Cover page

Table of Contents


Title page

Copyright page


1: Conclusion: A Theory of Attainment

Skype and webcam

A theory of attainment

Webcam and attainment

A note on method and context

2: Self-Consciousness

Self-consciousness and embarrassment

Is this the real you?


3: Intimacy


Other forms of intimacy



4: The Sense of Place

Living inside the web


De-stabilizing the home

Establishing location

A balancing act


5: Maintaining Relationships


Grandparents and toddlers




6: Polymedia

Introduction: polymedia as theory



The BlackBerry connection

Emotions and power

Polymedia within Skype

7: Visibility

Webcam as truth and trust

Webcam as functionality and efficiency

Webcam as community and sociality

Conclusions to this chapter

A theory of attainment in the light of our ethnography



Title page


Daniel Miller would like to thank Stefana Broadbent, who first suggested this topic, Natalie Wright, who worked as an intern for him on this project, and the various students and friends who provided him with pilot interviews. Support at the Department of Anthropology UCL, especially from Susanne Küchler, the Head of Department, is gratefully acknowledged. Thanks also for support from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), where he has been appointed Adjunct Professor, School of Media and Communication.

Jolynna Sinanan would like to thank Tania Lewis and the School of Media and Communication at RMIT and UCL for funding her fieldwork in Trinidad. Thank you also to Heather Horst, and to Miley and Toffee, Zaid, Guruh and Tamara for their boundless generosity and hospitality.

We are both immensely grateful to the people of El Mirador who gave so much thought and time to assist us in our work. We apologize for the fact that, given our promise of anonymity, we cannot thank them individually. We would also like to thank those who made comments on the manuscript, Sheba Mohammid, Razvan Nicolescu, Anna Pertierra, Marisa Wilson, assistance from Mary Gray and the two anonymous reviewers for Polity.


Conclusion: A Theory of Attainment

Skype and webcam

The grounds for choosing the topic of webcam in personal communications were really quite simple. It was evident from research on other new communication technologies that webcam was coming to play a significant role. Yet, we knew of no anthropological studies dedicated to ascertaining its consequences. By 2011, Skype was reaching a critical point. Not ubiquitous, at least compared to mobile phones, but because of large-scale initiatives such as ‘One laptop per child’ with their integrated webcams, access was spreading to include lower income populations (Rosenberg, 2012). In Trinidad today, most people have transnational friends or family, which seemed to be the most common initial incentive for using Skype. Our research suggested that for some relationships, webcam had become a critical intervention. We also felt confident that webcam was now sufficiently embedded as an accepted part of people's everyday lives here to become the subject of ethnography as a study of the mundane.

Although we undertook the study from a hunch that the impact of webcam might now be profound, we didn't start with any particular ideas or hypotheses. We are not that kind of natural scientist. We began, instead, from what we hope is the modesty of anthropology that says the expertise lies not with the academic, but with the peoples they study. It is their creativity and inventiveness, their interpretations and accommodations, their insights and frustrations that we must share; and from them build a picture, a generalized image of what seems to be happening in their world. Only then do we ask why this matters for anthropologists and indeed for everyone.

The title of this book, Webcam, is problematic for various reasons, but we would argue it is simply better than the alternatives. Many of our informants, especially in the UK, avoid the term altogether, because a critical moment in the spread of webcam came with its usage for pornography as by ‘camgirls’ (Senft, 2008). Another influential initial usage was setting up a webcam to observe a site such as a street or events such as a rare bird nesting. Apart from within the last chapter, we do not cover such uses of webcam. You should assume a silent sub-title Webcam – but in most chapters only as used within personal communications. These communications may be dyadic or between groups as, for example, when two families greet each other at Christmas. So our interest is closer to that of Baym (2010) and Broadbent (2012) but very different from Senft (2008). To avoid these earlier connotations of the term, many people prefer to refer instead to proprietary platforms such as Skype and FaceTime, and terms such as Skyping or ‘do you want to Skype?’ are universally used and recognized. But there are various such platforms, so that we could not use any one of these for our title. By now, many other informants are comfortable with the term webcam and will themselves extend this to create the verbs ‘webcamming’ or ‘to webcam’, for example, often interchangeably with Skyping (which is in any case confusing since half of Skype calls are made without webcam). Given the rise of FaceTime and webcam within smartphones, the term webcam may grow at the expense of Skype. So we concluded that Webcam was the imperfect, but best available title for this volume. In the final chapter, we will move beyond personal communication to issues of surveillance and the use of webcams in commerce more generally.

