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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Dr Steve Lyon: Cyber Personhood? Old and New Things under the Virtual Sun

6th November 2008, 17:15 to 18:15, Seminar Room, Department of Anthropology

This is the third lecture in the Rhetoric of Personhood Seminar Series.

Much has been written about the impact of the information and communication technologies (ICT) on social and economic relationships. Although there is considerable debate about the revolutionary characteristics of such transformations, there is no doubt that in the popular consciousness, the unspecified beast called the information society heralds a new era.

Supported at times by rather weak arguments with little appreciation of the historical importance of informational technologies pre-dating the development of the telephone, the transistor and the silicon chip, there are nevertheless a number of areas where revolution may be the most appropriate term to describe these sets of changes. There are aspects of the consequences of ICT which may indicate radical rupture with the past and which may even suggest evidence of cascading evolutionary adaptations in human cognition. Some of these aspects revolve around notions of the the self and personhood.

The self has long undergone transformation and the conception of the individual has clearly been re-made and re-prioritised in the context of global capitalism; in part, these would seem to be elaborations upon existing cultural systems-- in other words differences in scale from clearly recognisable structural generators. Such continuity notwithstanding, there have been new manifestations or instantiations of existing bits of cultural systems and these merit closer examination. While the process is far from complete (and indeed such processes are never complete so long as people still exist in societies), it is worthwhile focussing on the areas in which new kinds of personhood and the self may be emerging from the ICT Œland¹scapes. Finally, it is worth looking at such emergent phenomena as much for their impact on ICT as for their dependence on ICT for their very existence.

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