaron Lanier, Mark Bauerlein, and myself, but that seems little more than intellectual stereotyping. It is the “meshing” of the offline and the online, the physical and the digital, that is the fundamental subject and the fundamental concern of pretty much every critical examination of the Net—the generally positive ones as well as the generally negative ones—that I’ve come across. If the two states actually existed in isolation, most of the criticism of digital media would be rendered irrelevant.

Jurgenson came close to conceding this point in a later post in which he presented four “conceptual categories” to describe different ways of viewing “the relationship between the physical and digital”:

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

Mild Digital Dualism: The digital and physical are different worlds, 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.

As Jurgenson more or less admits, the two extreme categories, perfect separation and perfect sameness, are made of straw. They are purely theoretical constructs, notable for their lack of members. Basically everyone, he grants, agrees that the digital and the physical “have different properties but interact.” So the distinction on which Jurgenson’s digital-dualism theorizing hinges is between those “mild dualists” who see the digital and physical as “different worlds” and those “mild augmentationists” who see the digital and physical as “one reality.” We’ve now entered a realm of very fuzzy semantic distinctions. What the terms “worlds” and “reality” actually denote is not at all clear. As Jurgenson allows, “Sometimes mild dualism and mild augmentation look very similar.” Well, yes. It’s not altogether impossible for “one reality” to encompass “different worlds.” But then, having painted himself into a corner, he leaps out of the corner in order to criticize those who “waffle back and forth across each of these categories.” Given the vagueness of the categories, a bit of waffling seems not only inevitable but wise.

Jurgenson makes his intent clearer in “The IRL Fetish,” an essay he published in The New Inquiry last year. What seems to underpin and inform his critique of digital dualism is his annoyance at people who sentimentalize and “over-valorize” the time they spend offline and make a self-satisfied show of their resistance to going online:

Every other time I go out to eat with a group, be it family, friends, or acquaintances of whatever age, conversation routinely plunges into a discussion of when it is appropriate to pull out a phone. People boast about their self-control over not checking their device, and the table usually reaches a self-congratulatory consensus that we should all just keep it in our pants. … What a ridiculous state of affairs this is. To obsess over the offline and deny all the ways we routinely remain disconnected is to fetishize this disconnection.

Jurgenson is making a valid point here. There is something tiresome about the self-righteousness of those who see, and promote, their devotion to the offline as a sign of their superiority. It’s like those who can’t wait to tell you that they don’t own a TV. But that’s a quirk that has more to do with individual personality than with some general and delusional dualist mentality. Jurgenson’s real mistake is to assume, grumpily, that pretty much everyone who draws a distinction in life between online experience and offline experience is in the grip of a superiority complex or is striking some other kind of pose. That provides him with an easy way to avoid discussing a far more probable and far more interesting interpretation of contemporary behavior and attitudes: that people really do feel a difference and even a conflict between their online experience and their offline experience. They’re not just engaged in posing or fetishization or valorization or some kind of contrived identity game. They’re not faking it. They’re expressing something important about themselves and their lives—something real. Jurgenson doesn’t want to admit that possibility. To him, people are just worshipping a phantom: “The notion of the offline as real and authentic is a recent invention, corresponding with the rise of the online.”

Another Cyborgology writer, David Banks, pushes Jurgenson’s dismissal of people’s sense of a tension between online and offline to an absurd extreme. In a recent post, he observes:

Ever since Nathan posted [his original piece on digital dualism] I have been preoccupied with a singular question: where did this thinking come from? Its too pervasive and readily accepted as truth to be a trendy idea or even a generational divide. Every one of Cyborgology’s regular contributors (and some of our guest authors) hear digital dualist rhetoric coming from their students. The so-called “digital natives” lament their peer’s neglect of the “the real world.” Digital dualism’s roots run deep and can be found at the very core of modern thought. Indeed, digital dualism seems to predate the very technologies that it inaccurately portrays.