Whatever our title, we still need to acknowledge the sheer dominance of Skype in the use of webcam for personal communication up till now. Skype, the product of two Estonian developers, was released in 2003. Incredibly, by 2005, it was bought by eBay for US$2.6 billion and subsequently by Microsoft in 2011 for US$8.5 billion. Still more than a third of its development team are based in Estonia. Currently, it is being incorporated into Microsoft with the migration of Windows Messenger into Skype. According to Skype's Chief Technology Strategist, by the end of 2012 Skype accounted for around 25 per cent of all international calls of any kind (Rosenberg, 2012). Around half of these Skype calls employed video. The average call was around half an hour and there are around 40 million users online at peak times. Skype has been downloaded approximately 200 million times on iPhone and Android phones. According to Skype Numerology (Mercier, 2012), the number of monthly paying Skype users is a mere 8.1 million, leaving revenues remaining sparse at an estimated US$400 million per annum. Skype is, however, likely to enhance future products and add to the Microsoft range in various ways.

This is not, however, a study of either Skype or webcam merely as a technology or commercial product. It is an anthropological study of its role in relationships. Consider the following quotation from our pilot study: ‘You know what men are like, they are so impatient with technology. They get so easily frustrated and angry. And to be honest, webcam in those days was pretty crap, kept cutting off, out of focus, just starting a conversation and it goes wrong.’ This is hardly a unique complaint; in many of our conversations, we included some discussion about people's first experiences with webcam and these were fairly mixed. On reflection, we are rather glad that we waited until 2011 in order to carry out our research. We have the feeling that the whole thing is a rather more pleasant engagement by now. So why start with this vignette? It makes the point that people have relationships with people and they have relationships with technology, and, mostly, we can't really disentangle the two. This affair ended soon after. Did their frustration with the technology cause, add merely a soupçon, or was it irrelevant to that break up? In thereby conforming to her general stereotypes of what men are like, did this experience increase his masculine attraction as a proper man, or demonstrate that he was exactly the kind of man who was really not for her? Are such stereotypes best regarded as general, regional or individual?

If there is a dominant topic within anthropology it is, and probably should be, the study of relationships. Anthropologists recognize that there are no unmediated, pure relationships. All the ways in which relationships exist, including communication, are cultural activities. The peoples whom anthropologists encounter in Melanesia or Amazonia prove just as fraught as the anthropologists themselves with anxiety and regrets about what they have just said, which for them might include its conformity with religious scruples, politeness with respect to that particular relationship and all those myriad filters that make certain that so much must remain unsaid and that communication is replete with constraint and misunderstanding. Even in our digitally founded world, the technological can often be the least significant aspect of mediation. So before we can approach our topic of webcam, we need to establish how we understand this concatenation of the human, culture and technology.

This is one of the reasons why this book has a slightly unusual structure. We will start with our conclusions. The next section is called ‘A Theory of Attainment’. The intention is firstly to take responsibility for these issues regarding how we contend with this inevitable mix of technical and cultural properties. The remaining chapters consist largely of reportage from interviews and ethnography, followed by analysis, leading to these conclusions. But we felt it was important to be able to judge those conclusions against these more substantive materials, which means being clear as to the claims we intend to make. Finally, we wanted to establish the academic grounds for asking readers to then submit themselves to so much detailed discussion of material mostly derived from a small town in Trinidad, which otherwise is unlikely to be of much concern. For all these reasons, this chapter starts with our conclusions.

