The perpetuation of digital dualism in public affairs

Digital dualism is the belief that the physical world is ‘real’, and the online one is simply a virtual, detached reality. I came across this term very recently, in Tufekci’s ‘Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest’. Digital dualism is just a fake dichotomy, a fallacy that doesn’t capture the essence of the digital space. The online world is nothing but an extension of our physical world. Or perhaps it’s not even that. Perhaps it’s more like a knot – a reality that mixes and blends with our material world; what I like to call the ‘tangled headphones theory’.

According to The Telegraph, ‘people are on average online for 24 hours a week, twice as long as 10 years ago, with one in five of all adults spending as much as 40 hours a week on the web.’ In the majority of the cases, being online isn’t synonymous of being detached from the rest of the world, but rather the opposite. It means socialising and building relationships further, it means developing your knowledge and your interests – activities that are, in the end, complementary to your offline life.

Digital dualism, however, is still prevalent in public affairs. Especially when it comes to analysing and observing what politicians do, public affairs practitioners tend to focus on how people act in parliament, what they say when giving a speech, what they mention when interviewed by the media… However, what about their Twitter interactions; their blog posts; their retweets? What do these tell us about politicians?

A couple of weeks ago, Luciana Berger referred to a tweet by Hancock in one of her parliamentary questions. This acknowledgement of the importance of social media and the digital, however, needs to now take place externally, and public affairs practitioners should learn.

Yes, we need to stop hyping the digital world, as this, ironically, only perpetuates digital dualism. However, we should also stop ignoring it, or viewing it as a virtual reality that is detached from the material world. Digital and physical are no longer twins, but rather one same entity.


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