If it weren’t for that supercilious “inaccurately,” one might expect, or at least hope, that at this point Banks would take people’s “pervasive” views at face value and would dedicate himself to a deep exploration of why people feel that digital media are eroding their sense of “the real.” Instead, he dismisses people’s concerns. He claims that they’re just reenacting, in a new setting, Rousseau’s view of masturbation as lying outside the natural sexual order:

Rousseau claims at different points in his Confessions that masturbation is a supplement to nature: something constructed or virtual that competes with an existing real or natural phenomenon. Derrida, in his Of Grammatology asserts that erotic thoughts not only precede sexual action (you think about what you do before you do it) but that there is no basis for finding sex any more “real” than auto-affective fantasies. This “logic of the supplement” mistakes something that was “always already” there with an unneeded addition.

That’s an awfully tortured way of denying the obvious: The reason people struggle with the tension between online experience and offline experience is because there is a tension between online experience and offline experience, and people are smart enough to understand, to feel, that the tension does not evaporate as the online intrudes ever further into the offline. In fact, the growing interpenetration between the two modes of experience—the two states of being—actually ratchets up the tension. We sense a threat in the hegemony of the online because there’s something in the offline that we’re not eager to sacrifice.

In a rejoinder to Jurgenson’s “The IRL Fetish,” Michael Sacasas gently makes the point that Jurgenson, Banks, and the other digital dualism denialists go out of their way to avoid seeing:

Jurgenson’s [assertion] – “There was and is no offline … it has always been a phantom.” – is only partially true. In the sense that there was no concept of the offline apart from the online and that the online, once it appears, always penetrates the offline, then yes, it is true enough. However, this does not negate the fact that while there was no concept of the offline prior to the appearance of the online, there did exist a form of life that we can retrospectively label as offline. There was, therefore, an offline (even if it wasn’t known as such) experience realized in the past against which present online/offline experience can be compared. What the comparison reveals is that a form of consciousness, a mode of human experience is being lost. It is not unreasonable to mourn its passing, and perhaps even to resist it.

Nature existed before technology gave us the idea of nature. Wilderness existed before society gave us the idea of wilderness. Offline existed before online gave us the idea of offline. Grappling with the idea of nature and the idea of wilderness, as well as their contrary states, has been the source of much of the greatest philosophy and art for at least the last two hundred years. We should celebrate the fact that nature and wilderness have continued to exist, in our minds and in actuality, even as they have been overrun by technology and society. There’s no reason to believe that grappling with the online and the offline, and their effects on lived experience and the formation of the self, won’t also produce important thinking and art. As Sacasas implies, the arrival of a new mode of experience provides us with an opportunity to see more clearly an older mode of experience. To do that, though, requires the drawing of distinctions. If we rush to erase or obscure the distinctions, for ideological or other reasons, we sacrifice that opportunity.

Yes, digital dualism can go too far. But the realization of that fact—the fact that the online and the offline are not isolated states; that they together influence and shape our lives, and in ways that can’t always be teased apart—should be a spur to thinking more deeply about people’s actual experience of the online and the offline and, equally important, how they sense that experience. What’s lost? What’s gained? An augmentation, it’s worth remembering, is both part of and separate from that which it is added to. To deny the separateness is as wrongheaded as to deny the togetherness. Digital dualism denialism does not open up new frontiers of critical and creative thought and action. It forecloses them.

Photo by Florian.

30 Comments

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30 Responses to Digital dualism denialism

  1. Kelly Roberts

    I’ve never heard of anybody using the words “online” and “offline” to describe their experiences. Is this something that occurs regularly among academics and grad students?

    “Every other time I go out to eat with a group, be it family, friends, or acquaintances of whatever age, conversation routinely plunges into a discussion of when it is appropriate to pull out a phone.”

    Again, who is having these conversations? My friends and family pull out or don’t pull out phones during dinner, parties, a round of Settlers of Cataan, whatever. Nobody keeps tabs. Last week I was drinking margaritas with some friends. One of them mentioned that Rip Torn hit Norman Mailer with a hammer during filming of a Mailer film. I said, “Excuse me?” An iPhone was pulled out. Laughter ensued.

  2. Nick

    Clearly, you need more theory in your life.