A theory of attainment

Most persons are surprised, and many distressed, to learn that essentially the same objections commonly urged today against computers were urged by Plato in the Phaedrus (274–7) and in the Seventh Letter against writing. Writing, Plato has Socrates say in the Phaedrus, is inhuman, pretending to establish outside the mind what in reality can be only in the mind. It is a thing, a manufactured product. The same of course is said of computers. Secondly, Plato's Socrates urges, writing destroys memory. Those who use writing will become forgetful, relying on an external resource for what they lack in internal resources. Writing weakens the mind. (Ong 1982: 78)

The conclusions of this book are in several respects the exact opposite of what may be found in most popular writing regarding the impact and consequences of new communication media. The problem is that there is a natural tendency to take the world we live in at any particular moment as the bedrock of our authenticity, a world that has come to appear natural, or at least natural in comparison to the changes that are about to occur to us. The quotation from Ong reveals that for Plato's Socrates, the invention of writing meant that we could no longer be fully human; the essential qualities of our mind, our creativity, our memory and, above all, our authenticity were forever lost. Ong notes that in the fifteenth century, very similar arguments were made about the invention of printing, which would downgrade the wisdom of persons in favour of the products of the machine. Today, the ability to write has become so ubiquitous that we have almost forgotten that it is a technology and when anthropologists tell us about societies without writing, we are more tempted to consider that it is they, rather than us, who lack an essential quality of being fully human. To be illiterate is now regarded as pitiful, rather than the superior version of humanity presumed by Plato.

Any new media is first experienced as an additional and problematic mediation to our lives. We can't help but contrast it with some imagined conversation between two people standing in a field as representing the original, unmediated and natural form of communication. A technology, by contrast, is always regarded as something artificial that imposes itself between the conversationalists and mediates that conversation. An example of this kind of discourse is the recent book by Turkle, Alone Together (2011). The book is, in essence, a lament for a passing world of real relationships based on true social life that are most fully established by face-to-face communication – a world that is lost by the more superficial and mediated world of digital communication. Her inclusion of advances in robotics reinforces the idea that recent technological advances are leading to a loss of something essential about humanity. The problem we have with such books lies in thinking that a relationship to a robot represents a downgrading of our humanity because it substitutes for a real relationship. Amongst the many things this ignores is history. Not many Christians would have a problem seeing Jesus as a friend, nor would they regard a nun who takes vows of separation as a pathology. English people sometimes seem to prefer the friendship of pets to people. Material culture is an anthropological study of relationships to material things, such as our house, that may be amongst our key relationships. There has never been a time when people reduced their relationships merely to other people. While in some ways unprecedented, in other respects, digital technologies still have a very long way to go before they reach the degree of extraordinary found in the relationships presumed by religious cosmologies, created (or recognized as utterly real, depending upon one's personal religiosity) by humanity.

It is not easy to refute writings such as Turkle, which tend to be hugely popular, because they resonate with a lament for past authenticity, which is a leitmotif of the modern world, as it was often in ancient worlds (consider the Roman satirist Juvenal). Perhaps the worst terms found in the discussion of new digital technologies are words such as ‘real’ and ‘true’ when used to describe the prior status quo. These resonate with popular assumptions which are almost universally held, and constantly reinforced in journalism. New technologies are making humanity itself more artificial and thereby less intrinsically human. The discourses that prevail, both popular and academic, are essentially conservative discourses.

In stark contrast to such arguments is the reiteration of a tenet of anthropological theory that is found in the recent introduction to the book Digital Anthropology, written by Miller and Horst (2012: 12). With respect to these arguments, they suggest that

This is entirely antithetical to what anthropological theory actually stands for. In the discipline of anthropology all people are equally cultural, that is the products of objectification. Australian indigenous tribes may not have much material culture, but instead they use their own landscape to create extraordinary and complex cosmologies that then become the order of society and the structures guiding social engagement (e.g., Munn, 1973; Myers, 1986). In anthropology, there is no such thing as pure human immediacy; interacting face-to-face is just as culturally inflected as digitally mediated communication but, as Goffman (1959, 1975) pointed out again and again, we fail to see the framed nature of face-to-face interaction because these frames work so effectively.

