Mitchell's idea of the self is decentralized, dispersed through the constituent parts which radiate outwards from the original organic core. The self seems to equally subsist in the skin and bones as it does in the car, building, or dispersed infrastructure.
Although interesting and provocative, this idea of the self seems to reject nearly every notion of subjectivity present in western thought. Traditionally the self is the consciousness, the self-reflexive subjectivity that seems to reside in non-extended mental space. Although certain philosophical schools reject the mind-body duality of common and traditional thought, there is still an undeniable aspect of mental life which exists as a subjectivity apart from material circumstances. This subjectivity is what we often refer to as the self, the only part of our subjectivity which seems to be under direct control. It is not my intention here to enter into a philosophical discussion of the self, but mention these points only to show the large disparity between these views and Mitchell's.
Mitchell's self consists in an interrelation and connection in the web of infrastructure. The self (or, more accurately, the Me++, plusses denoting the extension beyond the common Me) is not a singular point in non-existent space that confirms itself by self-reflexive inquiry, but a decentralized, expansive, extended thing that exists in physically real connections in the world. This seems an obvious consequence of Mitchell's other (I should say contentious, and quite possibly, philosophically unfounded) view that the self, or the organic body and mind, can be directly translated into digitalized form.
But let us assume we can successfully read, decode, and copy all our brain files — the equivalents of WORD files of memorized text, JPG files for visual memory, MP3 files of unforgettable tunes, EXE files that specify how to get things done, and so on. Let us imagine a "postbiological future" in which we will think of ourselves as software, not hardware. What then? [Me++, 167-168]
Although Mitchell admits to not know the exact science behind this transposition into digital, and admits to being unsure about the mind/brain to software/hardware analogy, his is still being deeply ambitious. Maybe he is just trying to be provocative.
This view of the self seems intended more to confirm Mitchell's commitment to freedom and nomadic lifestyle than it is to be pure science or a philosophical doctrine on the location of the self.
- The Loose-ends of Networked Culture
- Where is the self in a networked society?
- What is outside the self in a networked society?
- Cyborg Freedom?
DeGrandpre, Richard Digitopia. New York: AtRandom.com Books, 2001.
Mitchell, William J. Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003.
Last modified 3 February 2005