  3. CS Clark

    I wonder why people think that describing other human beings feeling something that they themselves neither understand nor can be bothered to understand as having a fetish is proof of their own genius instead of a sign that they are small-minded, petty and banal. Especially in cases such as ‘IRL fetishism’, given the word’s specific meaning, ‘an inanimate object worshipped by preliterate peoples’.

    I would call it a fetish fetish but, well, you know.

  4. Fully agree with this (this dualism being a fallacy) and have been saying it for years.
    The “mystery” is/remains in the symbolic ability, but no fundamental difference between sending letters, telegrams, or facebook letters, a major change in speed and volume for sure though (as well as possible emiters receptors relashionships).

  5. I’m always a little baffled by people like Jurgenson and Banks, who seem to want to be thought of as saying something revolutionary while simultaneously aligning themselves with the status quo.

    yt75: but no fundamental difference between sending letters, telegrams, or facebook letters, a major change in speed and volume for sure though

    This old chestnut is one of my favorite arguments. “There’s no fundamental difference between walking and driving a car, except for how much more quickly and easily you can move things with a car, but it’s not like that changed the way we live at all.” A little like the guy who told me that “Information is just information,” but grew evasive when I asked if it would upset him to be notified of his girlfriend’s death by text message or singing telegram.

  6. Breams

    It strikes me that what the brain does and how it interacts with itself and the world surrounding it are important. What I call the reflective function engages introspection to help form an identity (distinctness). The integrative function engages assimilation of sensory input to help make sense of what’s not us, aka the outside world (inclusiveness).

    I think a balanced life requires the brain to spend appropriate amounts of time in both modes, being both introspective and being assimilative. However, for me, these modes seem to be mutually exclusive. I can’t do both at the same time. And, too much time in one mode creates imbalance in my life.

    The forms of communication available to us evolved with DNA but also are augmented by our tool building capabilities. I think communication is intimately associated with the two modes.

    Silence, repose, reflection are necessary for the introspection mode. These are disrupted when the brain has to process input from the senses, particularly when there is a high rate of change in that input. Said differently, the brain is a finite tool for processing so it has built-in context switching that prioritizes attention to change. If it didn’t, predators win.

    If too much time is spent processing the input from the outside world, too little time is available for introspection. I translate “Offline” to mean brain time for the introspective mode, and “Online” as brain time for the assimilative mode.

    We turn off the tools so the brain can turn on the introspective mode. Going offline is about turning on introspection.

  7. I appreciated this post. As much as I sometimes like the analysis on the Cyborgology blog, I think the authors get a bit carried away with their use of the Post-modern philosophers. Some of their arguments do seem to be remarkably ungrounded. It was indicative for me when one essay went to talk about foundations for augmented reality and mentioned Konrad Zuse’s digital physics. Perhaps someday, something like this could become an important part of science, but as of today, I don’t think one can do very much with it, and as a foundation for describing the world, it seems pretty limited.

    What’s also a bit odd about some of the writings about digital “dualism” on that site is that the authors often state that they themselves hold these digital dualist views to some extent, as in Banks’ piece you reference. They then say that they know it must be wrong, but they can’t seem to quite shake it. Its like they want a certain part of their lives and experiences not to exist because it doesn’t fit in with a certain fashionable ideology.

    Breams… sounds like you’re taking a kind of a brain-in-a-vat perspective on life. Describing life only in terms of brain activity seems a bit limiting. Also, I’m not sure that what you describe as your translations of online and offline are the way people usually use the terms. Usually “online” has some connotation of communication with people far away, using a software interface of some kind, rather than just any engagement with the world. Perhaps the contrast you describe is more that between contemplative or meditative, and active engagement with the world.

  8. Taylor Dotson

    Mr. Carr,
    I have followed a bit of this debate (I’m actually a colleague of Banks). I really think the whole thing is just a semantic distraction from the important issues. I won’t try to add to your critique of those charging others with digital dualism. Rather, I wonder what you, as well as others who are concerned about the unintended consequences of certain technological innovations, could do to avoid being interpreted as a “digital dualist” without resorting to a “single reality” perspective. It is clear that interacting over one particular mediating technology, like a cell phone, is in some phenomenological sense very different. Yet, at the same time, some aspects of intimate conversation remain unchanged from face-to-face interaction. I could only think of “differently valenced realities” or “differently salientized realities,” neither of which avoids somewhat butchering the English language. Nevertheless, I believe some thought towards how to better describe the phenomena at hand would help bring something useful out of this debate.

