On digital dualism (or why, in 2013, are people still fear mongering the Internet?)

I’ve spent the better part of the past 48 hours editing a chapter of my thesis called ‘Always online: How social networks and mobile phones re-embodied and re-placed digital narratives’.

The crux of the piece is that over the course of the past ten years (what some might call the ‘Web 2.0‘ era), and particular over the past five years since smartphone ownership rates skyrocketed and Internet-enabled mobile devices became the norm, the dichotomies of online/offline and virtual/real have become less meaningful, and certainly less useful, ways of describing the relationship that we, the users, have with the Internet. Not only has the Internet moved rapidly from being the haunt of geeks and researchers to a tool that everyone uses, but really, we’re always online. Having access is something that we take for granted; the trade off of ubiquity is that we’re never really alone, and never really ‘offline’.

I read this blog post by Nathan Jurgenson, a doctoral researcher from the University of Maryland, about the tendency of society – particularly the mainstream media – to still reduce life to digital dualisms, despite the fact that the notion of there being anything at all ‘fake’ about the Internet is far out of date. It was a timely post for me, as he’s managed to say in 500 words what I’ve been battling with for the past two days (more eloquently, of course).

The term that Jurgenson uses is digital dualismsThis is the notion that the dichotomies I mentioned above – online/offline, virtual/real (and others, like disembodied/corporeal, mind/body) – are absolutes when it comes to the Internet. It is the idea that everything that happens online is fake – and that, somehow, we possess the ability to switch ourselves on and off – connecting and disconnecting from ‘the matrix’ (hi, 1980s cyberpunk fantasies).

Digital dualism is the attitude that regards the Internet as some kind of digital other-space, and the interactions and relationships that are enacted within that space as entirely fictional.


zomg virtual reality. this is how i access the internet. /source/

For most of us in the field of Internet research, online space stopped being perceived as a virtual Other a long time ago. For me, it began with the move toward an increasingly social web. Once upon a time (in a land far away), people would go online and construct alternate identities for themselves. They weren’t necessarily fake, digital representations of the self, but they weren’t quite the same as the everyday offline self, either. It was not always the norm to use our real names and post photos of ourselves on publicly accessible profile pages, nor was it the norm to connect online (via social network ‘friendships’) with people we knew offline. It happened, definitely, but not on the scale that we today perceive as standard, thanks to Myspace, Facebook, and the like. Without going in to the details of how Jurgenson’s post arose (you can read the full story here – basically it involves an American college footballer being duped into a relationship with a woman who didn’t exist, and the media are calling it a “digital hoax”), I instead wanted to highlight some of the things that he’s said that really exemplify how incorrect many attitudes are to the way so-called “digital” life works.

For some reason, users – especially young ones – are depicted in the mainstream media as possessing a plethora of social ineptitudes as a result of always having their eyes glued to their smartphones. Their only real skills, some would have you believe, are taking selfies and demonstrating nonchalance toward anything that happens in the ‘real’ world. They’re portrayed as so disconnected that they’re more zombie than human, lost causes aimlessly wandering the digital (ahem) streets of cyberspace. Probably on the Information Superhighway. When they’re not too busy surfing the net. And sexting.

Jurgenson writes:

The point isn’t that there exists a digital world that’s fake; it’s that there isn’t a digital world. The hoax is the invention of some cyber reality we’ve traded the offline for, where interaction is fake. The hoax is this conceptual error that Egan and other digital dualists rely on to make many of their arguments.

These writers get mileage out of calling this a “digital deception” and declare the Internet “fake” in order to have a convenient answer (“technology!”) for real, messy, complicated, human problems like celebrity, romance, and deception. Blaming technology also provides a simpler solution: “less technology!” And as I discuss in my IRL Fetish essay, by constructing the digital as some “other” place, and then judging that as “virtual” and less real, one can then value their own non-use as more human and deep.

I couldn’t agree with this any more. For some reason that makes absolutely no sense to me, but complete sense to most, the Internet and its goings-on are still a convenient scapegoat for real, complicated human problems. Young person has a naked photograph plastered all over the web? Blame Facebook! Celebrity attacked by the public via social media? Blame Twitter! Parents don’t know how to control their children? Blame teh intarwebz!

