Screenshot from the video 'Get off your phone. Into your body', 2022

Manifesto for Embodiment: a riposte to machine capture

Digital devices – ‘smart phones’, etc – and their infrastructure are machines for capture. Our jewelled-like devices capture us physically, psychologically and socially. The history of digitisation and machine capture is separation of being and body: disembodiment. A response – or riposte – are practices and human relations through embodiment including dance, movement and physical presence.

In December 2022, I produce a film ‘Get off your phone. Into your body’ to illustrate machine capture and encourage participation in Oxford Contact Dance. It showed a performance at Oxford Contact Dance called ‘Spanish Dance’ based on work by Trisha Brown. The film is edited to draw a distinction between being on your smart phone (machine capture) and embodiment in dance.

Initially, movement in the film and the accompanying music are sped up – implying dystopic being. The text captions show ‘Get off your phone’. Subsequently, the movement sequence is slowed into ‘slow motion’ – giving the feeling of being in the dance, the movement, and our bodies ie embodiment. Utopic being. The text captions now show ‘Into your body’ – reinforcing the sentiment.

Machine capture as dysphoria

Dysphoria (Wikipedia article) is a range of psychological conditions that are considered pathological . Machine capture can be described as causing digital dysphoria : the ‘semantic opposite of euphoria’. Curiously, euphoria is often associated with dance, movement and physical exercise.

Social Media Is a Major Cause of the Mental Illness Epidemic in Teen Girls‘ by the psychologist Jonathan Haidt’ describes the consequences of machine capture. What of teenage boys? Anecdotal knowledge suggests that teenage boys use of online games, is perhaps little difference to machine capture in teenage girls. In other words: machine capture is common for both activities. Gender is not significant in this observation.

I saw him put on the Virtual Reality headset.
I don’t know what he saw.
I saw a blindfolded man being electrically stimulated.
After half an hour,

he vomited.

Machine capture makes us sick. For more information see Guardian article ‘Pushing Buttons: The PlayStation VR 2 might be the next big thing, if you can handle the nausea – and the cost‘, 22 February 2023.

When in our embodied state we are part of the universe. But being in the ‘Metaverse’ (Facebook/Meta) – other virtual worlds/ virtual realities are available – then very little is as it seems, and even less is under our control. Of course, that’s the point – it’s a curated space which is explicitly and implicitly commercial. It is an illusion; and it adds further to the sense of dysphoria which we must feel. Perhaps our rallying call should be: Yes to the universe, no to the Metaverse.

Is machine capture real?

How much time do you spend on digital devices? And other people – what about them? How important are digital devices in your life? What is the physical consequence, and where is your attention? Let’s also ask – how do you feel about it? Even simple answers to simple questions such as these, is an adequate indicator of machine capture.

It could be said that this is a misunderstanding: there’s no fundamental difference between a copy of the Guardian newspaper printed on paper as there is one displayed on a device. Indeed, what about books for example? Book capture anyone?

Media is designed to be captivating. Even text – which is a textured media – is captivating. But this is to misunderstand the relationship between you and the device: as has been written many times elsewhere – you’re the product. Even if you paid for the content online – you’re still the product.

Further, the extent that one’s life is now lived through and ‘in’ digital devices is so encompassing that it is still reasonable to assert this a new phenomenon and hence should have a new term: machine capture or digital dysphoria. The psychological and physical results of our machine capture and dependency are evident. Psychologists and psychotherapists are noticing.

Social prescribing

Social prescribing – also known as community referral – allows medical professionals to refer patients to ‘non-clinical’ services for treatment of medical conditions ie illness.

Recognising that people’s health is determined primarily by a range of social, economic and environmental factors, social prescribing seeks to address people’s needs in a holistic way. It also aims to support individuals to take greater control of their own health.

Social prescribing schemes can involve a variety of activities which are typically provided by voluntary and community sector organisations. Examples include volunteering, arts activities, group learning, gardening, befriending, cookery, healthy eating advice and a range of sports.

Guidance Social prescribing: applying All Our Health (Updated 27 January 2022)

Given the dysphoria of machine capture then social prescribing as a treatment seems likely. However, the model of individual illness rather than societal illness needs to be considered: is the phenomenon of machine capture and its consequences sufficiently widespread that education, regulation and social policies need to be developed and introduced.

Either way, the invitation to embodiment: ‘Get off your phone. Into your body,’ is one which still stands. Let’s dance.

Recommended reading

I recommend this journal paper in understanding this subject.

Reclaiming the human in machine cultures: Introduction

May 2022, Media Culture & Society 44(1):016344372210996

Simone Natale (Università degli Studi di Torino)

Andrea L Guzman (Northern Illinois University)

Read full-text

Citations (5) – June 2023
References (62) – June 2023


The relationship between technology and culture has always been a contested issue in media and cultural studies. Ongoing advances in computing and Artificial Intelligence (AI), however, are posing new kinds of questions and challenges to the field. As many have argued, these technologies invite to rethink the relationship between technology and culture, positing the idea that not only humans, but also machines produce and construct ‘culture’. The goal of this themed issue is to consider notions such as ‘algorithmic culture’ and ‘machine culture’ from within the tradition of media and cultural studies, in order to move toward a conceptualization of culture in which machines are intertwined within human systems of meaning-making. In this introduction to the themed issue, we discuss why these emerging technologies and the human cultures forming around them are integral to the mission of media and cultural studies, and what the media and cultural studies tradition can bring into ongoing and future debates regarding the nexus of humans, machines, and culture.

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