Cybernetic Subjectivity in Digital Being and Time

Timothy W. Luke

Nicholas Negroponte, Being Digital (New York: Knopf, 1995)

As the key overseer at MIT's Media Lab, Nicholas Negroponte has used his bestselling book, Being Digital, as the trailer for a transnational road trip on which he touts the exciting new online world as it is being invented in his digital workshops. Yet Negroponte's enthusiasm about these possibilities leads him away from raising other, more interesting, questions about digital being, particularly those having to do with the kind of subjectivity that becomes possible in cybernetic spaces. Save for his somewhat overdrawn exhalations over the shift from "atoms" to "bits" as the wave of the future (a shift that was first noticed fifteen years ago by the Tofflers in The Third Wave), he too sticks with the usual interpretive conceit: namely, that such new (wo)man/machine interfaces at the computer will simply reposition existing material styles and structures of social agency in a new cybernetic register, making everything more or less the same there (in "bits") as it is here (in "atoms"), only maybe more so, meaning essentially quicker, better, closer, sharper, etc. [ 1 ] Most practices and values will be as they are now, but in synchronous, material co-location; they will happen on-line as we realize how our net connections are creating a digital planet, new digital neighborhoods, a digital culture, flexible digital communities. I question Negroponte's assumptions about cybernetic subjectivity. When one looks at personal agency, social community, cultural dynamics, or power effects, things appear not at all as they do in the current computer interface. Consequently, I want to unwire Negroponte's positions about being digital in order to re-evaluate what differences are emerging, and then ask how we might reconsider these various new forms of digital being.

I: Some Varieties of Digital Being
 A. Digital Being: First Form
  B. Digital Being: Second Form
   C. Digital Being: Third Form
II. The Coevolution of Digital Beings