Here’s a thought. Perhaps the reason that the media and, it must be said, many parents, are still demonising the Internet is because they’re from a generation that didn’t grow up online, and this technology is still relatively new to them. As such, they lack the skills to adequately interpret the place that it has in society. It’s like that idea that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Likewise, the Internet (which is not actually a sentient, autonomous being, incidentally) doesn’t create hoaxes – people do. People attack and hurt and deceive each other, and it’s high time that we (the collective We – society) realised that. The Internet is merely a communications tool. It’s the same as a telephone or a CB radio or a letter, for god’s sake. Without people, these are inert objects and systems.


the internet: not as terrifying as you think. //source//

I’d really recommend that you read Nathan Jurgenson’s post. He makes a lot of sense. More than me. My prediction is that to the society-leading adults of the future, this malarkey over cyber-hoaxes and general digital fear mongering will seem completely ridiculous. They’ll have grown up online, they’ll have already made the mistakes that we’re accusing them of now making, and they’ll have come up with ways to deal with it – from different parenting skills, to formal education, to the relaxation of hype in the media. More to the point, online behaviour will just be common sense because it will be normal. Nobody who grew up with a telephone fears the unseen dangers that lurk on the other side of the line, and the media has, for the most past, stopped with the moral panic about television.

It’s called technology, everyone. It changes, and sometimes it’s a bit scary, but it’s not always a bad thing.

About these ads

84 thoughts on “On digital dualism (or why, in 2013, are people still fear mongering the Internet?)

  1. Pingback: Cyber- digital- virtual- … space? | beyond words.

    1. erin Post author

      Thank you Jess! That means a lot to me :) I hope you enjoyed it… this is the kind of thing I spend my days thinking & talking about so there’s always plenty to say, but it probably gets a bit geeky for many ;)

        1. erin Post author

          Well I’m always very happy to talk about it! I may be over in March, a few things depending (money being the big one, sadly!)

    1. erin Post author

      Yep, exactly my point, Rami. It’s so easy to blame the Internet, but without people it really can’t do very much. Instead of blaming it, we should be learning how to harness its power and take advantage of all the wonderful opportunities that the networked world presents. I guess, in time, this will happen.

      Thanks for your comment :)

  2. Mike

    I like to think of everything as analogous to human experience:

    The internet was predicted by Thomas Edison, who called it the “world brain.” World mind is more like it — as the mind is not physical or bound by space, neither is the internet. The internet seems to be the first literal manifestation of collective consciousness. Of course the first reaction is duality, just as Descartes popularized the notion of duality between body and mind. Physical/virtual might as well be body/mind on a collective scale. Now that the virtual is becoming more physical — touch-screen devices, skype, 3D printers (oh yeah) — the world mind is reconnecting to its body in a new and more deeply integrated way.

    What is twitter, if not a collective uterus for everyone to ejaculate millions of seeds of thoughts into, so that the most worthy can be retweeted, made viral, spread to millions as fast as the speed of giving a damn? It’s an early step in what I like to call an attention-ecology, where ideas evolve in a realm of other ideas, analogous to the way animals evolve among other animals. I think we can expect humanity to evolve much faster than it has in the past, because the length of a generation of ideas is much briefer than a generation of biological offspring. The traits that are being selected for are ideological rather than biological. The key to survival is not what you can do with your body, but what you can do with your mind. We are being forced to learn how to delegate our attention wisely, and as Rudolf Steiner said, “Choice of attention is to the spirit what choice of action is to the body.”

    1. erin Post author

      See I would argue that the mind never disconnected from the body in the first place. Even though we couldn’t present a physical self in the “virtual” world at any point, who we are physically is written in our history. There was never an ability to escape and forget our former embodiment.

      I do like your idea of reconnection, though, and I do talk about it in my research. My reading is just that the body was always there (as was geography, place, etc), but finally research & technology is catching up. We carry in our hands the most amazing devices the world has ever seen! Tiny (compared to a computer of old, anyway!) devices through which we can access all the information in the world. Tiny devices that require tactile interaction, finger to glass.

      I think your second paragraph is great. The fertilisation analogy is very interesting! The collective intelligence and the power of the masses is quite incredible. I know that ever on a personal level, the way that I use think about my research, the kind of events I go to, and even the topics I talk about with friends has been significantly influenced by what I read on Twitter – in a good way, I hope!

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I really enjoyed it.