  9. Nick

    Boaz,

    Re: “the authors often state that they themselves hold these digital dualist views to some extent, as in Banks’ piece you reference. They then say that they know it must be wrong, but they can’t seem to quite shake it.”

    Yes, that is a recurring theme (and I should say that, like you, I enjoy Cybergology). My favorite example was the post titled “Turns Out I Feel Like Print is More Real and I Can’t Stop It.” At least they’re consistent in applying their theory to themselves, but it would be nice if they interrogated their own reactions and feelings a little more deeply before dismissing them because they don’t fit the theory.

  10. Nick

    Taylor,

    Thanks. Good question.

    I think you’re right that the digital dualism discussion is basically “just a semantic distraction from the important issues.” I sense, in my more cynical moments, that what it really comes down to is an attitude like this: “Anyone who draws distinctions between the online and the offline that I’m uncomfortable with is a digital dualist. Anyone who draws distinctions between the online and the offline that I’m comfortable with is not a digital dualist.”

    Re: “I wonder what you, as well as others who are concerned about the unintended consequences of certain technological innovations, could do to avoid being interpreted as a ‘digital dualist’ without resorting to a ‘single reality’ perspective.” I’m not sure I need to do anything. I mean, any attempt at thinking critically about a social or technological phenomenon depends on drawing distinctions, trying to define the bounds of the phenomenon. And any attempt at drawing bounds where there are lots of complexities and overlaps is going to entail some degree of distortion. So you just have to try to be sensitive to those distortions. But I’m not sure that it’s all that necessary to come up with a particular term to describe the distinctions; that might just add more distortion. But if forced to come up with a term, I think it would be something about “experiential differences”: how the technology alters the experience of, say, conversing, or reading, or researching, or perceiving, or whatever. I would certainly hope that everyone would agree that there are experiential differences. Having a dinner with friends when people spend a lot of time attending to smartphones is a different experience than having dinner with friends when personal communication devices aren’t involved. Once we accept that difference, then we can try to figure out exactly how it’s different. And then (and only then) we can go on to make value judgments about the differences.

  11. Nick

    CS Clark,

    Yes, if we could put a two-year moratorium on the words “fetishize” and “valorize,” the collective IQ of the academy would go up 18%.

  12. Linda

    Perhaps relevant is considering good old mind body dualism. Mind body dualism recognizes that two elements are united and have overlapping areas, but are still made of fundamentally different stuffs. Similarly, it does seem that many writers -even if they would not recognize a “strong” digital dualism- do see online and offline experience as ultimately separate things. Even in the old world of going on AOL, the experiences of that online world were built out of the building blocks of online experience. In addition it seems that like mind body dualism, digital dualism involves an implication that one side may be more ethical, more authentic, more honest- even if they infuse and inform each other, the framing is one of choosing the online or the offline world as the guiding moral paradigm.

  13. Eric E

    I’m a little perplexed by this piece. I’ve been reading Cyborgology for a few years and while I’ve never found Nathan’s “digital dualism”/”augmented reality” categories to be all that helpful, I think you’ve mischaracterized it to some extent. For example, it is pretty clear from his “Strong and Mild Digital Dualism” post that his whole purpose in articulating these distinctions is because there seems to be so much inconsistency in how people think about offline/online. In fact, he says his main issue isn’t with digital dualism but with people “waffling” back and forth between these different categories. Given that, I’m having trouble even determining what you disagree with him about. You say that we need to “draw distinctions” and open “up new frontiers of critical and creative thought and action” while that is exactly the purpose Nathan gives for creating these categories.

