In Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City, William J. Mitchell suggests that a nomadic lifestyle may be reemerging from the growing global network:

Gradually emerging from the messy but irresistible extension of wireless coverage is the possibility of a radically reimagined, reconstructed, electronic form of nomadicity -- a form that is grounded not just in the terrain that nature gives us, but in sophisticated, well-integrated wireless infrastructure, combined with other networks, and deployed on a global scale. [pp. 57-58]

Mitchell elaborates on this idea by outlining several location-dependant networks, describing ways in which a wireless infrastructure would allow their more efficient use:

Other typed of networks -- transportation, energy supply, water supply and waste disposal -- cannot operate wirelessly (or pipelessly), of course. But by providing efficient summoning and locating capabilities, wireless connectivity links our mobile bodies much more effectively to these more traditional resource systems. If you want transportation, for example, you can call a taxi or ambulance with your cellphone.... If you want to find a nearby vacant parking space, a drinking fountain, or a public toilet that's open and salubrious, you will increasingly be able to do so with your portable wireless devices....In these sorts of ways, wireless systems reduce search and uncertainty, and minimize the time required to get what we need.

This wireless connectivity allows systems to become "fluid and amorphous," as both people and the devices they use become "ready to move around and reconfigure, at a moment's notice, as required" (58). Mitchell hints at the implications of a network of 21st century cyber-nomads, moving on a nearly constant basis:

The cumulative effect of these transformations is profound, and will become more so as wireless technology continues to develop and proliferate. Wireless connections of fixed infrastructure to wearable and portable electronic devices, and among miniaturized wireless devices, are now completing the long project of seamlessly integrating our mobile biological bodies with globally extended systems of nodes and linkages. As a result, functions that were once served by architecture, furniture, and fixed equipment are now shifting to implanted, wearable, and portable devices. And activities that once depended upon close proximity to sites of accumulation -- of water, food, raw materials, bank vaults, library books, or files of business information -- now rely increasingly upon mobile connectivity to geographically extend delivery networks.

In an electronically nomadicized world I have become a two-legged terminal, an ambulatory IP address, maybe even a wireless router in an ad-hoc mobile network. I am inscribed not within a single Vitruvian circle, but within radiating electromagnetic waves.

Discussion Questions

Why does Mitchell reserve the last paragraph of his section to convey a purely metaphorical passage, rather than integrating the metaphors with the technical analysis he presents in the earlier passages?

Mitchell compares the wirelessly networked individual to a sort of nomad, presumably referring to the innocuous, globe-hopping businessman. What advantages and disadvantages would this freedom of location and standardization of network grant to our closest modern-day equivalents of the more menacing nomadic Mongol hoards -- the cyber-criminal?

Several purely physical "functions that were once served by architecture, furniture, and fixed equipment," like rest, shelter and certain kinds of relaxation, are not easily dealt with by wearable or wireless technology. What functions, then, is Mitchell referencing?

Does the extension of the self beyond the referenced Vitruvian circle reduce the emphasis on the human within?


Mitchell, William J. Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003.

Course Website cyborg Body & Self Me++

Last modified 3 February 2005