    2. jibarican

      I suppose that we are thoroughly assuming that the well worth ideas will be the ones proliferated. But, I wonder if they will really do so in the virtual world, when they haven’t in the physical world — not because they aren’t available, but because the masses aren’t interested in them. Why, instead, won’t the collective mind of the Internet lead to a dumber, less caring consciousness as it becomes easier for the masses to nurture characteristics that are necessarily the best in humanity? The many are far more caring of “nothing” than they are of “something”. I can’t possibly see humans accelerate in thought when there is more readily available nonsense and chaos. The virtual consciousness still belongs to the masses, not the few… and the masses, well, it’s harder to find a needle in social media than in a hey stack. Just really wondering what the case will really be…

      1. erin Post author

        An interesting idea, although I think I must respectfully disagree! I believe that we already see the evidence of the caring cohort (as opposed to the uncaring masses) everyday. We see it in the rich, informative tool that is Wikipedia. We see it in open-source software; we see it in crowd-funded projects on sites like Pozzible and Kickstarter. We see it in the fact that we, the users, constantly demand something better, something more intuitive, from the people that develop our technology. Yes, there are the people who don’t care, and they will never care, but for those of us who do, my god – there’s just so much potential out there.

        1. jibarican

          There is evidence of good and provoking thought in all societies, inclusive of societal size. I would presume that in the Internet, there would be as well. Wikipeida is the local library with it’s collection of global authors, Kickstarter the local philanthropist, open source is socialism at the software level: people expanding their reach virtually. Collaboration cannot be prevented for those who seek it. Technology has no way to go but forward, much potential (for the few) I agree; yet, my thoughts aren’t exactly on technology, nor that there is good in people. But, on Mike’s statement on the propulsion of the intellect because of the web, and how the masses care less about mental stimulation; therefore, filling the collective mind with less caring ideas.

          What does the seemingly abundant number of good ideas in the web say about the proliferation of not stimulating ideas/content? Ideas that do not feed the intellect, nor the good in people? Will the masses who feed from garbage care about wikipedia? With a world population looking to satisfy some sort of alternative desire, rather than the intellect, how will the web propel the evolution of the mind? How will the web prevent the undesirable of society from manifesting? I can certainly see the web impacting at a far greater pace the evolution of ideas (good or ill) themselves, but not the collective intellect. Using America as an example, with the country ridden with bigotry, hatred, and plain ol’e mean people, shall it be assumed that those problems won’t creep into the web because it’s virtual, and the proliferation of good, such as Wikipedia, will opaque it? Those societal problems will be brought to the web, tramping the good ones; hence, governing bodies. When the masses occupation is elsewhere other the intellect, they are not going to be caring much about what’s in the library.

          Thought I want to, I find it difficult to believe that the problems of society won’t also catch fire on the web; that they won’t be fueled by millions of like minded people. The issue of the web is not that bad or good happens because of it, but that with many more people without godly intentions, the chances for bad are now at a click away. Now I don’t have to worry about the predator next door, but the global one; that I don’t have to worry about the bank robber, but the virtual robber; that I don’t have to worry about the ignorance of friends; but the ignorance of billions. The same issues affecting society will affect the web, and the least of it will a propulsion of intellect. With new technology, there come new problems. I do hope I’m wrong…

          1. Mike

            With new technology, new problems, of course. With any solution, new problems.

            Everything you say makes total sense; in lieu of replying to it piecemeal, I offer the an analogy:

            The history of the physical world has shown that civilizations get more intelligent and more peaceful over time (If the greatest civilization from 2000 years ago were around now, it would be considered barbaric.). That is, good ideas rise to prominence and governance, explicitly in politics and implicitly in people’s hearts and minds. Why should we expect the history of the virtual world to be any different?

            My argument is that the virtual world is like the physical world in a higher octave. All the same problems, solutions, principles, relationships, etc. but without the limitations of physical distance.

              1. erin Post author

                I would hazard to guess that barbarism and civilisation aren’t quite polar opposites! Certainly plenty in the argument that less barbaric does not equal more civilised.