    I do also disagree with your penultimate paragraph. “Nature existed before technology gave us the idea of nature” is true only if it is recognized that the first “nature” and the second “nature” in that sentence are homonyms. The same goes for “wilderness” and “offline.” It’s worth pointing out that Sacasas later wrote a blog post about wilderness, after I pointed out to him an essay by William Cronon called “The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.” That-thing-we-mean-by-“wilderness” is something different than that-thing-they-meant-by-“wilderness.” To us wilderness is a place of recreation or consumption. To them it was a place of work or production. “Wilderness” as we know it today didn’t exist until society tamed it for us. “Offline” is different than whatever we had before “online” existed.

  14. Linda,
    It seems to me like relating the digital dualism discussion to the traditional philosophical mind-body dualism is a little heavy. To me at least, I see some real philosophical mystery about matter vs. mind. I know I have a mind and personal experience, and I also know the world is out there and have all sorts of tools and approaches to talk about it. What is the relationship between these very different aspects of reality? Hard problem!

    I’m not sure there is a similarly hard problem at the heart of “digital dualism”. Whatever the meaning of online vs. offline in any given situation/context, is it really that hard to understand?

    Perhaps if Nathan Jurgenson ever writes a book (or academic article) on digital dualism and lays out more carefully exactly what it means, then one could engage more deeply with it. But until then, I mostly side with Nick here who sees it as a somewhat vague label waiting to be applied to disparage those you disagree with for whatever reason.

  15. Nick

    Eric,

    re: “‘Nature existed before technology gave us the idea of nature’ is true only if it is recognized that the first ‘nature’ and the second ‘nature’ in that sentence are homonyms. The same goes for ‘wilderness’ and ‘offline.'”

    I agree entirely. It’s the tension in the meanings that makes the whole subject interesting. And, as you suggest, there are a whole lot of meanings.

    The particular point, in the context of the post, is that the statement “The notion of the offline as real and authentic is a recent invention, corresponding with the rise of the online” is simplistic when used to dismiss people’s apprehensions of realness and authenticity as fallacious. Of course we didn’t start talking about “offline” until we had “online,” but, as Sacasas points out, we did actually exist for the vast majority of history in a state of “offline.” Which is not to say that pre-online offline is the same as post-online offline. (Did I say that right?)

    As to your first point: When you begin your interpretation of Jurgenson’s argument by saying that you have a basic problem with its foundational dichotomy of digital duality/augmented reality, then I think you’re sort of taking the same view as I am. And, yes, if you throw out that dichotomy, you render most of my objections to the dichotomy moot. But so far as I know Jurgenson et al. have not abandoned the dichotomy and still see it as foundational. As to Jurgenson’s categories, I find them specious. If my critique spurs him to greater precision in his definitions, that would be great.

  16. Nick said: “Having a dinner with friends when people spend a lot of time attending to smartphones is a different experience than having dinner with friends when personal communication devices aren’t involved.”

    Making the decision to have a conversation about smartphones before dinner changes the experience of the dinner. I would argue that, whatever the decision is, the dinner has already been compromised.

  17. thanks for this post! i think you do not articulate my argument correctly, so it is difficult to respond with much more than listing why it isn’t articulated correctly with a bunch of quotes. So that’s what I’ve done here in my response:

    http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2013/03/01/responding-to-carrs-digital-dualism/

    i think these sementic undulations–repeating arguments, figuring out if and how they might be mischaracterized–is actually a very useful, and fun, task. i see the gulf between mild dualism and mild augmented/synthetic/mixed reality as deep, but you are indeed right that much more work needs to be done to make that clear. words like “reality” and “experience” are vague, we agree, but the different perspectives are distinct, and there we disagree. but i did try to make things clearer by talking about dualists seeing on/offline as “zero-sum” in my strong/mild post. did you not find that more clear?

    what may not come through in my reply -i’m “grumpy” haha- is that thinking through your post was a lot of fun and really helps in making things more clear in these (re) iterations.

  18. The series of posts and arguments you summarize are the very sort of thing I avoid: intellectual theorizing that misses the forest through the trees. It’s inevitable to draw some distinctions and mesh together some things. That’s a basic part of cognition. But such distinctions/meshing clearly lose coherence at some point when theory is sliced too finely to account for every nuance, such as describing one’s offline experience of being online (if in fact that phrase even has any meaning, which I think it does). Mere arguments also fail to account for the obviousness of what it means to simply unplug and not be jacked into the virtual fire hose of information (pun intended) aimed at everyone 24/7/365.

