Winnicott believes that during all stages of life we continue to search for objects we experience as both within and outside the self. We give up the baby blanket, but we continue to search for the feeling of oneness it provided. We find them in moments of feeling "at one" with the world, what Freud called the "oceanic feeling." We find these moments when we are at one with a piece of art, a vista in nature, a sexual experience.
As a scientific proposition, the theory of the transitional object has its limitations. But as a way of thinking about connection, it provides a powerful tool for thought...it offered me a way to begin to understand the new relationships that people were beginning to form with computers...I could see that computers were not "just tools." They were intimate machines. People experienced them as part of the self, separate but connected to the self.
A novelist using a word processing program referred to "my ESP with the machine. The words float out. I share the screen with my words." An architect who used the computer to design goes went even further: "I don't see the building in my mind until I start to play with shapes and forms on the machine. It comes to life in the space between my eyes and the screen."...After studying programming, a thirteen year old girl said, that when working with the computer, "there's a little piece of your mind and now it's a little piece of the computer's mind and you come to see yourself differently." A programmer talked about his "Vulcan mind meld" with the computer.
This way of thinking about the computer as an evocative objects puts us on the inside of a new inside joke. For when psychoanalysts talked about object relations, they had always been talking about people. From the beginning, people saw computers as "almost-alive" or "sort of alive." With the computer, object relations psychoanalysis can be applied to, well, objects. People feel at one with video games, with lines of computer code, with the avatars they play in virtual worlds, with their smartphones. Classical transitional objects are meant to be abandoned, their power recovered in moments of heightened experience. When our current digital devices—our smartphones and cellphones—take on the power of transitional objects, a new psychology comes into play. These digital objects are never meant to be abandoned. We are meant to become cyborg.