                Thanks for the comment :)

      2. Mike

        Of course well-worth ideas have been proliferated in the physical world. The most obvious example is the widespread nature of religion. Even if human practice of it is absurd at times, the fact is the great majority of mankind is looking for meaning, goodness, and transcendence. This has led to ideas like democracy, science, and justice. The Geneva Convention essentially makes it unacceptable for unworthy ideas to dominate entire populations. They still do at times, but that’s not the point. The fact that well-worth ideas have proliferated in the physical world is partly proven by the fact that we don’t notice; subtlety is inherent in quality. Subtlety doesn’t force itself upon anyone; it sets you free, influencing and even sometimes controlling you without making you feel violated. Violent and stupid and blatant ideas will surely circulate far and wide and quickly, because they are the ideological equivalent of a punch in the arm. Pain demands attention. But does a punch in the arm change your worldview, your behavior, or anything ultimately important?

        What makes characteristics the best IN humanity is that they are best FOR humanity; thus, we will maintain them out of self-interest whether we know we are doing it or not. There is more readily available nonsense and chaos, but equally available is sense and order and learning. What I expect the internet to do is allow people to get idiocy out of their system more quickly and with less harmful consequences.

        The virtual consciousness does belong to the masses, but ignorance in numbers is weaker than truth alone. Even the ignorant tweet photos with wisdom quotes on them on a regular basis. How long will it take for people to start to understand what they mean? A lot less long than it would if they didn’t encounter them every day.

  3. mihaidragan


    Lovely article and concept. I haven’t thought about the fact that there is no dualism but now that you’ve mentioned it – I completely agree.

    As a personal note I believe the bit about the Internet not being a sentient entity that may create “hoaxes” seems to be a little disconnected from the rest of the article. While, as I have perceived it, the article outlines a thinking error, the part about regarding the Internet’s sentience seems a little forced. I don’t think there is any misconception regarding the Internet’s [lack of] conscience.

    Anyway – great read.

    1. erin Post author

      Hmm, yes, I can see how it could be read that way.

      I suppose that section arises from the fact that there is a hastiness with which critics wish to blame “the Internet”, rather than people, for negative things that happen online.

      For example, last year a girl in Australia was murdered by a man she met on Facebook. Although people acknowledged that he had committed the murder, the media was very quick to blame Facebook. “It wouldn’t have happened if not for social media”; “Facebook puts young people in danger”, were the kind of things that the MSM claimed… but it wasn’t Facebook. The situation began -via- Facebook, yes, but the girl was not murdered -because- of Facebook.

      Thank you for your comment, and offering me the opportunity to think about this in a different way!

  4. malekei

    Congratulations on this interesting post. It raises a few interested themes that are relevant to most our lives these days. I intend on applying for a PhD in philosophy mid-this-year. All the best with yours!

    1. erin Post author

      I’m glad you enjoyed it! Best of luck to you if & when you decide to take on a PhD. It’s a terrifying, rewarding, humbling, exhausting, exhilarating adventure.

  5. Pingback: Tooney Tuesdays

  6. kalyth

    This post made me think of Bruce Sterling’s Islands in the Net, a 1988 cyberpunk novel that has become reality nowadays.

    By the way, cool blog!

    1. erin Post author

      I actually haven’t read that! I will have to make a point of doing so. Thank you for commenting and I’m glad you enjoyed my post! :)

  7. OneWeekToCrazy

    This is a really interesting post! I want to agree, I really do, because I feel the pressure to “get with technology” (especially as a 24-year-old woman), but being online does feel like a fake world to me. Obviously I use it, so it must not bother me too much, but I’m afraid not of what the digital world does to mature adults, but instead what it does to children who are still growing and developing.
    I am a Master’s student studying education, and the students I work with have a really difficult time having conversations that don’t revolve around video games and pop culture. Generally, they have a difficult time having conversations at all because their understanding of social conventions and manners are somewhat lacking. Each time a child is online (even if it’s as simple as researching for a paper rather than going to the library), that student is missing out on interactions with other humans. The opportunity to talk to another person is lessened the more the child is online. It may seem small to us fully functioning, adult humans, but person-to-person interactions for a child means an opportunity to perfect listening skills, social skills, behavioral skills, and cognitive skills.

    Either way, I love your writing style and I really appreciated reading such a well-written piece.

    Cheers to you for getting my brain into action!
    Courtney Hosny

    1. erin Post author

      Hi Courtney, I’m glad you enjoyed it, and thank you for your thoughtful comment!

      I will concede that my background is obviously very different, because I study the net, so I spend a -lot- more time thinking about it than most.

