“Algorithms control the way we write, the way we interact with one another, the way we find each other in the digital, and whether or not what we say ever gets heard how and by whom we intended.” ~ Sean Michael Morris, Risk, Reward, and Digital Writing
In a recent episode of Doctor Who, the crew encountered (no surprise) a new species. As a species of only 2-dimensions, they were desperately reaching out into the third, trying to understand a confusing new world. Trying to communicate in a radically different context. To the “boneless” — as they were later named — the actions of 3-dimensional beings, when noticeable at all, looked random and disconnected. Like footprints on glass. Like a Pollock painting.
We, too, have been tasked with reaching out into a radically new environment: the digital. Yet, in a way, the scenario may be reversed in our own lives. As 3-dimensional beings, we wander into and through a nebulous, digital landscape. In many cases, we welcome the literal flattening of our world as we type it, scan it, speak it, and record it into our many electronic devices. We mustn’t be convinced, however, that these are perfect copies. The entirety of our complex physical experiences cannot be captured in terms of 0s and 1s.
Yet, the “digital environment” is a narrative we hold onto dearly. We want to imagine it is a “space,” much like its physical counterpart. More often, however, the digital is the anti-space. When I first met Hybrid Pedagogy, I experienced them as a blip of text in a customized TweetDeck Twitter stream — they were to me, and still are for many others, pixels on a screen. When asked, I say I met the team online, but the answer is much more complicated than that. I want to believe the digital is a space I inhabit. I know this because I often spend my time translating experience into two-dimensional digital output — this article, for example.
But too often the façade cracks.
Despite our best attempts to hang on to the vestige of our physical vocabulary, it does not adequately describe our digital experiences. The fire alarm that disrupted a recent online meeting only sent one of us out of doors. The image of the cat I see and hear purring soon disappears, defying our world’s rules. We readily accept occurrences in the digital that would frighten us were they only real.
With each fissure, I am reminded that the digital is as much not there as it is there. It makes me wonder: do I really want to relocate to such a place? What’s being lost in translation? Surely, I know that I cannot inhabit the digital without simultaneously occupying the physical. Yet, even this seems speculative as digital phantoms — algorithms, bots, and self-modifying code — transgress our neat definitions of what constitutes reality.
Join us, one week into DigiWriMo, on Friday, November 7 at noon EST and reflect on your experiences traversing the digital. Check out worldtimebuddy.com to see when to join us in your time zone. Help us carve out space and claim ground in a world that may very well have neither space nor ground to call its own. As you write — digitally or otherwise — consider the following:
- How has experiencing the digital shifted our physical realities? And, by contrast, how does physical, embodied experience inform digital exploration? What impressions are left across the surfaces of these converging worlds?
- How do dispersed, digital communities relate to their geospatial namesake? Can relationships — connections between people — be located in the digital?
- What does it mean to share digital space with one another? What are its implications? And what is it that we are sharing if there isn’t any space there?
- How do “born digital” projects differ from those translated from physical experience? Or, conversely, are things never truly born digital (as they emerged from embodied experience)?