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VideoVortex #3 3.Dominic Pettman

‘Love Me, Love My Avatar: The Libidinal Economy of Virtual Intimacy’


There is a popular conception amongst many Zeitgeist watchers, especially in places like the US, Western Europe and Australia, of the urbanized East as existing somehow further into the future. As William Gibson once stated: “The future is here; it just isn't equally distributed yet.” This kind of cultural fetishism extends to not only technolust, but the practices that new gadgets and electronics encourage. The phenomenon I'd like to focus on in this paper is that of virtual girlfriends and boyfriends: whether in the form of digital avatars, automated text messages, or episodic confessionals on YouTube. Such hyper-mediated encounters – which emerged from Japan, but are spreading unevenly over the globe – fascinate and appall those who still hold P2P romance IRL in high-esteem. A romantic relationship between a flesh-and-blood person and a computerized image seems like an insult to the intrinsically human and humanist discourse of courtship; and indeed it is.


How does this perspective change, however, if we consider “love” as a technology? That is, as both a code with its own algorithmic parameters, and a discourse which challenges the hyper-rational assumptions of the “merely machinic.” Extending arguments articulated in my most recent book, Love and Other Technologies, this paper asks how the emergence of virtual dating, and other cybernetically-inflected treatments of romance, are working to undo our jealously-held notions of intimacy and identity. In doing so, this presentation seeks to explore the specific libidinal economy of user-generated online hubs, in order to suggest that we are witnessing the early coalescence of a new inclusive mode of community.



Dominic Pettman is an Associate Professor in the Culture and Media Department, Eugene Lang College, New School for the Liberal Arts. He has previously taught at the University of Melbourne, the University of Geneva, the University of Amsterdam, and the Integrated Digital Media Institute, Brooklyn Polytechnic. He is the author of After the Orgy: Toward a Politics of Exhaustion (SUNY, 2002), Avoiding the Subject: Media, Culture and the Object (AUP, 2004 – with Justin Clemens), and Love and Other Technologies: Retrofitting Eros for the Information Age (Fordham, 2006).


Instituut voor Netwerk Cultuur
Publication date:
17 November 2010


Institute of Network Cultures
Bilkent University Department of Communication and Design
Original format:
Instituut voor Netwerkcultuur