Snapchat and digital dualism

Kory Plockmeyer

Kory Plockmeyer
February 4, 2014

What does Snapchat's erosion of digital dualism - the distinction between online and offline lives - mean for us as image-bearers?

Christopher Hutton
February 5, 2014

First off, I cannot help but appreciate that the author is trying to engage with an idea often ignored by the public; that of Digital dualism.

However, I am not sure the author has a good understanding of what DD is.

So, Technopedia defines DD as: "the belief that the on and offline are largely separate and distinct realities. Digital dualists view digital content as part of a "virtual" world separate from a "real" world found in physical space."

If the author and I can agree that this is the definition, then we'll go forward.

So, Christ came to us in Flesh, right? Yes, of course! But he also came to us in his reflection of the Imago Dei; in that he engaged people with his imagination and his rationale. My understanding of Imago dei has always seemed to imply that Imago dei wasn't the flesh, but it was our human practice of thought (rationale) and subcreation (imagination). IF so, then we find these things highly prevalent on the internet. This is what the entire digital realm reflects; our ability to use these faculties in a way that is both material and immaterial. There is nothing that establishes the necessity of the divide, nor does accepting an augmented view of reality (the opposite of DD) necessarily.

Josh Larsen
TC Staff
February 5, 2014

Hi Christopher,

Josh, TC editor here. Kory will likely respond as well, but I wanted to jump in because I suggested incorporating the phrase digital dualism into the piece. I think we agree on the definition of digital dualism - the belief that there is a clear distinction between "virtual life" and "real life." Snapchat wants to erase that distinction, and this is what Kory is uncomfortable with.

Speaking for myself, I'm more inclined to widen the understanding of Imago Dei, like you. I think it's interesting that watching the State of the Union on television is somewhat used as an example of "real life," when it could also be considered an early form of virtual reality.


February 5, 2014

Thanks, Christopher and Josh, for your comments.

In many ways, you get at precisely the challenge of trying to address digital dualism in a relatively short blog post. I would also add that I am not a 'hard-line' digital dualist - as Josh points out, the very fact of using the example of the SOTU points to some of the ways that I can not be placed entirely in the camp of digital dualism. I would, however, say that we should maintain more of a distinction between online and offline interactions than Snapchat does; nor, for that matter, should we necessarily view online and offline interactions as carrying the same value.

Don't get me wrong - I love the conversations allowed by a place like TC. Yet, give me the chance to sit down with a cup of coffee/glass of beer with you and Josh and I suspect that the conversation would be even more meaningful than the interactions we will be able to have here.

As far as Imago Dei goes - a couple of things.
I absolutely agree that the Imago Dei is more than JUST being in the flesh. The capacity for rationality and imagination are definitely part of it. Yet, I think that we have often bought into a truncated view of the Imago Dei that sees our 'image-bearing' primarily as disconnected from our physical reality. Some of the other aspects of the Image of God include that we exist in community with each other (Genesis 1:27), that we serve as God's ambassadors (Gen. 1:26 - "likeness" and Ancient Near Eastern thought), and that we look to Christ as the perfect embodiment of the Imago Dei (Colossians 2:15).
More than that, the Imago Dei is both something we DO and a quality we HAVE. That is, we all have inherent dignity as creations made in the image of God and yet the image of God is a quality into which we can live.

All of that to say that the Imago Dei is considerably more complex than I recommend in the post. Limiting the Imago just to mental capacities quickly falls prey to a metaphysical dualism that splits body and soul. It is this formulation of the Imago in particular to which I am responding.

So where does that leave us with DD? Again, as I suggest in the post, this is not to say that there is anything inherently bad with Snapchat (or any digital means of interaction). I would say, however, that the complete erasure of the digital divide is somehow less than everything we are as image-bearers of God.

Christopher Hutton
February 6, 2014

Why is it "Somehow less than everything we are as image-bearers of God"? I still don't see why.

All erasing the divide does is eliminate our "fetishization" of the physical over the digital. Most proponents don't imply that they would emphasize the digital over the physical; only that they would see them with different purposes, but equal value. There is psychological value in a in-person conversation, just as there is different psychological value in a Twitter argument or a feed.

But it's only relevant according to the context.

Add your comment to join the discussion!