Immersion As ' Social Machines'- Analysing The Coupling Human-Machine in The Industry of Entertainment


Yara Rondon Guasque Araujo, UDESC, PUCSP

Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo, Brasil



The term social machine appears in different contexts


 “Social Machine” is a term that appears in Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, capitalismus and schizophrenia, and in John Canny and Eric  Paulos, Tele-embodiment and shattered presence: reconstructing the body for online interaction. Both texts use the term to designate an apparatus that conducts our behaviour. In Deleuze and Guattari´s text, it conducts and produces desire. In John Canny and Eric Paulos´ text, it socializes humans.


As we will see along during this article, this conceptual machinery does not need to be technological to be considered a machine. One example of social machine is the urban plan, the concept-city as a machinery of modernity as Michel de Certeau puts it, in Walking in the city[1]. The urbanistic project in a collective mode of administration and organization of space and practice which exposes the concept of urbanistic ratio, when it privileges technological progress over the individual mode of reapropriation of space considered as waste. Another is the clock. As a social machine the clock is seen as “reproducing the canonic hours and for assuring order in the city”[2]. One more example is immersion which can be seen in the industry of entertainment.


Social Machine” could be seen in the sense of social computing used by theoreticians of ubiquitous computing: the increase (in) of understanding (in) of the social world being incorporated into interactive systems (Dourish 200: 16). But also in the view of Andy Clark in Extended Minds, social machines or collective machines, which are represented by language and culture, act as PRoPs minimizing the overload of the brain to explore complex situations.


Desiring machines


Deleuze and Guattari use “Social Machine” to describe the coupling humam-machine as a machine of desire, like we see in the industry of entertainment. For them man is a machine, a machine of desire, the result of a machine of production. Deleuze and Guattari see nature as producer (machine-production) and man, as product. Indeed in Anti-Oedipus they describe different social machines, the barbarian, the despotic, and the civilized, showing how we turned into an organism of society, a component of a huge social machinery. Deleuze and Guattari dismiss the controversy between machine with organs or organism machines, and the incompatibility between machine and desire. They do not refer to technological machines, because what characterizes modern society is the fact that it is a complex social machine rather than technological, which incorporates virtual and real entities in its functioning. An important point to note is that Deleuze and Guattari reject the idea that desiring machines belong to the domain of dreams and of imaginary, or represent a lack of a lost unity.


Socializing humans


This term also appears in a different context in Canny, J., Paulos, E. (2000). “Tele-embodiment and shattered presence: reconstructing the body for online interaction[3].” For Eric Paulos and John Canny social machines are toys that were designed to interact with people while robots were designed to interact with objects. The task of these ‘social machines’ is to socialize humans:


“Let's look instead at today's ‘social machines.’ There is a new generation of interactive devices targeted at young children, soft toys with computer cores and capabilities like touch, sensing and speech. They include Tickle-me Elmo, Actimates Barney, and Furby, the Model T of furry automatons. None of these devices can hug or caress, but will respond to a variety of touch from children. They have been carefully designed to match the behavior of preschool children. They have no behavioral autonomy, but can participate in reasonably complex interactive behaviors (like games of hide-and-seek) that are driven by a child. That is, they are capable of situated activity.


“Social Machine” as defended by John Canny and Eric Paulos promotes the “tele-embodyment” which relies upon the confidence between two dialoguing individuals. An embodied person is different for them than a human+robot hybrid.


The word ‘robot’ never appears in descriptions of Furbies or Actimates Barney. We avoided it too in the choice of the PRoP moniker. Not only does ‘robot’ conjure up images of production-line welding machines and 1950s sci-fi tin-men intent on threatening the human race with extinction, but its original (and still current) meaning is the reduction of humans to simple, repetitive machines. The banishing of will, individuality, and emotion in favor of speed, efficiency and precision. The replacement of skilled, situated activity with mindless repetition (a robot keeps trying to drill holes when the work-piece is missing, the drill is off, or the bit is broken). This is the opposite of what future personal social telepresence systems will be. They will support a wide range of behaviors, which will be highly interactive and situated. They will be "antirobotic" in the sense that "robot'' connotes today (Canny 2000).”


