Where Physical Meets Digital

Publishing Blog

As last week’s blog post began to explore, there is a complex relationship between individuals and published content, mediated through the technology used in publication. This week’s post aims to explore the study of the interconnectedness of users and technology, inclusive of all external factors that have a bearing on their relationship. This particular study is known as ‘actor network theory’ (or ANT).

ANT aims to view both human and non-human contributors in any given process as equal. Typically humans are viewed as having a more significant role in an interaction than insentient objects or technologies, but within ANT, they are seen as being equal with all other ‘actors’. This is because the theory seeks to understand how each minute contribution to a process has an influence on the overall outcome; the approach is more objective. David Banks suggests (very succinctly) his article, ‘A Brief Summary of Actor Network Theory’, that “ANT describes human and nonhuman “actants” (the preferred term of ANT writers, since ‘actor’ is mostly used to talk about the roles of humans) with the same language, and grants them equal amounts of agency within “webs” or  ‘actor-networks.’”

ANT becomes more complex when we consider its implications outside the realm of the theoretical. In his article,  ‘Defending and Clarifying the Term Augmented Reality’, Nathan Jurgenson comments that humans and technology (both ‘actants’ in the network of publishing and communication) “are mutually constitutive, just not fully mutually constitutive” and “highly enmeshed”. By this, he is inferring that our online and physical world are in no way separate, and that we cannot consider our choices in either to be separable from the influence of one another. Jurgenson outlines that “Facebook presence influences [our] behavior even when logged off”; this is very clear evidence in support of his argument. Framed in this way, ‘augmented reality’ begins to sound less like an abstract sci-fi concept, and more like an appropriate means of describing the inevitable interaction of physical and digital spaces.

The implication here is that digital spaces have a very real impact on external, physical-world choices. To follow Jurgenson’s facebook reference, how many choices do we make for the express purpose of attracting positive attention online? Granted, not all of our decisions online work to manipulate our presence in this way, but enough do for it to be worth mentioning. This is not to say that the overlap of digital and physical is wholly negative. It merely aims to suggest that maintaining an awareness of how these two spaces interact can allow us insight into ourselves, and can help mediate our decisions on these social platforms.



[online] Banks, David (2011) ‘A Brief Summary of Actor-Network Theory’, Cyborgology, November 2, <http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2011/12/02/a-brief-summary-of-actor-network-theory/>

[online] Jurgenson, Nathan (2011) ‘Defending and Clarifying the Term Augmented Reality’, Cyborgology, April 29, < http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2011/04/29/defending-and-clarifying-the-term-augmented-reality/>


[First published 25 August 2015]


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