Where will the body go? A discussion about the “embodiment” and “detachment” of human beings changed by social media


In recent years, social media has an unprecedented development in the huge technological progress, especially with the mature application of technologies such as augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality and artificial intelligence, etc. It further builds a virtual space, or called cyberspace which is different from the real one for human beings. Where will the human body be placed in this new space? Donna Haraway has pointed out three ways to understand the body: (1) the material body which is an evidence of human beings' physical existence; (2) the abstract body composed of postmodern discourses; (3) the third type of body that interacts with technology. Focusing on the cyberspace built by social media, human beings always use digital information to shape different virtual entities which are separated from their real roles, meanwhile, the real entities also guide and feedback to their virtual performances, and the two achieve organic interactions. From the perspective of post-humanism, the virtual entities existing in cyberspace have crossed the boundaries of the real body, and formed a new body through intelligent machines and information technology. This is another important way to understand the body.

In China, Weibo and WeChat, the most popular social media at the moment, have become the platform for the majority of Chinese to construct virtual entities. In 2018, the Korean social game ZEPETO has been sought in China which allows users to create anime virtual entities and use avatars to socialize with others. And in 2019, an artificial intelligence social platform called ZAO emerged in China. Users can use it replace the actors' faces in the video clips with their own faces. There is no denying that these social media accompanying human beings have split people into multiple 'selves', and the human body's detachment and embodiment also take on a variety of forms, which have brought many implications for human beings and the world they live.

This study adopted the way of questionnaire surveys and field surveys, and take Weibo, WeChat, ZEPETO and ZAO as research objects. Researchers issued questionnaires at 10 universities in Beijing, and conducted long-term follow-up studies on 20 college students who frequently use digital media, trying to explore the answers to the following questions: (1) The way in which human beings gain detachment and embodiment through social media: How does social media shape virtual entities? How does the virtual entities cross the boundary and affect the real society? How real and virtual entities interact with each other? (2) The influence of dynamic balance or dynamic imbalance brought by detachment and embodiment: Will the human body be alienated? What kind of dilemma will the subjectivity, materiality, sociality, and practicality of human be face with? (3) More macroscopically, the co-existence model of human existence and the new media ecology: Will people be deconstructed by the media? Or will the media be embedded in human's lives in a more covert way, affecting their real existence? Or will both people and the media enter a completely newly-developed context?