Datafication in the analogue era followed a different logic than do today’s media processes, with all their entanglements and interdependencies with and within the ‘real’ world. Human bodies, system processes, and their data traces and virtual models are deeply intertwined in current postdigital—or rather, more-than-human (Lupton 2019)—media cultures. It is surely not a new idea that data and the technologies of its collection, storage, circulation, and evaluation are shaping how societies and individuals see themselves. But it is a novelty that processes of datafication within the context of ‘digital twinning’ and their future predictions and simulations of behavior—mostly systems behavior but also human purchasing and movement behaviors, with their political implications—are fundamentally changing the methods of production planning, processes, and products. Technologies of digital twinning ask once more how data practices affect and mold decision-making within institutions (Vertesi 2020).
‘Digital twins’ are currently the most important drivers of the fourth industrial revolution. These ever-more-complex technical products and processes are now developed and tested in the virtual sphere as software models before they emerge in the ‘real’ world. The paradigm of digital media technologies is therefore subject to fundamental change through the prevalence of digital twins in industry and research. The digital is no longer a real-time virtual representation of a real-world physical object: it is exactly the opposite and concurrently much more than that, allowing new forms of “premediation” (Grusin 2010), in the analysis of future performances of objects without the physical presence of the objects. Digital twinning therefore promises not only the potential of making futures predictable through recognition and correlation of digital and analog, virtual and physical (Chun 2021), but the ability to do so without physical counterparts. Digital twinning is no longer restricted to single entities—like objects being studied—but allows for modeling complex chains of co-operations. What is most striking from a media theory perspective is that technical objects, models, services, operations, or even entire cities, metro systems, or logistical architectures can be objects of digital twinning.
Digital twins make clear that the real world is just one possible realization of the primarily virtual world. At the same time, digital twins and other haunting ‘data doppelgangers’ allow overarching data exchange and cooperation. They are more than pure data, proving once more that so-called “raw data” does not exist (Bowker 2005; Gitelman 2013). Digital twins consist of technical and social models of acting objects, and integrate various embedded sensors related to vital areas of functionality that make things and processes ‘sense-able’ (Gabrys 2019). Digital twins can therefore also include simulations and services, asking anew if there is anything worldly which may must remain “uncomputable” (Galloway 2021).
Taking digital twinning as an analytic lens, the special issue will also try to understand aesthetics, politics, genders, and economies of ‘data doubles.’ These new symptoms of postdigital media and data cultures differ from previous motifs of doubles, e.g. literary doppelgangers as in the work of E. T. A. Hoffmann, among others. Selfies are emblematic of digital data cultures and their visual regime (Eckel et al. 2018), as are avatar images in avatar-based gaming (Klevjer 2022), since they are not mere pictorial representations but digital images of self-perception and self-modeling. They stand as digital doubles exemplary for the self in extended realities (XR), self-embodiment in digital spheres, and the continuum between offline and online (Coleman 2011). Similar to digital twins, digital ‘doubles’ even without a physical ‘original’ can unfold influence, literally, as virtual influencers or actors such as Hatsune Miku demonstrates.
Media practices of doubling and storing the self might have predigital histories (Humphreys 2018). But only digital tracking applications can be regarded as real-time feedback loops that influence human behavior. This can be seen positively since it transforms the way humans self-optimize, e.g. their athletic behavior, as quantified self-movement shows. But it can also be critically reflected from a political standpoint, since it evokes a shift from individuals to ‘dividuals’ and an interpretation of human beings as conglomerates of sensor technology, flesh, and data doubles within surveillant assemblages (Haggerty and Richard 2000).
To account for this complex technological situation and its social impacts, the special issue “Digital Twinning” will bring together researchers from different fields: engineering and social science, informatics and media studies. The aim is to understand concepts and practices but also politics and aesthetics of data doubling and digital twinning that are not restricted to purposes of system and production monitoring, maintenance, and simulation—that is, processes of digital engineering. We will also expand the scope, to include real-time interrelations of digital data acquisition and simulation, on the one hand, and the physical performance of humans, things, and systems, on the other.
We are seeking abstracts (500 words) for submissions until December 31, 2023 (to be sent to email@example.com, subject: “NM&S Special Issue: Digital Twinning”), that might address—but are not limited to—one or more of the following topics:
- how is data agential (in digital twinning)?
- interrelations and interdependencies between physical and digital twins and doubles
- politics, (data) economies, and technologies of digital twinning and doubling
- boundaries in the modeling of twins
- (de)central places of twinning: where is it to be done, and by whom?
- twinning as labor: precarious work, and/or precarious for workers?
- histories of twinning: from science fiction, to NASA, to the public?
- future digital practices of twinning
- imaginaries and aesthetics of twinning
- gendering and aesthetics of avatars
- challenges and difficulties of data governance, data rights, and data sustainability
- sensor ecologies and their impact on digital twinning
- media and social theories of digital twinning
- digital methods, ethnographic, and ethnomethodological approaches for further research on digital twinning
- applications for digital twins in the industrial and consumer metaverse