Posts Tagged ‘ cyborg ’

Cyborgization = Evolution?

HuCo 500 – Weekly questions

Communications technologies and biotechnologies are the crucial tools recrafting our bodies. These tools embody and enforce new social relations for women world-wide. Technologies and scientific discourses can be partially understood as formalizations, i.e., as frozen moments, of the fluid social interactions constituting them, but they should also be viewed as instruments for enforcing meanings. The boundary is permeable between tool and myth, instrument and concept, historical systems of social relations and historical anatomies of possible bodies, including objects of knowledge. Indeed, myth and tool mutually constitute each other. (Haraway)

Throughout this course, I think my questions have demonstrated that I am particularly concerned with how technology fundamentally changes how we think.  Donna Haraway, a bit dramatically, states the obvious about the transformations that are occurring and have occurred in our society (or ‘politics’, in the sense that Haraway uses the word): that we are all socially constructed by the tools we rely on to shape our reality.  We are all cyborgs, already, since in many cases the tools have already been embodied; we use them to define ourselves.  They shape our mythology.  Take, for instance, the act of knowledge acquisition; the internet as technological development has changed how we process and evaluate information by making it almost universally accessible and mostly unfiltered, and by putting the means of production and mass-dissemination in the hands of the public.  The speed of communication has also affected how we process information; it has created social expectations, new conventions for interaction.  An individual of average intelligence from fifty years ago would have to struggle to make sense of our 21st century reality, and would likely experience a crippling anxiety just trying to keep up with what the individual of average intelligence today does effortlessly.[1] Arguably this could be said of any given time period, but I think the changes over time have never been so drastic or dramatic throughout human history than in the last two decades, and almost entirely due to how technology has transformed our lives.  My question is: where does such a paradigm lead?  What does it mean for us, as human beings, to become increasingly defined by our technologies (rather than defining them)?

This is the great secret of language: Because it comes from inside us, we believe it to be a direct, unedited, unbiased, apolitical expression of how the world is.  A machine, on the other hand, is outside of us, clearly created by us, modifiable by us… (Postman, 124-125)

Do machines that are communication devices (i.e. that facilitate the expression of language, interaction, the sharing of ideas verbally or visually/textually) take on the properties of language—that is, do we begin to internalize the machines, see them as extensions of our selves, as “direct, unedited, unbiased”—or, quite the opposite, do they afford us the opportunity of perceiving language as the technology that it is, with a set of assumptions about the world implicit in its construction?

Readings

Haraway, Donna (1991). “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge. pp.149-181.

Postman, Neil  (1993). “Invisible Technologies.” Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. New York: Vintage Books. pp.123-143.


[1] A fascinating study would be to assess the level of anxiety and the struggle that Canadian immigrants from third world/under-developed countries face when confronted with the technologies and their social conventions.  It could perhaps help answer the question of how fundamental the change affected by technology is, in our perception of reality.

“Born Digital” Experiences: Identity crisis waiting to happen?

HuCo 500 – Weekly questions

Questions:

Note: Rather than two separate questions, this week I’ve come up with a series of related questions addressing a single idea inspired by one of the readings. These questions take the form of a short, personal response.

As our lives and experiences become more digital, the records of our experiences become less tangible. (Viegas et al, 2004)

Is this statement true? It seems to me when considering the digital/analog dichotomy, the ‘record of our experiences’ has in fact become more explicit with the advent of the Internet. Social media applications such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter allow us to track our lives in the most minute detail; blogging, microblogging, “lifestreams”, these all provide ways for us to record and trace our experiences over time. Social networks (Facebook, MySpace) allow us to track the relationships that we maintain and the patterns that they represent in our lives. If anything, the ‘record of our experiences’ has become more tangible, not less. The question is rather how accurate a representation of our experiences is the record? Our digital record naturally biases our “born digital” experiences (to borrow a term from last week’s readings); the Internet is a space in which we spend a significant portion of our lives and where we have experiences (rather than simply being a medium with which to record them). For example, the relationships we make within a massively multiplayer online game (MMO) may be more heavily recorded online than relationships we have in our “analog” lives. Does that make them more or less real? More or less important?

The argument presented by Viegas et al. suggests that there are digital experiences that are obscured from the record; but how is this different than “analog” experiences (i.e. the experiences that occur outside the digital space)? There are many things that we do that do not require, demand, or deserve to be recorded. I can’t remember, for instance, what I had for breakfast three weeks ago last Monday. In this sense, the record has not become more or less tangible; it is, perhaps, less relevant. Perhaps the problem is how we make sense of the massive amount of information we create in the digital space. We need to translate the digital record of our experiences into something we can interpret more easily– into something “analog”. Visualization is one of the tools that allow us to do this. In essence, visualization is translation of digital media.