Immersion as industry


Erki Huhtamo in "Encapsulated Bodies in Motion" exposes immersion as a product of an experience industry and as a result of discursive formation. For him the quest of immersion – “ the ‘collective need’ to immerse itself in realities other than its immediate physical surroundings” - is a cultural topos and it must be analyzed as a need of a specific society activated in ideologically specific circumstances. For example the perspective wasn't invented in Renaissance but was at that time imperative to achieve the illusion of a third dimensional space. More than the need of creating a virtual reality that can substitute the real one, he points to the necessity of annihilating the difference between real and virtual realities. Victorian stereography, Panorama, Cinerama, Cinemascope, 3-D movies, broadcasted TV programs, Imax and Omnimax as well should be seen as ideological constructions. According to Erki Huhtamo, filmic experience in Imax and Omnimax must produce the experience as authentic, and no longer as ‘real’. Since technology is gradually becoming second nature (external and internal experienced): "There is no need to make it transparent any longer, simply because it is not felt to be in contradiction to the ‘authenticity’ of the experience (Huhtamo 1995)."


Experience as product


Following the ideology behind the immersion industry, we should observe the human-machine coupling. The stereoscope as a virtual window is one of the ‘machine of vision’ in Erki Huhtamo’s sense. But if we pay attention to the fact that immersion in the past was provided by painting, we will see that the conceptual apparatus that allow us to ‘read’[4] a painting, indeed belongs to the operational system of machine of vision. Examples of early immersion industry explain how a conceptual model of representation can also be considered a machine of vision. Tromp-l'oeil, Anamorphose and Panorama create the illusion of space and of objects in different ways. Tromp-l'oeil mixes pictorial representation among real objects giving the sense of experiencing a 3-D object, Anamorphose is the illusion of the perspective considering a unique fixed point-of-view for the observer from where the distortion of perspective projected in different surfaces is corrected, and Panorama patented by Robert Baker in 1787, consists of a circular painting that can be viewed from its center, with the observer inside the total apparatus. All these examples compared to cinema, television, video, virtual reality and other forms of telepresence provided in time an increased immersion, when the examples that use interfaces such as visual and audio stereographic field like: Imax, Virtual Environments and CAVES, and recently data-gloves and Head Mounted Displays allow progressively almost full sensory perception.


According to Erki Huhtamo immersion ¾ being interpreted as out-of-the-body ¾perpetuates the split already remarked throughout our Christian tradition and the Cartesian thought that distinguished body and soul. The promise in immersion of a virtual voyage avoiding fatal risks and experiencing simulated situation and universes reinforces this contradiction: to liberate the individual from the animal condition given by the body.


Mark Seltzer, in Erki Huhtamo, emphasizes in his analyses of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century culture the intimate coupling between body and machines. This coupling includes the idea that for the administrative functionalist ideology, man is also a machine (or must be a machine) like the worker in a factory. According to Erki Huhtamo (Huhtamo 1995), Mark Seltzer ideas can be applied to the system of immersive industry, which can be considered as "apparatuses", technological-meta psychological machineries.


Social machine as production and not as representation


Deleuze and Guattari understand representation as something that points to a lack of something absent, but represented by an icon. Desire is not a lack of something else, but a form of presence in fragments with the senses as distributed objects, which makes desiring machines live under the order of dispersion, and this dispersion is not a totality to come. Therefore, the order of desire is the order of production understood also as desiring-production and social production. As a machinic arrangement in the experience industry of entertainment, immersion should be considered as production of desire and not as representation of desires and of virtualities.


Body without organs


In the process of belonging to the technological-meta psychological machineries, the body turns out to be a body without organs. By having its senses dispersed as partial objects, which can form an arrangement of machines, no formation of an imaginary identity or structural unity is allowed[5]. Even though it supports signs and codes of the unconscious, interacting (has a synergy) with desiring machines[6]. Since the body is a body without organs, it can interact with desiring machines only by means of using social constructed memory as we can see below. “Hence the social machine fashions a memory without which there would be no synergy of man and his (technical) machines (Deleuze 1985, p.142).”

