In my jet-lagged state of being tired but unable to sleep or focus on anything more substantive, I have watched a few movies. Two, serendipitously, have resonated with the themes explored by Akiko Busch in her book, How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency. In The Mitchells Vs. The Machines (2021), the self-described weird Mitchell family stumbles into an apocalyptic fight against artificial intelligence (AI) taking over planet earth and seeking to eliminate human beings. It brought instantly to my mind Busch’s litany of household appliances equipped with increasingly sophisticated AI capacities that translate into the threat of a surveillance state and the violation of privacy—privacy willingly given away for the sake of increased convenience. In He’s All That (2021), main character Padgett Sawyer gains her sense of identity and future security as a teen social media influencer. Her entire life is publicly visible until a relationship crisis forces her to reevaluate and begin to claim some private, interior space. Her character embodies the visibility that Busch describes as “…the self-promotion, personal branding, and ability to create and cultivate assorted profiles—consumer, social, political, professional—on social media that are viewed as valued, indeed essential, commodities.” All the while, school principal Bosch serves as the voice crying in the digital wilderness, calling students to be present to the dance happening right in front of them rather than watching it on TikTok, begging the question: what is really real to people who have different experiences and exposure to current and emerging technologies? This blurring of physical and digital realities is another facet of the visible/invisible tension explored by Busch in How to Disappear.
I found it challenging to classify How to Disappear. The Library of Congress lists it as a Physics text focused on Optics/Light under the Science Classification. It is true that Busch references these elements of physics as she poetically describes the light spectrum in her Introduction or discusses the physical realness of invisibility. But she also references psychoanalysis, children’s literature, neurobiology, and the wonders of the animal kingdom and natural world, amongst other genres. She states, “…my hope is to compile a field guide to invisibility, one to reacquaint us with the possibilities of the unseen world, to reimagine and reengineer our place in it with greater engagement and creative participation.” Her stated aim points me more in the direction of the social sciences because she hopes to equip readers with a new or renewed set of tools for navigating the unseen world of our interior lives lived out in both the digital and natural world contexts and the relationships developed in those divergent spaces. Busch writes lyrical, poetic prose to develop her field guide, essay by essay. Her reflections often feel as if I’m reading a memoir. I feel invited into her journey as she explores the tensions presented by the visible/invisible dimensions of contemporary life. Her vivid word pictures remind me that she is on the faculty of the School of Visual Arts in New York City. So, perhaps this is more of a biographical memoir that references a range of other subject areas as she navigates the visible/invisible divide than solely an exploration of the physics of invisibility.
As Busch explores how we humans develop our capacity for navigating the invisible world, her emphasis on our private, interior selves versus what we reveal of ourselves to the outside world reminds me of Walker’s frontstage/backstage thesis. Busch brings a narrower focus to this topic, zeroing in on the need to develop a strong sense of self by staying “out of view when we need to.” Her concern is that the ubiquitous presence of invasive technology and the drive to be visible at all times will diminish our capacity to truly develop a strong sense of self. Walker’s thesis is more deeply rooted in research and articulates the diverse frontstage/backstage personas that exist. He does not account for the formational role of technology in this tension.
Reading Busch leaves me acutely aware of how deeply impacting technology is and can be on our human development. As I examine issues related to social cohesion in my NPO, and focus on working with young people between the ages of 16-22, I will need to consider more fully the place and influence of both AI and social media technologies and how they shape perceptions and experiences of what is really real. While I didn’t particularly experience How to Disappear as a practical field guide to navigate this challenging world of present and emerging technologies, I did find that her subtitle, Notes on invisibility in a Time of Transparency, rang true. Her notes, in the form of lyrical essays, have given me much to mull-over as I continue my NPO development.
 Busch, Akiko. 2019. How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency. New York: Penguin Press, 4-6.
 Ibid., 7.
 Ibid., 3, 50.
 Ibid., 20.
 Ibid., 1-3 for example.
 Ibid., 29.