The discussion concludes with a principle. ‘Digital anthropology will be insightful to the degree it reveals the mediated and framed nature of the nondigital world. Digital anthropology fails to the degree it makes the nondigital world appear in retrospect as unmediated and unframed. We are not more mediated simply because we are not more cultural than we were before’ (Miller and Horst, 2012: 13).

In other words, anthropology as a discipline rejects the idea that two people standing in a field, or two Australian indigenous individuals conversing in the desert, are in any way closer to some natural foundation for conversation than two people discussing their relationship through Facebook. Even in the desert, these indigenous individuals converse in a world highly structured by the appropriate and customary forms of address for the kinship categories they occupy. They spoke as a mother's brother should to a sister's son, and may well have assumed that their conversations were being influenced by spirits and ancestors. We do not see their ancestors, just as we don't see the infrastructure behind Facebook, but the possibility that the unseen may determine what we can and should say are equally strong.

Goffman (1959) did more than anyone to refute the illusion of communication as natural and unmediated. He revealed the myriad ways in which our everyday appearance and everyday encounters are the products of artifice. We literally compose ourselves before entering the door. This ‘we’ was not people within digital worlds but the folk in rural areas such as the Shetland Islands. The very people we laud as models of authenticity, artisanal craftspeople in weaving wool, were actually found to be crafting themselves more or less continuously. Self-presentation was discovered to be the art of everyday life.

But the very fact that Goffman's work came across as a revelation is testimony to the degree to which we do not easily view either our own or others' worlds in this manner. Goffman does not often impute intentionality to this activity; we can't help but act in this way. Indeed, it is this lack of consciousness that has allowed us to conceive of personal communication as natural and unmediated. Goffman also showed how frames that cue us into what kind of behaviour is expected of that particular context help us remain unselfconscious about the way we behave differently in these different contexts. We naturally (that is highly artificially) act differentially when we are within a theatre or while on holiday (Goffman, 1975). Much of Miller's previous work on material culture (2009a, 2009b), reinforced by the huge contribution of the anthropologist Bourdieu (1984), has been an examination of how objects such as clothing or housing act as frames in Goffman's sense, telling us how to behave without us realizing that this is the effect they are having upon us. One of the arguments of the next chapter is that the experience of having a webcam is analogous to the experience of having to read the work of Goffman. Both lead to an increasing consciousness and self-consciousness about the frames of human interaction. We are not more or less framed, but when we are looking at a rectangular computer screen right in front of us, we may certainly be more aware of the degree to which personal communication works within frames.

Both digital technologies and academic work such as Digital Anthropology help give us an appreciation of Goffman's insight that communication always was framed. An example of this could be van Dijck's (2007) book Mediated Memories in the Digital Age. This examines the impact of a whole slew of new media on memory. Certainly, there are marked changes. Photography seems to be turning into a more transient phenomenon for immediate circulation on social networking sites. These and blogs help to synchronize experience amongst a social group. Music may change in its relationship to nostalgia. Far from acting largely as an instrument of dematerialization, digital forms add considerably to this external capacity to store memory outside of the self in multi-modal, more collective forms. Memory has become even more about looking things up on search engines, rather than some pure act of introspection. Indeed, when considering the totality of new digital forms, this feeds a kind of collective fantasy of the digital memory machine that one day will be able to encapsulate the entirety of our externalized memory genres.

