Paul Muhlhauser 1

Paul responded to Patty’s tale with questions about memories and body snatchers.


"I wonder if your granddaughter will remember your Skype chat when she gets older like she would if you were reading her a story on her bed in her bedroom with your hand on her shoulder and the smell of your lotion or perfume invading her nostrils. Will she remember it like a family gathering in a living room experiencing something together? I ask this because I wonder if the proliferation of digital communications technologies is an invasion of the body snatchers."



Both Paul’s question and Mya Poe’s reflections on family and distance raise questions of embodiment. Paul’s question reminds us of Marshall McLuhan who, in 1947, noted that one of the main effects of electronic media is disembodiment (1995, p. 370) .According to Cliff Bostock (2001), "in this view, the cyber inhabitant has forsaken his [sic] body. He travels through space and time without a body." McLuhan (1995) argued, "As electric media proliferate, whole societies at a time become discarnate, detached from mere bodily or physical ‘reality’ and relieved of any allegiance to or a sense of responsibility for it” (p. 379). Bostock’s answer to McLuhan is that technology "extends (and accelerates) the body, even as it produces the experience of disembodiment.” Bostock goes so far as to argue "it is not that cyberspace disembodies us. Instead, it gives rise to a new imaginal body: the cyberbody.”


We would argue that in the age of "see you-see me” technologies, perhaps it is not the cyberbody but the afterimage body that becomes critical to understandings of audience. The afterimage "describes a particular kind of historically and culturally grounded seeing or mis-seeing" (Nakamura, 2002, p. 12) and has an important impact on how we view or mis-view the body and our own memories. Like a traditional afterimage—"an optical illusion that refers to an image continuing to appear in one’s vision after the exposure to the original image has ceased,” (Nakamura, 2002, p. 1), we continue to "see” an afterimage body after an Internet-based experience. This is the case with most visual media. What is significant about the afterimage is the proliferation of this way of seeing and experiencing. It is highly mediated and highly rhetorical. A person, student, rhetor must ask what sorts of afterimages he/she wants to leave with his/her families.



Perhaps since the onset of media like TV—visual media—our sense of audience is typically an afterimage sense. We have seen so much that we have a backlog of stock photos or afterimages of the people who make up our audiences. Consideration of audience is no longer just about what the audience thinks or believes; a composer conceptually sees an audience that she is composing for. This concept of an afterimage audience needs much more work—a topic for more detailed treatment than it can be given here— particularly in an environment where embodiment, as well as time and space, are reconceived.


What happens to the concept of audience when we communicate in a "space of flows” that Castells (1996) defined as "the material organization of time-sharing social practices that work through flows” (p. 442)? This space of flows creates an "ephemerality” that is the result of "disordering the sequence of events and making them simultaneous” (p. 497). Families experience this afterimage ephemerality by communicating wirelessly, digitally. But back to the beginning question: "What will Patty’s granddaughter remember?” That is a question that must wait for an answer.