      Regarding education – it is a very difficult issue, but so much of the responsibility for how children behave online is in the hands of teachers. Even more is in the hands of parents, I believe! These young people are going to need the skills that are associated with interacting online as they grow older, because the Internet is not going away. The jobs that many of them have as adults have not even been invented yet, and many (many!) of them will be carried out via the Internet, potentially without face-to-face communication.

      I was a very early adopter of online technologies compared to my friends – I first went online in around 1994, and we had the Internet at home from 1996, when I was 11. I researched my papers online, I spent a lot of time online – probably much more than what would have been considered healthy – and i have grown in to a healthy, socially adept adult with a lot of confidence, who enjoys speaking in front of a crowd and is able to talk to almost anyone about a wide range of topics. I believe that these are life skills, and children will learn them regardless. There, it comes down to the parents; when children are young, they should be playing sport, taking art classes, having play dates that involve face-to-face activity (not computer games). This is more difficult than ever, I accept, with parents working longer hours (i.e. no one to drive them to games/lessons/supervise them) and with the cost of living skyrocketing, so perhaps that is just my 80′s child pipe dream :)

      I don’t have children, but as far as I’m concerned kids shouldn’t be on social media when they’re still primary school aged, because you’re right – they are still learning how to interact, how to behave.

      I’m not a (school) teacher, so I hope I don’t step on toes with this comment, but is there a way that you can spin their conversations about pop culture and video games into a lesson? Discussing geography? Get them to play Sim City or Civilisation. If they keep talking about celebrities, perhaps there is a good lesson in privacy, and treating others as they expect to be treated (etc negativity of gossip). That kind of thing. I believe this is the future of education. There is really no way to avoid the fact that learning will involve computers, tablets, games, the internet, and in many ways these are the skills they will need for the future.

      It’s a really challenging issue because the technology has developed so very quickly, and there’s just no possible way that the education system has been able to catch up. Today’s children, when they’re 25, will behave differently to what we did at 25… but I behave different to what my parent’s generation did at 25 too. I’m 28, and by my age my mum had a baby, a husband, and owned her own home. She also hadn’t had the opportunity to go to uni, whereas my education is the thing that I have privileged most. Every generation is different, and we will all adapt.

      (That’s a very long reply, I’m afraid! I found your comment very thought-provoking, so thank you!)


  8. Ken

    Great post Erin. I’m studying Media Psychology myself and recently had to discuss terrorism and the internet. What it really comes down to is the internet is simply a medium of use for a number of different activities. Deception comes with the users intent.

    Here’s an excerpt:

    “Media have been used to support revolutionary/terrorist campaigns for hundreds of years. The printing press, for example, allowed for the propagation of handbills shaping opinions and galvanizing support for America’s founding fathers in their war against the British, and it was used again in the unpopular abolitionist movement in its early attempts to end slavery (Dillon, 1961; Burns, 2007). Kaplan states that “perhaps the most effective way in which terrorists use the Internet is the spread of propaganda” (Kaplan, 2009). If one switches out “Internet” for “printing press” in the previous sentence there is little difference in their potential purposes. The internet, as an unregulated medium of communication, with its easy access and ability to publish different and objectionable thoughts, cause some people to conceive of the it as a threat. One no longer needs a room full of equipment with materials such as ink and paper to publish thoughts and share them – or a license to do so. Further, this can all be accomplished in a decentralized manner. The internet has effectively leveled the playing field. It also potentially allows for those who would counter such propaganda to do so using the same resources. The only effective way to control freedom of speech and its spread is to exert complete control over the medium that carries/amplifies it (such as we see in reports coming from China in which they shut down access to various sites), but that will not stop people from organizing, recruiting and training. The internet is simply a tool used to achieve an end. Can it contribute to terrorism? Of course, through all of its varied communications capabilities.

    Burns, E. (2007). Infamous Scribblers: The Founding Fathers and the Rowdy Beginnings of American Journalism. New York: PublicAffairs.
    Dillon, M. L. (1961). Elijah P. Lovejoy, Abolitionist Editor. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
    Kaplan, E. (2009, Jan 8). Terrorists and the Internet. Retrieved Jan 15, 2013, from Council on Foreign Relations: http://www.cfr.org/terrorism-and-technology/terrorists-internet/p10005

    1. erin Post author

      Yep, good example :)

      I guess the thing to keep in mind is that bad things would happen with or without the Internet.

