By Laura Mattson
I finally realized one reason why I keep feeling incredibly overwhelmed. I live a life of mass connectivity. It is not unusual for me to be talking to five or so people at a time with the help of different apps and sites like Facebook, Snapchat, SMS, GroupMe, and WhatsApp. This is probably neither a healthy practice nor a helpful one. It makes me stretch myself thin and get lost in some impossible new space between all these messaging platforms. I find that the more I work to divide my attention, the further out of body I become. More and more of my consciousness extends outside of my physical self and I lose touch with the temporal here and now.
I don’t know where I go, in this space. It’s not external to me, necessarily, because its location cannot be pinpointed on any map. (Ah, the limits of cartography). It exists in my imagination, somewhere that houses deep thought and desperate bids to multi-task. It is somewhere I access when my eyes burn from the screen and my thumbs twitch from typing. It is everything I have thought, combined with the thoughts of the other people, and fused together through a shared imaginary of cyberspace.
Written out like this, it almost sounds exciting. This narrative presents opportunities for transformation and new connectivities but it comes at a price. When I eventually pry myself out of my phone, I feel palpably anxious. I feel out of breath as if I had forgotten to breathe for a long time. It takes me time to adjust to the “real world.” If someone tries to talk to me right away, I feel distant and detached from the situation.
Technology is transforming my existence. There are entire days where I do not verbally speak at all, and yet I talk to people for hours. According to The Cyborg Manifesto, “the cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality” (Haraway 292). In this situation, I exist as a material body and the imagined dimensions of self that extend to virtual conversations. Neither truly exists without the other, as either in isolation lacks vitality. By existing together, they are more vibrant and dynamic, even when they are held apart from each other.
The weirdest thing about it all is when I have two separate conversations with the same person simultaneously on two platforms. I noticed it for the first time the other day but I know I have been doing it for a while now. Over text, my mom and I were talking about scholarships. Over Facebook, I was telling her a story about class that day. As you can see from the pictures, we didn’t acknowledge the other conversation happening for a while. Eventually, I pointed it out in the Facebook thread. My mom said she was actively keeping them separate in order to avoid confusion but otherwise it didn’t bother her. When I pointed it out, we started talking “between” the conversations and that was one layer too many. The conversation shifted entirely to the Facebook thread and came to a halt as we negotiated weirdness.
This situation makes me deeply weirded out for reasons I don’t entirely understand. There is something unsettling about the multiplicity happening here. If my mom and I are having two separate conversations, we are each dividing ourselves into parts. If there are two parts of me operating, then I am not entirely present in either situation. Is it possible to compartmentalize these two distinct conversations or am I uniting them at some (additional) subconscious level? I’m falling into the virtual reality like before but at a new level. The technological conversation I am having is pulling me apart again, pulling twice the resources from my concentration.
It is an uncharted dimension, to be sure. I do not know who I am there. I create new meaning with new people, some I have never met in the physical realm. Although this is a new frontier, it is not one I want to conquer. Maybe it is unconquerable, the ultimate form of resistance against domination. Just as I am becoming a cyborg, the world is becoming that of cyborgs. One perspective of a cyborg world is “the final imposition of a grid of control on the planet” (Haraway 295). These concerns are well-founded, with increasing fear of cyber surveillance and infringements on online privacy. Still, the world that is being created cannot be truly mastered, as it relies on the fragments of so many imaginations.
Another view of the cyborg world is one where people are “not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints” (Haraway 295). I usually pride myself on living in contradictions. I resist binaries like it’s my job which, hopefully, it will be one day. Until then, I try to carve an identity out of a riverbed that only wants to flow one way. Why am I resisting this new opportunity for “becoming?” I am afraid of being a cyborg. But then again, maybe I don’t have a choice anymore. Maybe I should try to take comfort in the feeling that ambiguity and blurred lines have brought me this far, and I am all the more monstrous for it.
Want to join me in this impossible space? Check out:
Haraway, Donna. “”The Cyborg Manifesto” Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991. 292-324. Print.