Things Can Be Otherwise 3

On Being With Technology

This was the session that I was most excited for because I have a lot of interest in the way that people exist with things such as the internet, artificial intelligence, drones and virtual reality.

The two main ideas that we were going to cover were:

  • Humans are cyborgs, so what?
  • How technology shapes your understanding and reality.

First we dealt with this statement:

Humans are cyborgs.

I agree with this statement but first, an explanation on what a cyborg is.

Donna Harraway says that ‘a cyborg is a hybrid of technology and organism'(taken from The Cyborg Manifesto by Hardaway). But without understanding what is meant by technology, it isn’t really that helpful because it doesn’t necessarily make the idea of a cyborg believable on its own. For example General Grievous from Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith is the kind of fantastical, wild and cool looking cyborg most people would immediately understand to be a cyborg, but is not necessarily the only definition or ‘correct’ image of a cyborg.

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General Grievous is a fearsome example of the stereotypical idea of a cyborg from science fiction but are we getting closer to bringing things like this to everyday life? Or does’cyborg’ take on a whole other implication? Picture taken from Google Images.

 

So to continue with the explanation of what a cyborg is, we need to understand what is meant by technology. The reason why we might ask or discuss what technology is, is because in the digital age, it is easy to think or understand technology as being anything that is electrical and digital in some way but that isn’t really the case. A pencil can be regarded as technology, low key technology for sure, but technology nonetheless.

Technology can be understood or defined as tools that not only enact human intent but shape possibility and reality.  Going back to the example of a pencil. The pencil might enable me to a drawing that I specifically want it too, but the pencil itself, the qualities of it can also influence or completely dictate the way I draw a drawing. Needless to say I draw differently with a pencil than I do a pen or charcoal or any other thing because I allow the ‘technology’ to shape my actions rather than the other way around. It’s this idea that, in some cases, you might ‘listen’ or enact the will of the material rather than the material doing exactly what the user wants.

So with this in mind we might begin to understand exactly what is meant by a cyborg and why I personally agree with the idea that humans are cyborgs and always have been.

A cyborg is a human who’s limitations as a human are overcome by the use of technology.

For example, as a lone human, I am unable to make a pot but in making a pot by using a throwing wheel, potters knives and clay i.e. the relevant technology used in making a pot, I overcome the limitation (not being able to make a pot) which in turn makes me a cyborg.

But it doesn’t even have to be something so deliberate or unnecessary per say as a pot, it could be in regards to the most basic of survival needs. To cook food we use fire, we can’t cook things on our own. To keep warm we build shelters, we can’t keep ourselves warm enough to survive all by ourselves. And that is why, in my mind at least, humans have always been cyborgs. We have always needed to utilise the things around us because we can’t survive as our base selves. We have always needed weaponry to hunt/defend because, let’s be honest is a plain human that much use against a hungry tiger?

That point brings me back to the question posed at the start:

Humans are cyborgs, so what?

And to that I say, I agree. So what if humans are cyborgs? It doesn’t change the nature of humans if they’ve always been cyborgs does it, we’ve still got to where we are either way, so I don’t know what the big deal is about it to be completely honest. The more pressing and important issue to me is now that we’re thinking or starting to think of ourselves in this way is what will we do now? What will we do with the information that we are/always have been cyborgs? Go into the corner and have a tantrum about the human essence being tainted or something? I think it more prudent to forget that and think about how we need to exist in the future.

We need to get a grasp on what our cyborg status means for us and our home, namely the planet. It is largely our cyborg status and way living/surviving that has made humans so unsustainable in almost every way conceivable. That’s why I think we should be more aware of what we’re doing and use our status as the most intellectually gifted species on the planet to create a solution to a less destructive existence.

If by now you’re still convinced that wearing a pair of glasses makes somebody a cyborg and you prefer to think that cyborgs are purely a thing of science fiction, then I’m afraid that’s not really true anymore. Remember what I was saying about General Grievous earlier on about being a work of fiction? Well the thing is that’s becoming less and less the case. It’s getting to the point where people are able to modify themselves and survive with less and less of the body they were born in. There’s a documentary called The Metal Gear Man that I saw recently on BBC iPlayer, which was about somebody who lost two limbs after being hit by a train who got an opportunity to get a 3D printed limb based on a gaming character called Solid Snake from the Metal Gear series. The documentary also showed a conference for people who call themselves body hackers. It showed a guy who injected himself with a microchip so that he could open his door with his hand.

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BodyHacking Con is a gathering of people who wish to ‘improve’ their bodies with upgrades that would only have been imagined in films and video games a few years ago. Image taken from Google Images.
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James Young with his 3D printed Metal Gear prosthetic. Image taken from Google Images. 

So really, whichever idea of a cyborg you subscribe to, it’s hard to avoid the fact that humans are cyborgs.

 

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