Boundary maintenance describes the act of maintaining boundaries in the presence of others in a physical or a digital space. Boundary-making can manifest as maintaining boundaries of one's social class or maintaining the boundaries of one's secondary self online.
Boundary maintenance has played a central role in all societies throughout history. In India, sacred ground is maintained by taking one's shoes off before entering the space, etc. But the concept bears a special relation to our modern cyborg condition. Boundaries that used to be considered "natural", such as gender, have been thrown into question due to modern scholarship and technological advances. When natural boundaries, such as death, gender, social status, and romantic status, become problematized, more energy is required to maintain the boundary. Cyborgs defy boundaries and flourish in the slippery slopes between preconceived categories. What do we call a mouse with a human ear growing on its back? "Soon, perhaps," says Maureen McHugh, "it will be impossible to tell where human ends and machines begin".
In a restaurant, boundary maintenance manifests as those sitting near each other maintain their own space although they are physically proximal. On Myspace, people understand how to maintain boundaries even when they are challenged by outsiders - for instance, people know what status or social class they are and seek to reproduce that over time, reinforcing their own social behavior and blocking others - and communication with others who are outside that behavior.
Gatekeeping is a term widely used to describe the methodical process of controlling, filtering, and thereby enabling or limiting the access to and availability of information. The term has its origins in the field of mass communication and journalism but has evolved to encompass a wider array of disciplines and contexts, including sociology, information technology, and business management.
The digital age, characterized by the Internet and other forms of digital communication, has significantly augmented the availability and accessibility of information. This abundance has, paradoxically, led to the development of an opposing trend where certain entities—be they individuals, organizations, or algorithms—seek to control the informational flow. These boundary maintainers, or gatekeepers, can influence, manipulate, or even partially obstruct the dissemination of information, affecting public discourse, access to knowledge, and the dynamics of power in society.
In the context of cyborg anthropology, which examines the relationship between humans and technology, boundary maintenance can be applied to things like:
- Access to technological enhancements
- Information flow between organic and technological cyborg components
- Invitations and removal of participants in online/digital communities
- Debates over identity and representation of technologically enhanced beings
- Ethical boundaries regarding human-machine integration
- Data privacy considerations for cyborgs
As technology advances, issues surrounding access, identity, ethics, and information control will likely become increasingly relevant in the context of human-technology integration and cyborgs.
Role of the Gatekeeper
The gatekeeper's role can be seen in various domains:
- Media and Journalism: Deciding which news stories are broadcasted or published.
- Digital Platforms: Algorithmic control over what information or content appears in search engine results or social media feeds.
- Academic Publishing: Determining which research merits publication or funding.
- Corporate Governance: Regulating the flow of information within and outside an organization.
- Gray, Mentor, and Figueroa-Sarriera, eds., The Cyborg Handbook, New York: Routledge, 1995, pp. 13.