      Too much focus rests upon the bad things that might happen, facilitated by the Net, but it does come down to the person/people behind the machines — and i think that’s what your example attests to. Access and networking is easier, for sure, but it’s still people who do the deed.

      Thank you for your well thought-out comment :)

  9. sittingpugs

    Once upon a time (in a land far away), people would go online and construct alternate identities for themselves. They weren’t necessarily fake, digital representations of the self, but they weren’t quite the same as the everyday offline self, either. It was not always the norm to use our real names and post photos of ourselves on publicly accessible profile pages, nor was it the norm to connect online (via social network ‘friendships’) with people we knew offline. It happened, definitely, but not on the scale that we today perceive as standard, thanks to Myspace, Facebook, and the like.

    I was telling a friend recently that there are so many online accounts a person can have today that range from web sites, message boards, and various social media platforms that a person could develop multiple “avatar” disorder. One’s Facebook page may be an authentic representation of a person’s “mise-en-scene,” but it may not depict the same timbre of personality as their LinkedIn, Twitter, blog, or Diablo gaming fan community.

    Who is the truer person? The one you meet face to face or the sum of all this person’s avatar parts?

    1. erin Post author

      There’s a great article by a web researcher called Anne Helmond that goes in to this somewhat. I’ll put the link at the end of this comment. She referes to it as Identity 2.0 (a play on Web 2.0), suggesting that we have these diverse, distributed identities – some online, some off – that are all networked together. It’s a good read if you are interested.

      As for what is the ‘truer’ person — is there any such thing as a true person? Many sociologists have suggested that we are actually performing when we interact with others (see Goffman, Butler, Mead); perhaps there is no such thing as a true self, and all identity is an act. On the other hand, maybe it’s all true, and we just enact our identity in different ways. What do you think? Do you feel like you ever have a true self… and where do you experience this true self?

      Thanks for your comment x


      1. sittingpugs

        Splendid! Thank you for the PDF.

        I think a true self exists, but different environments and different people draw out, suppress, amplify, or mitigate various aspects of a person’s self. Whether or not people can identify their true self in their lifetime is another topic. Every time I think I’ve found the core of my identity…that describe-myself-in-one-word thing… I realize that there’s more to uncover or to clear away (so much clutter).

        1. erin Post author

          No worries! It’s a paper that a lot of current thinking has referenced and it’s a good read for anyone interested in the complex issue that is identity in the 21st century.

          I’m not convinced that there is a true self in the sense that one can define it, or describe it in one word. For me, the self is multifarious and constantly in flux. It’s more like a collection that I constantly add to, rather than something essential that I care for and manage. It also changes across the lifecycle. I’m not even 29 yet, but I think I can identify many “true” selves that I’ve been in my life. At the core I believe I am the one same person, but my identity shifts, develops, and removes parts that are no longer useful to me.

  10. connecttokarl

    Interesting Stuff – the whole idea of people adapting and the next geberation seeing it as the norm is a nice notion. I wonder however whatever (if there will be one) the next stage of interaction will be, and if it will be met with the same regard

    1. erin Post author

      I think it’s just normal, you know, that we pick up the skills along the way. I wasn’t around for the start of television, but I know that a lot of parents used it as a babysitter. Few parents now would tell their children to go watch TV for hours. Same thing with the Net – we will keep learning how to do it, and do it better.

      Who knows what the next thing will be! There will undoubtedly be something though, and the next moral panic will ensue, and perhaps it will be the so-called “digital natives” (the generation that has grown up online) that will be all up in arms about whatever technology their kids are seemingly addicted to!

  11. brookenado

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! Thanks for sharing such a really well-written and thought out post on the technology issue. I definitely agree that people can’t blame the ‘vessel’, so to speak, for the actions of the people using it. It’ll be interesting to see how the mindset shifts in the coming years. Cheers!

    1. erin Post author

      Thank you for your comment :) I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      I think it is human nature to blame the thing that’s new and different, because that’s the easiest thing to do. With something like the Internet, I can’t help but feel like there are deeper issues, and it’s made more difficult by the fact that the parents, teachers, and media who are contributing to the growth of young human beings never had that first-hand experience of being a young person online, so they immediate default to blaming the medium. When it comes to adults getting involved in hoaxes or other nasty situations, well, that really sucks, but it’s not a new thing. People won’t trust technology until the media and other loud voices in society start trusting it, and start telling everyone else that it’s okay.

  12. ettis

    What’s worse is if you fashion an ideology in fundamentals, writing out an improvised manual of fervency, exactly because the digital world becomes this porous environment, open to people new to the Internet, using it to communicate life-things – turning away from it all, and going with a notion of black-screened purity: that’s pretty bad too. Not fearmongering technology, but prophesying its “excesses.” But if our sum interactions digitally overlook and maybe avoid the relationships with people closer to us – or for lack of commonalities, we find more reason to transplant our souls to the electric commune – then that could be why some view the Internet as a leavening for a general disconnect.

    1. erin Post author

      I can see what you’re saying, but I don’t believe in the totality of it: sure, the Internet is -changing- interactions, but I wouldn’t say it’s causing us to avoid relationships with those closest to us. If anything, we have more of an opportunity to connect than ever. That’s just the way I see it, though. The internet is an extension of the real-world, physical space — not an alternative.

      1. ettis

        Families and friends, sure – we want them connected to all our afferents, and us to them. The people we meet at work, too. But is there a point where it’s preferable to compartmentalize people into manageable groups, where not everyone gets open hours to a sole contact? How do we express the equivalent of a locked door or “no phone calls after 9p?”

        1. erin Post author

          I suppose that comes down to the individual making the decision to remove themselves from contact. Choose to turn off the phone or computer, or not to check them after a certain time. As much as I believe in the power of online interaction, I believe it’s equally important to have a life away from constant connectivity. Admittedly this is getting more difficult; because I telecommute to my jobs, I haven’t had a holiday without work in more than two years, so I definitely experience first-hand the drawbacks of always being online. Perhaps it is one of those things that we will get better at managing through ongoing practice. I can certainly see the problem now, though.

  13. Pingback: kgitch on authenticity | kgitch on learning & technology

  14. Pingback: On digital dualism (or why, in 2013, are people still fear mongering the Internet?) | pedagogy trumps tech every time | Scoop.it

    1. erin Post author

      Hi Mary, glad you enjoyed it!

      I just came across the #etmooc project this morning and will be checking it out when I’ve got a little more time on my hands.

  15. Pingback: Digital Identity: Express Yourself | Prairie Inspiration

  16. Pingback: Friday Reads: “Luddite Love” by Claire L. Evans and “On Digital Dualism” by Erin Stark | Critical Margins

  17. Simon Gilberg

    I completely agree with you about how the media sensationalises the internet in this way, but then again, they sensationalise most things if it gets them the ratings they need. The hypocrisy of then asking viewers to follow them via Facebook and Twitter is always an entertaining touch. It’s for that reason that I believe it’s purely a method of attracting attention, and most people working in the media industry treat social media, and the internet in general as an invaluable method of communication and interaction. It’s a shame they don’t preach what they practice.

    1. erin Post author

      Very true! I hadn’t even thought about it that way – it just annoys me intensely. Perhaps it’s just me, but I don’t want to read what x or y celebrity has said about this natural disaster or that sports scandal on Twitter… and I especially disagree with the notion of trawling FB for stories and contacts following a tragedy, such as a young person being killed in an accident. Journalists performing death knocks is one thing, but jumping all over Facebook is quite another.

      I suppose that the Internet is the easiest thing to sensationalise at the moment, and eventually it will shift to something else.

  18. thetimelady

    Thank you for the post! I am currently in a Media Studies course and next fall going to be starting a Film and Media Production program! I am always amazing by the development of digital and social media and how it could be argued that we change it to better us or technology changes how we interact with one another. However one sees this doesn’t change the fact that there is a digital world out there and we as humans are still exploring this expansive space! I appreciate your perspective on this issue and that though it may appear daunting, digital and social media technology will not ruin humanity.

    1. erin Post author

      Hey, thanks for your comment. I’m really glad you enjoyed it and would love to chat social media if you’ve ever got any thoughts or questions :) Best of luck with your courses!

  19. Pingback: Humanity Confronts the Question of Taking the Blue or Red Pill: The Capitalistic Race to Utopia, the Melting Pot of Multicultural Aesthetics, and Will Nature Exhile Humanity for Transcendent Indulgence and Excess Consumptions? « Reply2Julian

  20. Cave Painter

    I think you are missing one key point in your narrative. You say, “[t]he Internet is merely a communications tool. It’s the same as a telephone or a CB radio or a letter, for god’s sake. Without people, these are inert objects and systems.” While these kinds of capabilities do exist and use the internet and its protocols as a transport medium for communication, this is not an entirely accurate picture.