    The weirdness and hypersensitivity demonstrated in concerns over others’ real or imagined claims of superiority are another sticking point for me. Is there no possibility that someone might actually be better than you, me, him, her, or them? Does egalitarian dogma require that we pretend to all be equal? For my own part, I know that I’m definitely better for not watching TV, not whipping out the cell phone in inappropriate social settings, and not attending to the blather of the dominant culture. I would probably not go so far as to invoke superiority over others by virtue of my forbearance, but maybe I should. We all know rude and clueless technophiles.

    Finally, there is something to be said for living in one’s body — in meatworld — rather than in one’s head — in one’s projected reality (or perhaps more accurately, within the lies we tell ourselves). It is a kind of low-grade insanity commonplace to the modern and postmodern worlds to deny the body and the natural world and to insist that abstract thinking about reality has more force or power behind it than, say, the attributes of physical resources we mistakenly construe in terms of fiat currency. For a short while at least, craziness does control. But more than a few know what thirst and hunger really mean, and no amount of demographic analysis about wealth distribution means squat to them.

  19. Brutus said: “Does egalitarian dogma require that we pretend to all be equal? For my own part, I know that I’m definitely better for not watching TV, not whipping out the cell phone in inappropriate social settings, and not attending to the blather of the dominant culture. I would probably not go so far as to invoke superiority over others by virtue of my forbearance, but maybe I should. We all know rude and clueless technophiles.”

    Egalitarianism requires us to act as if everyone is equal, at least, because the term is usually applied politically. If you think you’re superior to the person who whips out a cell phone in (what you deem) an inappropriate situation and attends to (what you deem) the dominant (I assume by this you mean decadent) culture, that makes you an elitist. Doesn’t it?

    You can be an egalitarian politically and an elitist socially. That combination seems to be prevalent among upper middle class liberals.

  20. Nick

    Nathan,

    re: “but i did try to make things clearer by talking about dualists seeing on/offline as ‘zero-sum’ in my strong/mild post. did you not find that more clear?”

    I find it clear, but not at all compelling. Can you point to actual, recent cases of people making the argument that on/offline is a zero-sum game? Because I don’t think that’s a particularly prominent part of the arguments of contemporary web critics, including those you call out by name. A few years back, when being online was largely a stationary experience, done via PCs, I remember there being discussions about the time tradeoff between online socializing and face-to-face socializing, and that was an entirely sensible thing to discuss, as there were such tradeoffs. And, indeed, there are still time tradeoffs between things-done-while-looking-at-a-screen and things-done-without-looking-at-a-screen, and discussions about those tradeoffs are as valid as discussions of other time tradeoffs people make in their lives. But I think it’s pretty clear to everyone that, since the expansion of net access to phones, the tradeoffs are blurrier now because the experiences have often become harder to disentangle. So, again, please point to the particular zero-sum arguments that you’re objecting to.

    More generally, since you have argued that “Turkle’s Alone Together, Carr’s The Shallows, Morozov’s The Net Delusion, Bauerlein’s The Dumbest Generation, Keen’s The Cult of the Amateur, Siegel’s Against the Machine, Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget,” and other books all “critique social media from the digital dualist perspective” and all “stem from [a] systematic bias to see the digital and physical as separate; often as a zero-sum tradeoff where time and energy spent on one subtracts from the other,” might I suggest that you actually show us, citing chapter and verse, where each of these books actually makes such critiques and exhibits such a bias? (My book, by the way, barely mentions social media; in fact I was careful to avoid a discussion of the social effects of the net.) By showing, precisely, how what you call digital dualism runs through each of these books, you would go a long way in helping us understand what you really mean by digital dualism. Of course, you may also find that your assessment of these texts is based on a misapprehension.

