Rheingold and Turkle

What do all the millions of newbies, just beginning to venture into cyberspace, need to understand, as they begin their initiation, about the ways their minds, relationships, lives might change? Any internal maps or rules of the road that you would derive from the conclusions in your book?

A first thing that occurs to me as I respond to these questions via email is how answering them demands a blurring of genres . . .

hlr wants an "interview" . . . and we are to do it on the net, conversationally. Yet I, in the moment of first response, am faced with the demand to sit down and compose, to write, an essay, as it were. Culturally, linguistically, interview means the seeing between us, the mutual perception. It is tied to the dynamics of a physical conversation, where the moment of simultaneous viewing is the moment of speech and exchange of speech. Here, that simultanaeity is absent, yet hlr is right that there is more of a sense of interview than if he had "snail-mailed" me some questions and I had written my responses in the expectation of placing them in the post.

The possibility of hlr answering me within moments of receiving my words is present in the production of my words . . . in this sense, he is within my view, even as I write alone.

And I, who have put off this moment, until I had "time" . . . as though I was going to sit down to write a paper, discover, as I have discovered before, but keep forgetting, that writing produced for email is writing close to the ease of speech. It seems a hybrid . . . what I produce "looks like" the words for a written text, yet it somehow lacks the commitment of composed text. It has a tentative, experimental quality, like speech in interaction with another. It feels liberating.

So, a first answer to the question of what the "newbies" will need to understand is that they are going to be discover a new kind of conversation, one that opens out to a new kind of relationship with their interlocuteurs. They are not simply going to be developing new "penpals."

We have grown accustomed to thinking of our minds in unitary images. Even those psychodynamic theories that stress that within us there are unconscious as well as conscious aspects, have tended to develop ways of describing the final, functioning "self" in which it acts "as if" it were one.

I believe that the experience of cyberspace, the experience of playing selves in various cyber-contexts, perhaps even at the same time, on multiple windows, is a concretization of another way of thinking about the self, not as unitary but as multiple. In this view, we move among various self states, various aspects of self. Our sense of one self is a kind of illusion . . . one that we are able to sustain because we have learned to move fluidly among the self states. What good parenting provides is a relational field in which we become increasingly expert at transitions between self states. Psychological health is not tantamount to achieving a state of oneness, but the ability to make transitions among the many and to reflect on our-selves by standing in a space between states. Life on the screen provides a new context for this psychological practice. One has a new context for negotiatiating the transitions. One has a new space to stand on for commenting on the complexities and contradictions among the selves. So, experiences in cyberspace encourage us to discover and find a new way to talk about the self as multiple and about psychological health not in terms of constructing a one but of negotiatiating a many.

In the conclusions to my book I talk about the sense many people have that we are at the end of the Freudian century . . . that we no longer have need of the materials for self-interrogation that the psychoanalyic enterprise represented. They are accused of being clumsy, unscientific, imprecise, outdated. I present the opposite view, that we have more need than ever for disciplines of self-reflection, and the Freudian disciplines among them. We need to develop the spaces from which we can reflect on our multiple selves -- in the work of such contemporary analysts as Philip Bromberg, one sees the retheorization of psychoanalysis as providing this sort of platform. The internal maps for the new psychologies of life in cyberspace will be maps that allow us to better reflect on ourselves. I believe that against all odds and against most current expectations, we are going to see a rebirth of psychoanalytic thinking. It will seem newly relevant, responsive to a desire for self-reflection that will seem increasingly urgent. Life in cyberspace makes it seem increasingly urgent to reflect upon oneselves.

Brainstorms Tomorrow Mind to Mind