Leaving our bodies behind

Digital communication is one of the technologies which has changed our world in a fundamental way. Like electricity, the automobile and pharmaceuticals, it makes us ask hard questions about ourselves.

It is a blanket term for an ever-increasing array of communication tools, modes and styles which run interpersonal communication through digital code.

And most of all, it keeps telling us that we can leave our bodies behind.

Digital communication is a form of disembodiment. When we email, tweet or message each other, we need not bring more than our minds to it. Classically speaking, it’s a purely verbal type of communication which does away with the non-verbal aspect of communication, that sea of meaning in which speaking and writing floats freely and dangerously. And in fact, it’s not even verbal.

Language is code. Body language is code. Digital communication is code on top of more code. And it’s committed to dissolving all layers of code into one. That’s why we spend less time on the phone, and far more time texting. Not to mention face-to-face time (the other, less metonymic face time).

Digital communication is predicated on the idea that the body is one of the many possible supports for the pure mind whose cognitive abilities we bring to the task. That’s Descartes 2.0. Everything we want to ‘say’ may be written, which is not actually written but typed and binarised. We don’t need our bodies for that. We still need our fingers, but that’s at least until we find a way to leave those behind as well. Emojis and other types of emoticons are the short-term solution to the embodiment problem posed by human communication – the challenge of dis-embedding the speaking mind from the acting body.

 

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