My relationship with new media is incredibly polarizing. My use of it is either completely professional or painfully intimate. I would argue that many people share the same experience as I do when it comes to developing a relationship with new media. As we seem to embrace Haraway’s cyclops and move towards absorbing information directly as per Bush’s prediction, the line between professional and personal begins to blur.
New technology has been assimilated into the US so quickly that there has hardly been any time for reflection. With a seemingly infinite number of ways to communicate, we still find ourselves feeling more isolated than ever before. I belong to a generation that is marked by our inability to remember a world without computers. My mother fondly reminisces on teaching me how to hold a mouse and type on a keyboard at two years old. I grew up watching my older sister furiously respond to text messages and social media notifications. As a right of passage for the American teenage girl, I would eventually learn to do the same. The distorted reality of filtered selfies, posed candids, and ‘cancel culture’ has overflowed and spilled into every day of my life. We try to remedy our addictions with week long social media breaks that begin with announcing our decision to become unplugged on social media. When did we become so dependent on informing the world of our every intention? Is this toxic need for attention and approval able to be reversed? It will certainly take more than a somewhat successful week away from Instagram.
My income and livelihood are completely dependent on new media in one form or another. I work as a remote writer, specializing in SEO strategy and the art of creating a viral blog post.
The other half of my income exists in my incredible ability to be a walking contradiction. If I can manage to admit it without gagging, I am a social media ‘influencer’ that preaches the benefits of being unplugged. This message is conveyed daily to thousands of followers through a carefully curated Instagram feed, on-brand story updates, and consistent social media marketing strategies. Does my public sphere make me more prone to censor my image, despite championing doing the opposite?
The opportunity for income shapes my relationship with new media. It makes my actions competitively driven. I view every post as a chance to pay the bills. But working in an industry that is constantly challenging people to ‘keep up’, it feels hypocritical that I encourage people to slow down. It feels as if I’ve found the brakes but they’re prone to malfunction.
In three months, my significant other will be deployed for 322 days. Approximately 7,000 miles will stand between us. The digital world will connect us. We’ve been through this dependency before.
New media turns its back on the carefully ironed, professional image of mine. New media embraces my ugly cry, allows me to fall asleep next to my phone, shows me images of the days I miss most, and is what keeps my partner and I connected when we are worlds apart.
The level of intimacy that comes with our relationship to technology is utterly undeniable. Many of us sleep with our phone within arms reach. It is the first thing we pick up when we wake up in the morning and the last thing that we put down before we fall asleep. It is a vessel for irreplaceable photos, the voice of our loved ones, and a safety blanket for when we arrive to the first day of class too early.
The concept of Haraway’s cyborg can be extended to illustrate the conflict between personal and professional when it comes to the use of new media. The professional portrayal is distanced, machine-like. Whereas the personal relationship is animalistic and undeniable. It’s messy. It demands to take up space in a reality that lives online. Haraway writes, “No longer structured by the polarity of public and private, the cyborg defines a technological polls based partly on a revolution of social relations in the oikos, the household” (Haraway 3). We’ve invited new media into our homes. It’s feet are up on our tables, it’s head is resting on our couches.
Similarly, Bush writes:
All our steps in creating or absorbing material of the record proceed through one of the senses—the tactile when we touch keys, the oral when we speak or listen, the visual when we read. Is it not possible that some day the path may be established more directly? (Bush 8).
Our technology has become wearable. Our phones act as an extension of our hands. We’re capable of responding to business emails while in our pajamas at home. People champion the idea of remote work because you don’t have to wear pants during the work day. The line that separates our professional lives from our personal ones has become blurry, especially when your office is in your living room.
Currently, I own a cell phone that is subject to die when the battery is anywhere below 80%. While I am capable of replacing it, I’ve held off. It’s embarrassing that I have to be forced to unplug but this makes it easy to accomplish on a regular basis because my phone dies between 5-10 times a day. I find myself in class, running errands, on hikes, and in unfamiliar places when this occurs. It’s uncomfortable, but liberating. While I can’t seem to break the habit of carrying my phone with my everywhere I go, on days when I’m feeling brave, I tell myself to leave my charger at home.
Bush, Vannevar. “As We May Think.” The Atlantic, 1 July 1945. Web. 22 January 2020.
Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991. 149-181. Print.