Viegas et al. indicate that we attach personal meaning to objects, that these objects are tied to our senses of self and reality, of what is and who we are. The fact that they are examining email as one such object indicates that these objects can just as easily be virtual as physical. As our lives become more digital, so will the objects we imbue with meaning. What will this mean for us and how we construct our realities?

Readings:

Viegas, Fernanda, danah boyd, David H. Nguyen, Jeffrey Potter, and Judith Donath (2004). Digital Artifacts for Remembering and Storytelling: PostHistory and SocialNetworkFragments. Proceedings of the 37th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.

Arya, Agustin (2003). The Hidden Side of Visualization. Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology. Winter 2003.

The New Robot Workforce

W I R E D | Autonomous Robots Invade Retail Warehouses | WIRED Science

Video and transcript:
(source: wired.com)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fdd6sQ8Cbe0
http://blog.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/01/retailrobots.html

 

Next time you order a new pair of skinny jeans from Gap.com, you should know that you are helping welcome in the hive-mind robot overlords of retail. Warehouses run by Gap, as well as Zappos and Staples now use autonomous robots to pluck products from their shelves and send them to you.

Human worker: “Over here, with the robots, it seems a lot better.”

Does anyone see this as the first real development this century of the division of labour paradigm? You have to wonder how the efficiency of the Kiva robots (touted as the great benefit in the article/video) will affect the human workforce (obviously, if they’re so efficient, these warehouses can function with less human workers). Where are the luddites?

And more importantly, what happens when self-awarness becomes part of the package? I see robot unions by 2100.

EBR: IN Review

After Thursday’s cyborgia.net-sponsored commercial for the Electronic Book Review, I felt I should try to back up my praise for the site with a sampling of some of its contributions. And as I do that, I’ll discuss a bit about how EBR is presented online. Each essay or review is filed under one of the following colour-coded categories, or “threads” (including the “thread editor’s statement”):

Electropoetics

For many who are committed to working in electronic environments, an electronic “review” might better be named a “retrospective,” a mere scholarly commemoration of a phenomenon that is passing. There’s a technological subtext to the declining prestige of authors and literary canons. To bring that subtext to the surface will be part of ebr‘s agenda.

((I think it’s crucial to point out that, in a culture that’s gone from uniformly print-based to radically electronic-based in just a couple short decades, we must acknowledge and try to grasp the rapidly evolving role of canons, authors, and texts (as presented in the above intro). It suggests nothing short of a paradigm shift in what we consider “literary”.))

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Introducing the Electronic Book Review

The Electronic Book Review (EBR) is one of these stunningly untapped literary resources available on the internet, the kind of place that you stumble across entirely by accident like Alice from the rabbit hole. You spend a couple hours skipping from review to review, text to text, overcome with a shivering sense of awe at the ideas it generates inside you, glimpses of limitless vistas of thought caught out the corner of your eye.

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A Sudden Insight on Cyborgs

Cyborgs actually exist. About 10 percent of the current U.S. population are estimated to be cyborgs in the technical sense, including people with electronic pacemakers, artificial joints, drug-implant systems, implanted corneal lenses, and artificial skin. (N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman, 115.)

It’s sometimes hard for me to distinguish the difference between this technical definition of the cyborg and the more elusive, metaphoric definition. Probably because, writing about narratives and cultural constructions, I trade mainly in metaphors. But the fact remains, and it should be made perfectly clear, cyborgs are a reality.

A much higher percentage participates in occupations that make them into metaphoric cyborgs, including the computer keyboarder joined in cybernetic circuit with the screen, the neurosurgeon guided by fiber-optic microscopy during an operation, and the adolescent game player in the local video-game arcade.

In this way– as Haraway’s chimera, as the ever-shifting figmental blur– we are all cyborgs. In the way that Pattie Belle Hastings’ cyborg survey defines it, we are cyborgs. Is it okay for us to think of ourselves in this way? Does it mean anything that I can quite easily define myself and most of the people around me as cybernetic (wo)man-machine organisms?

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I am a chimera (Part 2)

Every junkie, he thought, is a recording. (Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly, 159)

And, according to Christopher Isherwood in Goodbye to Berlin, perhaps he is more specifically a camera.

I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Someday all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.

Like a machine. Isherwood gives us the view of a posthuman subject. In this way, Isherwood’s detached self-as-camera and the perspective of the posthuman as addict agree. As indicated in part 1, the posthuman subject is a culture junkie, addicted to feeling. Without input to record, without images to photograph, he is like a blank disk, an unused roll of film. We see, perhaps we see more, but we feel only on cue, we feel what the image tells us to feel. And that is one interpretation.

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