Connective machines


Immersive apparatuses are coupled machines like an organism with connections, which associate it to different flows.


“The synthesis of connection of the partial object is indirect, since one of the partial objects, in each point of its presence within the field, always breaks the flow that another object emits or produces relatively, itself ready to emit a flow that other partial objects will break (Deleuze 1985, p.325).”


To understand the state of connectivity as machines, we may begin with the definition of machine of Deleuze and Guattari. A machine in Deleuze’s sense may be defined first of all “as a system of interruptions or breaks.” Second, “every machine has a sort of code built into it (Deleuze 1985, p. 38).” They understand social machine as a binary relationship between two states of machines seen as a double function: a flow-producing machine, and an interrupt-producing machine, that breaks the flow.


“Everywhere it is machines-real ones, not figurative ones: machines driving other machines, machines being driven by other machines, with all the necessary coupling and conditions. An organ – machine – is plugged into an energy-source-machine: the one produces a flow that the other interrupts. The breast is a machine that produces milk, and the mouth a machine coupled to it (Deleuze 1985, p.1).”


So speaking, every object of analysis is a result of an interrupted flow. An image, while been observed, is an interrupted flow.


Desiring machines form the microphysics of the unconscious as coupled machines, functioning within the social machines (Deleuze 1985, p. 183). Under desiring machines, sexuality that flows beneath the unconscious investments in the social, political and religious practices, is a “molecular energy that places molecules-partial objects (libido) in connection, that organizes inclusive disjunctions on the giant molecule of the body without organs (numen), and that distributes states of being and becoming according to domains of presence or zones of intensity (voluptas) (Deleuze 1985, p. 183).”


That is why art is an important example of desiring machine. Art conceived as desiring production is understood not as an expression or as a goal, but as a process of production, which causes things to move and flow. For Deleuze and Guattari, art represents “how an author is great because he cannot prevent himself from tracing flows and causing them to circulate (Deleuze 1985, p. 133)”, nourishing a revolutionary machine to come.


Culture as artificial memory


Andy Clark[7] in Being there: putting brain, body and world together again recognizes that the computational nature of individual cognition is not suited to deal with certain types of complex domains. Therefore, we often use external structures such as paper and pen and instruments with greater complexity like the computer and political social and economic institutions to solve problems.


“But it allows also that in this "reaching out" to the world we sometimes create wider cognitive and computational webs: webs whose understanding and analysis requires the application of the tools and concepts of cognitive science to larger, hybrid entities comprising brains, bodies, and a wide variety of external structures and processes[8].


These structures mold in turn our behavior constraining our actions to achieve more chances of a collective success. By creating larger external structures as external resources to simplify the overload of the brain, both physical and social, which transmit partial solutions along the way, the role of individual rationality and subjectivity become somewhat marginal.


There is a reciprocal relationship, a two-way interaction between the individual and complex structures, between the biological organism and the external resources. This reciprocity is difficult to understand. It may be possible to analyze the scales and levels of the interaction between the individual and larger structures, according to Andy Clark through simulations.


Desire experience industry


Although, for Andy Clark, social machines can minimize the overload of the brain in complex problems, for John Canny and Eric Paulos, it can socialize humans, but for Deleuze and Guattari as a collective entity, it codes the global system of desire, coding the flows as its supreme task. That means that each member shares the destiny, which organizes the three main syntheses of life: (the connective) production of production, (the disjunctive) production of recording, and (the conjunctive) production of consumption.


Immersion as a symbiotic interaction


Deleuze and Guattari trying to explain complex interactions of this coupling human-machine states: “In a word the real difference is not between the living and the machine, vitalism and mechanism, but between two states of the machine that are two states of the living as well (Deleuze 1985, p. 286).” By reading this, we understand the organic functionalism between two states of very productive machines. In immersion the coupling human-machine in the industry of entertainment works as an organ of machined desire. “But the machine remains desire, an investment of desire whose history unfolds, by way of the primary repression and the return of the repressed (Deleuze 1985, p. 37).” Or so speaking, immersion, which follows other machines like the paranoiac, miraculating and celibate machines, is the symbiotic interaction of two stages of machined desire.


