In The Metropolis and Mental Life, George Simmel exposed the objectification of life through the rationalisation of the metropolitan life at the start of the twentieth century, arguing that “modern mind has become more and more calculating” and the world becomes an “arithmetic problem” (Wolff 1950: 412). Similar arguments sustained the cybernetic construction of the posthuman subject throughout the last quarter of the twentieth century. Advances in computational power and the increased importance of information flows over physical space fuelled visions of a posthuman subject free from the constraints of embodiment and of a revitalised public space in a virtual environment.
Katherine Hayles refuted these visions in How We Became Posthuman, arguing that, rather than downplaying or erasing embodiment, we should embrace a posthuman vision where the possibilities of information technologies do not succumb to the rhetoric of unlimited power and disembodied information. She also reminded us that “human life is embedded in a material world of great complexity”. (Hayles 1999: 5).
Digital performances in networked public spaces foreground the embodied posthuman subject envisioned by Hayles. The term digital performance encompasses works where both embodiment and electronic flows converge, while networked public spaces bring together (private and public) urban and electronic flows. These performances have generated high hopes of both a revival of the public sphere and of public space.
I argue that we must test these assumptions by situating the posthuman subject’s participation and engagement in digital performances through their own prior experiences of networked public spaces and their engagement with everyday media according to their specific social and cultural contexts. In the relationship between digital performance and posthuman subject, collaboration becomes an important feature, especially when previously inaccessible and expensive technologies used in the past by digital performances are incorporated into our everyday technology devices, such as mobile phones and videogame consoles.
- Hayles, N. Katherine (1999) How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics,
- Literature, and Informatics. Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press.
- Wolff, Kurt H. (1950) The Sociology of Georg Simmel. New York: The Free Press.
- Marcos Pereira Dias is a PhD candidate in the School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne, Australia. He is currently researching digital performance in networked public environments with a focus on social interaction and posthumanism. His research is supported by the Institute for a Broadband-Enabled Society (IBES), University of Melbourne. Marcos has previously worked as an architect, web designer and as a subject coordinator, lecturer and tutor in Media and Communication (University of Melbourne and Victoria University, Australia). He holds a MSc with Distinction in Interacive Digital Media from Trinity College, Ireland, a BA (1st class honours) in Digital Media Design and Production from LYIT, Ireland and a BA in Architecture and City Planning from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. lightartworks.com
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