Certainly, there is a clear development in the facilitation of memory as lodged in forms outside of the mind – we all have a bigger external hard drive – the process that was lamented by Plato, though without that particular analogy. But the key point made by this book is that all these developments are actually useful in helping to confirm that memory was never the highly individualized cognitive function that existed primarily within an individual's brain. Following Bergson (2007 [1912]), Halbwachs (1992) and others, van Dijck (2007) argues that memory is far more collective and normative than we have acknowledged. It is socially incumbent upon us to video our babies' first attempts to walk. The way Facebook and other media then create a more collective sense of memory is in some measure returning us to this more socialized and less individualized memory of most of human history. Once again, the digital isn't taking memory into post-human realms, but is helping refine our comprehension of the prior mediations within human memory. Goody's (1987) research on the invention of both literacy and writing leads to similar observations about the way these impacted upon our capacity for recall, the recapitulation of stories and the nature of our sociality. But as an anthropologist, Goody also stressed the importance of understanding these changes at the level of cultural norms rather than the psychology of individual competence. Goody's writing is particularly pertinent because a problem with this refutation of conservatism is that it could be read as an opposition to the very concept of change itself. If we cannot become more mediated, then does that mean the impact of these new technologies is inevitably insignificant? Goody (1977, 1987) is quite forthright in acknowledging that the changes brought about by technologies such as writing and printing are fundamental, indeed, foundational to the emerging domination of various forms of reason. Ong (1982: 81) agrees: ‘Like other artificial creations and indeed more than any other, it is utterly invaluable and indeed essential for the realization of fuller, interior, human potentials. Technologies are not mere exterior aids but also interior transformations of consciousness.’ As Goody (1977) suggests, it would be absurd to dismiss the rise of science, for example, as other than fundamental in terms of human capacity and this is clearly a cultural and indeed global phenomenon, not reducible to the comparison of one individual's mind to another, which is why psychology is likely to be of little help here. Anthropology can retain cultural sensitivity while still appreciating that we simply must contend with long-term change. We have developed our theory of attainment precisely in order to deal with this quandary. How can we both acknowledge that technological developments may fundamentally change humanity while at the same time reject the idea that they are making us more or less human?

It is vital to the future of the discipline of anthropology, then, that we find a language that casts the savage mind as neither more primitive nor more authentic than the literate or, what Goody (1977) calls, the domesticated mind. Because, at the other end of the spectrum are those who would argue that it is only through digital technologies that we have finally become properly human. These arguments tend to start from a more psychological or philosophical liberalism, where humanity is the individual person who has now been extended into something else thanks to new technology. The highly influential media theorist Marshall McLuhan called one of his books Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964). One of his arguments was: ‘Rapidly we approach the final phase of the extension of man – the technological simulation of consciousness, when the creative process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole of human society, much as we have already extended our senses and our nerves by the various media’ (pp. 3–4). The idea of the individual as now technologically extended, or even upgraded through the development of new digital media, gains new traction in various notions of the cyborg, the trans- and the post-human (e.g., Whitehead and Wesch, 2012).

Just as Turkle's conservatism is echoed in much of the population, so is this enticement of the new. Such ideas are popular amongst many of our young informants, because it is these digital natives (Palfrey and Glasser, 2008) who are likely to already see it as a matter of ‘nature’ that texting on a smartphone, for example, is obviously more sensible and authentic than its precedents, with more chance to consider and reply at convenience. For them, the previous technology, for example, the landline phone call, is positively barbaric, being clunky, intrusive and constraining. They regard the prior period of technology as not closer to nature, but further from nature, a series of awkward and deficient technologies that they are only too glad to get away from. Parents are awkward attempts at humanity, a state which is only properly realized in their children's facility with the new digital world and the full realization of human potentiality. The geeky youths living their lives primarily online would be just as dismissive of Turkle, as a poor apology for a proper human being, as she might be of them.

Miller and Horst (2012) insist that we are not more mediated, but that the nature of mediation is certainly subject to change. It follows that we need to find a means of understanding the impact of new technologies that allows us to consider these as radical changes in consciousness and other basic modes of life, but without this being seen as either an increase or decrease in our essential humanity. We want to retain an anthropological sensibility of diversity and change in humanity as something comparative but not better or worse, more or less. It is because these issues are so fundamental, and it is so easy to slip into these languages of conservatism or futurism, that we propose to give our perspective the otherwise pretentious title of a ‘theory’, though it clearly does not fulfil the technical requirements of the term. So theory as in our colloquial use of that word. We call this ‘A Theory of Attainment’. The principle that mediation is an intrinsic condition of being human provides one leg for our theory to stand upon.