Returning to Erki Huhtamo, I see the antinomy in Erki Huhtamo’s thought when he points out that immersion reinforces the split between body and soul as a limitation.  This coupling human-machine has not to be guided by the idea of a ‘totality to come’ in the anthropomorphized interaction guided by positive-negative, masculine-feminine. In immersion as technological-meta psychological machinery we find more than just the split between body and soul of a lost unity. The fact that in social machines the interaction occurs within the environment through exteriorized memory, we predict immersion enables distributed senses, thus distributed zones of presence.


This two-way mirroring interaction apparatus acts as external resources for imagery, and the self is extended as a product in the experience industry.





Certeau, Michel de. (1993). “Walking in the cities, an icarian fall”, in During, Simon (ed.). The Cultural Studies Reader. London, New York, Routledge.


Canny, J. P., Eric (2000). Tele-embodiment and shattered presence: reconstructing the body for online interaction. The robot in the garden. K. Goldberg. Cambridge, Mass., MitPress: 276-294.


Clark, Andy. (1997). Being there: putting brain, body and world together again. Cambridge, Mass. MITPress. ISBN: 0262032406; eBook ISBN: 0585002754;


Clark, Andy & Chalmers, David J. The extended mind.; accessed September 2001


Deleuze, G. a. G., Felix (1985). Anti-Oedipus, capitalismus and schizophrenia. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.


Dourish, Paul. (2001). Where the action is – The foundations of embodied interaction. Massachusetts, MitPress.


Huhtamo, E. (1995). Encapsulated Bodies in Motion. Critical issues in electronic media. S. Penny. New York, State University of new York: 159-186.


Legrady, G. (1995). Image, language, and belief in synthesis. Critical issues in electronic media. S. Penny. New York, State University of New York Press: 187-204.




*Yara Rondon Guasque  Araujo, multimedia artist, university instructor, PhD candidate of the Program of Communication and Semiotics of PUCSP, fellow of CAPES PROSUP and CAPES Modalidade Sanduiche, visiting scholar at the M.I.N.D. Lab, Telecommunication Department, Michigan State University, MSU, from July 2001 to July 2002.


[1] Certeau, Michel de. “Walking in the cities, an icarian fall”, in During, Simon (ed.). (1993). The Cultural Studies Reader. London, New York, Routledge.


[2] (Deleuze: 1985: 141)


[3] Canny, J. P., Eric (2000). Tele-embodiment and shattered presence: reconstructing the body for online interaction. The robot in the garden. K. Goldberg. Cambridge, Mass., MitPress: 276-294


[4] Legrady, G. (1995). Image, language, and belief in synthesis. Critical issues in electronic media. S. Penny. New York, State University of New York Press: 187-204. p. 189) says language, visual reading and the concept of reality are dependent on cultural norms. “Moreover, competence in reading visual imagery is an acquired skill similar to the process of learning language; it is a social activity defined by the norms of a particular culture. Norman Bryson maintains that the reality experienced by human beings is always historically produced. He says it is more accurate to say that realism lies in a coincidence between a representation and that which a particular society proposes and assumes as its reality, a reality involving the complex formation of codes of behavior, law, psychology, social manners, dress, gesture, posture – all those practical norms which govern the stance of human beings toward their particular historical environment.”


[5] “Partial objects are what makes up the parts of the desiring-machines; partial objects define the working machine or the working parts, but in a state of dispersion such that one part is continually referring to a part from an entirely different machine (Deleuze 1985, p. 322-323).”


[6] “It is only by means of the body without the organs (eyes closed tight, nostrils pinched shut, ears stopped up) that something is produced, counter produced, something that diverts or frustrates the entire process of production, of which it is nonetheless still a part (Deleuze 1985, p. 37).”


[7] Clark, Andy. (1997). Being there: putting brain, body and world together again. Cambridge, Mass. MITPress. ISBN: 0262032406; eBook ISBN: 0585002754; Pp: 186-170.


[8] Clark, Andy. (1997). Being there: putting brain, body and world together again. Cambridge, Mass. The MIT Press. P.218 E-books.