The digital technologies and the body

In the beginning of the STAY HOME project, we continually returned to a discussion of phenomenology. Recurring questions arose concerning the understanding of phenomena and experiences related to home, body, digital technologies, boundaries, social relations etc. in our different research fields. In this blogpost, I take my point of departure in articles we have discussed in the STAY HOME research group for a brief pondering of the phenomenology of the body and technology. Furthermore, I reflect upon the relationship between human beings, technology and the home during the corona crisis.   

The body and the corona crisis as disturbance

In the philosophical concern with the structures of experience and consciousness, known as phenomenology, human beings are viewed as something different from other objects in the world. A human being is understood as a “being-in-the-world” constituted by its relationship to the very world that it inhabits (Zahavi 2018: 73, 79). It is a phenomenological viewpoint that disturbance makes us notice the objects and space around us in a different way. For example, we notice our body when we experience physical pain (Zahavi 2018: 75-84). The disturbance, which enables us to view our surroundings and ourselves in a different way, is important when examining how we behave within our homes during the corona crisis. We have found that the phenomenological understanding of the role of disturbances is illuminating in this context. One of the questions that grew out of our discussions on phenomenology concerned the effects of the disturbance of the corona crisis on the relationship between technology and the body in the home.

The body and the digital technology

Lars Botin, an associate professor in techno-anthropology and participation at Aalborg University, argues that digital technology is more than a mere object. He understands digital technology as something that “adopts” the human body. It becomes a part of the body and has an impact on how we can gain a perspective on the world. He argues that we do not need to slow down and hold back the evolution of technology and instead proposes a new path,

“…in which human-technology relations and evolutions lead toward a “eutopia” (eutopia = good-place) where our bodies reside and operate with technology on a meaningful and beneficial level. In this eutopia we are embraced by and embrace technology, in this case media and we evolve new identities and bodies that might be cyborgs, goddesses, and/or monsters.”

Botin 2017: 168

Botin argues that technology should be understood as an integrated part of the body (Botin 2017: 168). He avers that humans are constantly moved and shaped by technology and cannot maintain a static and controlling poise and that the media become flesh in this meeting (Botin 2017: 175). “…we are in a position to co-create, co-constitute, co-construct, co-design, and co-shape the way we are in co-relations with media, because we are  through and with the media” (Botin 2017: 176). In short, he understands the body as being always and already in the media and vice versa (Botin 2017: 177). The media as such becomes flesh and body (Botin 2017: 179). In this way, we have new ecstatic bodies, which are variants of the “thick” body, in the phenomenological sense of the physical body. He argues that the human and the digital technology should not be considered as conflicting, but that digital technology brings possibilities and a new bodily understanding (Botin 2017: 181). Botins understading of body and technology have been especially interesting due to the increased use of zoom-meetings, facetime and online activities at home.

The body, the media and the corona crisis

During the corona crisis, the digital technologies have come to play a larger role in education, business meetings, social events, counseling and private relationships because of the restrictions that require us to stay home and keep social distance. An Australian study made during the corona crisis in 2020 by Jess Hardley and Ingrid Richardson, showed that the mobile phone as digital technology was no longer experienced as part of the body because other devices were used more often, and thus the body and the phone can be said to have undergone an uncoupling. Hardley and Richardson investigated how mobile media are “situated” in the domestic environment and suggest that the covid-19 pandemic has altered our experience of “networked corporeality”. They discuss the ambiguity of digital intimacy in the uncoupling of mobile media and the body as a result of a rapid increase in both screen time and time spent at home (Hardley and Richardson 2020: 1). Further, participants experienced some form of detachment from their mobile phone, both physically and affectively, as other interfaces, desktop computers, laptops, tablets and iPads, became the preferred, predominant or required modalities of networked interactions (Hardley and Richardson 2020: 8).

According to Hardley and Richardson’s research, it seems that the participants were removing themselves from an understanding of certain technologies as part of their body. Does it mean that the corona crisis disturbed them in a way that made them view their surroundings anew? Did the changed perspective result in being more aware of their own bodies and their relation to digital technology as the mobile phone, because of the disturbance in their digital? It is interesting if the crisis could cause a disturbance in the relation between body and the mobile phone, and interesting to ponder what this means for the understanding of digital technology as part of our bodies as Botin argues.

Concluding remarks

The question whether digital technologies are a part of the body as an ecstatic body or if they are an extension of the body is interesting in the STAY HOME project for several reasons. In the STAY HOME research group, we have discussed the following questions: 1. what does it mean for the understanding and experience of privacy during the corona crisis if the digital technologies are our body and not something we can remove from ourselves? 2. If the bodily experience in the home can be perceived through digital devices, how does this affect our understanding of zones and boundaries in the home? 3. How can the digital technologies be used to control others and how can they be used to hide the reality, and show only a curated or a digital body in online meetings? 4. How can the understanding and experience of the digital technologies as part of our body or as an extension effect our existential experience of ourselves and effect our everyday being?

The questions raised in the research group will influence or be integrated into our future work. My own theological project will especially include the question of how the understanding and experience of the digital technologies affect us as human beings. Furthermore, with an increased presence of digital technologies in the home, questions of how we as bodies live in the home during times of crisis are crucial.

References

Botin, Lars. 2017. Sublime Embodiment of the Media. Postphenomenology and media: Essays on human-media-world relations. London: Lexington Books.

Hardley J, Richardson I. 2020. Digital placemaking and networked corporeality: Embodied mobile media practices in domestic space during Covid-19. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies. December 2020. doi:10.1177/1354856520979963

Zahavi, Dan. 2018. Spatiality and embodiment. Phenomenology The Basics. Routledge: Taylor & Francis