Electric Dreams

Digital Dreaming Series: (8b)

Uses of Computer Dreams as Personal and Cultural Meaning Maps

Richard Catlett Wilkerson

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  Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (2002 March). Digital Dreaming Series (8b): Uses of Computer Dreams as Personal and Cultural Meaning Maps.  Electric Dreams 9(4).

For more articles on computer dreams see list at bottom

Fill out the online survey form on computer dreams:

As we begin dreaming more about computers and other digital machines, we dream less of other machines, and less of other objects. This study was started to look into what kinds of imagery that are being replaced, (horses and buggies, T.V. ect) what they are representing, and how computer imagery is functioning in and through our dreams.

But there are also uses of computer dreams.

Michael Vannoy Adams notes in the 1997 Clinical Social Work Journal that the computer as a metaphor shows up in dreams and in the clinical transference.(1) Many of the issues that the therapist might watch for in the transference and counter-transference appear in the paradigm of computers and computing, including computer instructors as the analyst, the frustration of learning computers as a way to explore the frustration of therapy, the inability to absorb new computer tasks as the inability assimilate new feelings or new consciousness in the analytic encounter. The relation to the computer as a whole can be a way to explore the patient's resistance to therapy as a whole or even one's attitude towards life. Adams sites a positive example:

"…the patient mentioned that she had ordered a computer. The computer, she said, represented an investment in her future, a commitment to it. " (pg. 31).

But the same patient reports that computers sometimes eat up her graphic projects and the instructor doesn't know why. Adams notes:

"Although the patient is invested in and committed to the project, she is concerned about her psychic aptitude for it. The craziness of her computer frustrates her creative efforts to design images that would graphically depict her psychic reality. Neither she nor her instructor (by transference, her therapist) can explain why her computer is unable to retain or retrieve these images, which are devoured and swallowed, lost in some apparently inaccessible, digital dimension that functions remarkably like the unconscious. " (pg. 31)

While Adam's main point is that we needn't buy into the psyche-as-computer metaphor to understand how the mind is using computers metaphorically, his examples open the door for therapists, dreamworkers and others interested in how the mind processes and works with digital objects to begin exploring the machinic phylum of metaphors.

Patricia Garfield, Ph. D. has picked up on this notion of the importance of machines in dreams and included machines and how we relate to them in dreams as one of her 12 major sections of Universal Dreams. (2) Section 9 on Machine dreams includes not only a focus on "My Computer Won't Work" (pg. 202) but also delineates machine malfunctions into categories such as"Hardware Problems", "Software Problems" and "Internet or Virtual Reality Problems."
As Garfield points out, while we can assign typical machine interpretations to these digital machines, such as poor connections equaling not connecting with the communication parts of life, (phone goes dead while talking to a boyfriend as there being some lack of connection in the relationship) she further notes that the digital metaphors are still open to being worked out by future researchers. Do dreams about hardware refer to our body, while dreams about software refer to the more malleable mind and habits? Or is it like Adams suggests, that the metaphorical map will have to be worked out for each individual?

More than likely, both directions will yield maps that can be used in profound ways. Understanding the collective meanings for metaphors helps us to use them for communication between individuals and groups. We can talk to one another about large concepts, such as digital or virtual, by sharing a similar sentiment about the many meanings of these terms, but also the general underlying common understanding. These may be actual people and groups, or inner people and groups of our psyche. On the other hand, the development of metaphorical maps that are more personal allow us to align ourselves with new, emerging metaphors that can then be applied to either one's own life or shared in the development of culture in general. Both personal and collective maps merge in the research and interpretation of dreams.


1. Adams, Michael Vannoy (1997). Metaphors in Psychoanalytic Theory and Therapy. Clinical Social Work Journal. 25(1), 27-39.

2. Garfield, Patricia (2001). The Universal Dream Key: The 12 Most Common Dream Themes Around the World. New York, NY: Cliff Street Books/Harper Collins.

Please send in computer dreams and keep the digital dreaming research project going. rcwilk@dreamgate.com

OR use the survey form:


Other articles:

Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (1999 August). Research Request: Computer's in Dreams : Pre and Post Internet Perceptions. Electric Dreams & Part I Pre-Net Electric Dreams 6(8). Retrieved October 30, 2000 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://members.telocity.com/rcw666/ed-articles/richard_wilkerson_1999_aug_computers_in_dreams.htm

Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (2000 March). Digital Dreams: The changing (inter)face of dreams in the twenty-first century. Electric Dreams 7(3). Retrieved October 30, 2000 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://members.telocity.com/rcw666/ed-articles/richard_wilkerson_2000_mar_computer-dreams1.htm

Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (2000 July). Digital Dreaming Series: Computer Dreams II : The changing (inter)face of dream texts. Electric Dreams 7(7). Retrieved October 30, 2000 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://members.telocity.com/rcw666/ed-articles/richard_wilkerson_2000_july_computer-dreams2.htm

Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (2000 November). Digital Dreaming Series: Computer Dreams III :: The Digital Shift in Culture. Electric Dreams 7(11). Retrieved October 30, 2000 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://members.telocity.com/rcw666/ed-articles/richard_wilkerson_2000_nov_computer-dreams3.htm

Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (2001 January). Digital Dreaming Series: Computer Dreams IV :: Dream Code and Decoded Flows. Electric Dreams 8(1). Retrieved December 31, 2000 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://members.telocity.com/rcw666/ed-articles/richard_wilkerson_2001_jan_computer-dreams4.htm

Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (2001 May). Digital Dreaming Series: Computer Dreams V :: Emergence of Digital Imagery in Analog Dreamers. Electric Dreams 8(5). Retrieved May 1, 2001 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://members.telocity.com/rcw666/ed-articles/richard_wilkerson_2001_may_computer-dreams5.htm

Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (2001 June). Digital Dreaming Series: Computer Dreams VI  ::  Digital Dreaming: Emergence or Replacement Imagery? Electric Dreams 8(6). Retrieved July 7, 2001 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web:

Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (2001 August). Digital Dreaming Series: Digital Dreaming Research Project: Project Goals and Considerations. Electric Dreams 8(9). Retrieved August 26, 2001 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web:

Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (2001 August). Digital Dreaming Series: (7b) Digital Dreams from March 2001 through April 2001.  Electric Dreams 8(9). Retrieved August 26, 2001 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: