The Myth of Virtual Currency

File this one under “what is at stake” when we talk about the digital dualist critique. Bitcoin, the Internet’s favorite way to buy pot and donate to Ron Paul, hit an all-time high this week of around $900 to one Bitcoin (BTC). The news coverage of Bitcoin and the burgeoning array of crypto-currencies (according to the Wall Street Journal there’s also litecoinbbqcoinpeercoin,namecoin, and feathercoin) has largely focused on the unstable valuation of the currencies and all of the terrible things people could do with their untraceable Internet money. What hasn’t been investigated however, is the idea that crypto-currencies are somehow inherently more “virtual” and thereby less susceptible to centralized control the way US dollars, Euros, or Dave & Buster’s Powercards are. Both assumptions are wrong and are undergirded by the digital dualist fallacy(more…)

A Social Critique Without Social Science

After seeing today’s XKCD (above) I sort of wish I had written all of my digital dualism posts as an easy-to-read table.  I generally agree with everything on there (more on that later), but I’m also pretty confused as to how Randall Munroe got to those conclusions given some of his past comics. I can’t square the message of this table with the rest of Monroe’s work that has maligned the social sciences as having no access to The Way Things Are. The table is funny specifically because the social scientists he pokes fun of, did a lot of work to make those answers plainly (painfully?) obvious. How does someone with an obvious resentment for the social sciences, also make a joke about how we were always already alienated?  (more…)

#Theorizing the Web Preview: On the Political Origins of Digital Dualism

Just about every one of our contributing authors has written a piece that challenges or refutes the claims made by tech journalists, industry pundits, or fellow academics. Part of the problem is technological determinism- the notion that technology has a unidirectional impact on society. (i.e. Google makes us stupid, cell phones make us lonely.) Popular discussions of digital technologies take on a very particular flavor of technological determinism, wherein the author makes the claim that social activity on/in/through Friendster/New MySpace/ Google+/ Snapchat/ Bing is inherently separate from the physical world. Nathan Jurgenson has given a name to this fallacy: digital dualism. Ever since Nathan posted Digital dualism versus augmented reality 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.

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Sherry Turkle's Chronic Digital Dualism Problem

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

— allisonkilkenny (@allisonkilkenny) April 22, 2012

Sherry Turkle, Author of Alone Together and a New York Times opinion piece on our unhealthy relationship to technology.

Sherry Turkle, Author of Alone Together and a New York Times opinion piece on our unhealthy relationship to technology.

Sherry Turkle published an op-ed in the Opinion Pages of the New York Times’ Sunday Review that decries our collective move from “conversation” to “connection.” Its the same argument she made in her latest book Alone Together, and has roots in her previous books Life on the Screen and Second Self. Her argument is straightforward and can be summarized in a few bullet points:

  • Our world has more “technology” in it than ever before and it is taking up more and more hours of our day.
  • We use this technology to structure/control/select the kinds of conversations we have with certain people.
  • These communication technologies compete with “the world around us” in a zero-sum game for our attention.
  • We are substituting “real conversations” with shallower, “dumbed-down” connections that give us a false sense of security. Similarly, we are capable of presenting ourselves in a very particular way that hides our faults and exaggerates our better qualities.

Turkle is probably the longest-standing, most outspoken proponent of what we at Cyborgology call digital dualism. The separation of physical and virtual selves and the privileging of one over the other is not only theoretically contradictory, but also empirically unsubstantiated.  

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