Digital technology is 21st century animism. It is not making us stupid and lazy, unable to tell truth from lies, and subjecting us to algorithmic domination—as we are so often told. Instead, it’s changing the way we perceive our bodies and our social worlds. The Spectrum of Virtuality argues that within the post-industrial, Internet-saturated communities of the late-capitalist Global North, people are engaging in a relationship long embraced by societies all over the world: an opportunity for sociality beyond the human.
We are humans interacting with powerful non-human agents in our daily social lives. We are animists. These relationships can elicit fear and discomfort because we lack the ready infrastructure needed for animist thought (e.g., magic, spirits, kinship with natural elements) and the cultural vocabulary to make sense of the animist experience of 21st-century virtuality. What we do have is the virtuality of the Internet, with an animism of its own design and tools.
This book examines this techno-animist experience as happening along a spectrum of virtuality—a sliding condition of Being-in-the-Internet, between poles of the corporeal and the digital—as a way of contextually emplacing Self-mediation within the various platforms and genres of the Internet. It draws from many theoretical wells: linguistics, phenomenology, computer science, theories of space and place, and psychology. The theory takes its shape as a result of five years of ethnographic research on the Otherkin community, a group of people who largely socialize online and identify as non-human. As I follow them through the techno-virtuality afforded by chat forums, personal blogs, 3D virtual worlds, Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr, and Reddit I find that the experience troubles conventional notions about our relationships with the virtual, our understandings of the Self, and what it means to be a human.
The Spectrum of Virtuality is under contract with Lexington Books, an Imprint of Rowman & Littlefield, with an expected publish date in 2026.
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