The other leg is derived from an earlier book Miller wrote with Slater in 2000, called The Internet: An Ethnographic Approach. That book, like the present one, was concerned to theorize a new media – the internet – and to consider the nature of change that resulted from its adoption, using the island of Trinidad for its case study. It argued for a four-phase approach to the study of new media. Unfortunately, it also developed four rather cumbersome labels for these phases, which Miller now rather regrets. The first was called the expansive realization. This label was used to argue that people who have access to a new media are at first usually concerned to use this technology to facilitate things they already had been trying to do, but had up to then been thwarted by the lack of means. Only once these are accomplished do they tend to address more unprecedented uses. People already had the ambition to search information more easily, and the internet provides the means. The emphasis here is on a human condition, which is in some ways always in a situation of incompleteness with respect to what we want to be or do. The world is always, amongst other things, frustrating. This suggests that humanity includes a latency that may be realized thanks to technological facilitation. We wonder what it would be like to visit and see the planet Saturn but we can't, as yet. We would like to see family members who are now living on the other side of our own planet, and thanks to webcam we can.

While it is likely that a new technology will be used to facilitate something people already knew they wanted, this is not what makes the result attainment, for the purposes of our theory. Attainment is not intended to be considered as achievement. It is the next phase, when this facility becomes the merely taken-for-granted condition of what people simply presume as an integral aspect of who they are, which is the realization of what we are calling attainment. The ability to write is a mark of attainment because we now tend to view those without that ability as though they lacked some fundamental property of being ordinarily human. Originally writing was an achievement, but by now it is considered a necessary condition. For many people, being able to type on a computer, or to drive a car, or speak on a telephone has become a similar mark of attainment. Webcam will serve as an exemplification of this process because of the sheer speed with which it passes from an ideal we had aspired to, to a mundane technology that we take for granted.

If we combine these two perspectives, we can see how they point away from humanity as a position of prior authenticity, or a given condition, by focusing instead on humanity as a project that is never complete, but always in various ways frustrated by lack of means, or exhibiting the hubris of complaisant acceptance of the munificence of science. A Theory of Attainment is one in which we refuse to view a new technology as disrupting some prior holistic or ideal state. The word ‘attain’ implies that, although it was not previously achievable, it was already latent in the condition of being human. The cultural use of the technology derives in large measure from the desires of populations and is not simply a necessary consequence of the invention of that particular device. After a while, the same technology is likely to stimulate new aspirations which will be as yet unattained. The concept of attainment therefore provides us with a humanity that is neither intrinsically conservative, nor fully realized in some utopian future. It is, rather, a humanity that incorporates its own potential for change and highlights our capacity for those changes to become merely normative with quite extraordinary speed.

Some caveats are in order here. Just because we aspire to something doesn't mean it is axiomatically good that some new technology has allowed us to fulfil that desire. Guns, and indeed all weapons, are clearly forms of attainment that realize a human capacity for violence and murder, and allow this to attain possibilities of mass destruction that would not otherwise have been possible. They are attainments because, as anyone reading the Bible would have to acknowledge, humanity has always been able to envisage the mass destruction of whole populations. It was just rather harder to slaughter them one by one than to drop an atomic weapon on them. Similarly, Schüll's (2012) recent study of machine gambling in Las Vegas is chilling in its portrayal of what we can use machines to reduce people into being, but again slavery, whether to machines or to other people, is clearly an entirely human capacity that was commonly practised in the past with limited technical resources. So the theory of attainment should not be judgemental.