    Nick

  21. Thank you for writing this, and your excellent follow-up comments, especially the last one above. There is more to be said, but given the cavalier attitude of Jurgenson and the other Cyborgology authors to existing scholarship (they do pretend, after all, to be academics), and as you point out, their fast-and-loose dismissal of careful and studied works of scholarship (Turkle, for whom Jurgenson has the most animus, simply does not fall into any of the conceptual traps he thinks he has identified, which is abundantly clear in her writing and speaking–although I also do not believe his identification is successful, for many of the reasons you mention, among others), it hardly seems worth saying. They expect a lot of attention to be paid to them, while paying very little attention to the thoughtful, incisive, and insightful work of many others who’ve come before them–I can’t help but see in that a kind of shallowness of thought that is, as you have written elsewhere, disturbing and symptomatic.

  22. thank you for the post! I’m sort of in the same boat as Nathan here. I’ve written my own reply here: http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2013/03/01/always-already-augmented/

    I hope it isn’t too tortured.

  23. Nick

    Thanks, David (Golumbia), for your comment. Speaking of dualism, I thought your recent post about the Cartesian dualism of the Singularitarians was excellent. In fact, for the last week I’ve been trying to come up with my own post about your view.

    And I agree that the caricatures of Turkle’s work are particularly misguided.

  24. Nick

    David (Banks): more hysterical than tortured.

  25. Hysterical as in “haha” or hysterical as in “I need to be masturbated to keep my uterus from wandering around my body?”

  26. Nick

    More the latter than the former (though your definition is your own). You used your online voice when you should have used your offline voice, if you’ll permit the distinction.

  27. Julia

    “That provides him with an easy way to avoid discussing a far more probable and far more interesting interpretation of contemporary behavior and attitudes: that people really do feel a difference and even a conflict between their online experience and their offline experience. ”

    Yes! As another sociology grad, and fascinated follower of these exchanges, I’ve been thinking this all along. The most interesting thing about “digital dualism” is not that it’s a wrong-headed perception of what’s “really” going on in the world…but that people experience it as true in the first place. Instead of attempting to correct people’s supposedly misguided interpretations of their own experiences with these new technologies, shouldn’t our job, as social scientists/thinkers/writers, be to seek understanding of the ways these categories are true for others, and analyze why people interpret their experiences in this way?

    I think your project (Nick) is just a different animal than Nathan’s (and much more similar to my own). Instead of lamenting the prevalence of the online/offline categories, we could also ask…why are they so powerful? What are their consequences?

  28. I don’t get David Golumbia’s defense of Turkle’s “speaking.” Honestly this is the only thing I actually care about from this whole debate, which is the moral panicking “think of the children” nonsense that her public statements are the worst version of. The primary function of her TEDxUIUC talk is to give ammunition to one side in the “mommy wars.” Is not scholarship, it’s barely advocacy. It’s just reactionary moralizing. IDGI.

    (I wrote about this here. Like I said, this is the only point related to digital dualism that I think is important. But it is important. Everyone can have the words “digital” or “on/offline” if they want them. Just stop with the moral panicking and guilt trips. That’s what makes a “fetish.”)

  29. Nick

    Thanks, Julia. I of course agree. To presuppose that people suffer from false consciousness without making the effort to understand their consciousness seems like a terribly arrogant mistake.

    Tyler: I agree that it’s possible to become sentimental and self-indulgent in expressing an idea, but as a reader one needs to be discriminating and not take the bits that irritate you as an excuse to dismiss the whole corpus of someone’s work. I’m not accusing you of that, but I see in certain others an inability to read beyond a title or a headline, a desire to bypass the work of criticism in order to rush to a judgment.

  30. SAA

    You might want to check out PolySocial Reality (PoSR). We avoid dualism and suggest that its all reality but with a structure that’s kind of different.

    We’re concerned with human communications and the way that people use technology to do so in a multiplexed, synchronous and asynchronous fashion. Our first effort is below, more papers can be found here: http://posr.org/wiki/Publications

    Applin and Fischer:

    “A Cultural Perspective on Mixed, Dual and Blended Reality”

    http://www.dfki.de/LAMDa/accepted/ACulturalPerspective.pdf