    In reality, many of the systems we have created have one key aspect that sets them apart from these other communications mediums: a shared persistence. Whether it is a threaded discussion forum such as this blog, or a 3D virtual world such as Second Life or WOW, the systems we create persist from one visit to the next – the changes we make, or intelligent agents make, leave a mark on that virtual space – and continue on without us while we are gone. The words I type now – unless you as moderator of the site decide otherwise – will exist as a historical artifact of my visit here today, and even if I change my mind at some point – there will exist a record of my thoughts at this point in time that others can point to in future discussions. More sophisticated systems allow for more nuanced interactions including the simulation of physical space and the persistence of objects and their changes within it, as users and programs alter them in real time.

    Unlike a conversation on a telephone, which is ended and only exists disjointedly (unless the participants have photographic memory) in the memory of the participants, many of the systems we’ve created transcend any one particular interaction in time. More importantly, depending on the medium, the changes we make over time can alter those structures so that their form and meaning evolve over time. Whereas the first phone conversation made over 100 years ago is largely the same experience we have today, that can not be said for the persistent and evolutionary systems that have sprung from the internet.

    Persistence then – and more specifically shared persistent ‘spaces’ – provides the contextual clues that makes a given URL feel like home (or the local pub, or club or…those third spaces of old that have largely been suppressed in the rise of the suburban sprawl) to the visiters using various communications protocols coupled with applications of various complexity – all of which are experienced through our limited senses. The more complex and nuanced the applications we use to experience the virtual places, and the more social gravatas we have in those places – the more real those places seem in our mind’s eye. In some ways I think people have a need for that lost social component that modern life has largely supplanted due to the economics considerations of travel vs opportunity cost.

    Conversely, while virtual spaces share more ‘here and now’ qualities than other more primitive communications mediums, the people in those spaces have opportunities to create alternative personas (avatars) of themselves – in many ways above and beyond what they could accomplish in face to face interactions. Many explore different versions of themselves (see freeing effects of 3D virtual world avatars for paralyzed or shut-in people) that allows them to experience the world in ways that may be impossible in their real life. Gender and sexual orientation, social standing, economic success, and other factors also play into this exploration. Just like any other technology, these capabilities can be abused and people can be duped and injured in different ways by unscrupulous users.

    Given the millions of gamers who immerse themselves in 3D worlds on a daily basis world wide – I think your thesis should not underestimate the continuum of experience of users of the internet. For good or bad, people are using these systems in various ways – and the context of that use is largely up to the individual. Does a breaking down of those duality barriers, between real/fake, have any meaning for someone who is interacting with it from those very contexts on purpose? Are we saying that trolls, pranksters and other misrepresentations are ‘really’ what the perpetrator ‘is’ – or is that something else altogether, maybe an expression of what they would like to be? Isn’t this the definition of fantasy, and by definition isn’t this fake?

    1. erin Post author

      Hi cave painter – thanks for your thoughtful input. Some very valid points in there!

      I will start by saying that this post you are referring to has a limited scope and context. It would be impossible to discuss every issue relating to the online realm! So, in the context of this particular article and issue to which this blog post refers, I do see the internet as ‘inert’ in the sense that it was people *using* the internet that caused the problem.

      However, in general I am very much aware of the issues of persistence that you mention, of course, and this is something that I do discuss in my PhD thesis. That is one of the key problems that we (as a society/userbase) are still coming to terms with: how to deal with conversation that is not ephemeral, and the consequences of this in the future.

      I also discuss the problems with the appropriation of the internet by the ‘real’, for lack of a better way of putting it, for those who used online worlds – from chat rooms to SecondLife to games – as a way of experimenting with alternative identities and self-presentations. When the internet became ‘real’ (i.e. we started using our real names, and communicating with people we knew offline), we took away some of the agency of those for whom the internet had been a ‘haven’ of freedom.

      These are issues that I hope to blog about more in the future, but as I’m incredibly busy writing up my thesis at the moment, such posts may have to wait a while!

      Always keen to hear your thoughts.


get in touch! please leave a comment :)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s