This clearly gives us a problem with regard to the word ‘attain’ which does tend to connote positive accomplishment. We would have preferred a word that connotes the ability of technology to quickly become something taken for granted as a human capacity but without seeing this as necessarily positive. As with the case of choosing Webcam for the title of our book, attainment is imperfect but simply the best word we could find. Our informants are full of value judgements about what they regard as positive and negative about webcam. We report and discuss their judgements. By contrast, we are trying to steer our course between the Scylla of conservatism and the Charybdis of techno-liberation, and have no desire to founder on either side. For this reason, we would ask you to hold judgement on our theory of attainment. It is really only at the end of this book, when we return it to its proper place as the conclusion of our ethnographic investigation, that we will achieve our aim of seeing attainment neither as positive nor negative but merely a theory of how technology becomes an ordinary aspect of being routinely human.

The other caveat is brought out best in Fukuyama's (2003) book about the post-human. We may want to reject the language of the post-human with respect to these new digital media, but that can only work if we simultaneously acknowledge at least the theoretical possibility that a line can be breached which challenges our concept of the human. Fukuyama argues as follows: if we see Prozac as similar to the drug soma imagined in Huxley's Brave New World (2005), then have we reached a condition that is similar enough to Huxley's dystopian vision that a term such as post-human is warranted. Our own view, in opposition to Fukuyama, is that the term post-human is not helpful. The issues are simply clearer if we try instead to retain a boundary which states either someone is human or is not human. It is clear that some of the bodily and mental transformations discussed by Fukuyama could lead to such a massive alteration of our condition that we should not regard the result as human at all.

Indeed, his discussions around the definition of being human in relation to human rights suggest that these are quite similar to current arguments about abortion. At what point should a foetus be described legally and morally as human as against non-human (Oaks, 1994; Gammeltoft, 2003)? Should an animal be accorded rights and how do these compare with those we regard as appropriate to a human being? We briefly note this point, which lies outside the scope of this enquiry, in order to acknowledge that a rounded theory of attainment would also include discussion of the point at which we would no longer be talking about a theory of attainment because the result is not human, but perhaps a robot, for example. Theoretically, Turkle could be right in suggesting a new technology takes us beyond a state we could regard as properly human. We don't want to use our theory of attainment to reject this as a theoretical possibility; we simply want to attest that in our opinion this is not the case for the new media technologies we are researching.

For this reason, we do not see our research as in the trajectory of discussions of post-human or cyborg studies that derived from the work of Haraway (1991) and others. These have been commonly linked to developments in digital worlds and new media. A recent example would be the volume edited by Whitehead and Wesch (2012) called Human No More. But discussions of topics such as memorialization, or changes in social networks through the advent of Facebook, that are contained in that volume seem to suggest quite the opposite. These are issues which are entirely encompassable within more traditional modes of anthropological enquiry into social change.

Finally, we need to prevent a theory of attainment being seen as merely plus ça change. We have suggested that our concept of attainment implies a kind of latency in the human condition, but not merely a litany of pre-given imagined abilities planted in evolutionary time and then coming into being with new technology. Technology is not some kind of kiss by a fairy tale prince that awakes another sleeping but beautiful exemplar of humanity. This latency is often something that itself is created with the advent of the most recent technology. There was no gene for writing that was frozen until the invention of the pen. Technology in and of itself transforms capacity and changes what human beings can do or can be envisaged as doing. The last of the four stages defined by Miller and Slater in examining technological change, which was called the expansive potential, concerns those aspirations that can only now be imagined thanks to these developments. Technology creates as well as realizes latency.

In the substantive chapters that follow, we give several examples of attainment that suggest webcam has allowed people to realize some ambition or latent function that had been envisaged but could only now be achieved. But there are an equal number of instances where it is highly unlikely that anyone had ever imagined or desired that which they were enabled to accomplish through webcam. It was the technology itself that stimulates new potentials or ideals. Chapter Three, in dealing with intimacy, describes an entirely unprecedented series of media configurations, what we call ‘always-on’, which leads to new imaginations of how people could ‘live’ together, while still in entirely separate places. The point we are making is that being human is not something that should be reduced to our past, or even our present, but something that must include also our future. The reason we need a theory of attainment is because we need to acknowledge that something that will be invented ten centuries from now, which we cannot even begin to imagine, will still be part of our humanity, because most probably (though not necessarily) we will still be human.