As I type this, I am being a cyborg
As you read this, you are being a cyborg.
Cybernetic organisms, or more commonly ‘cyborgs’, are everywhere as it turns out.
The other day I stumbled upon a website via twitter called Stop the Cyborgs. Their blog is dedicated to discussing and analyzing why wearable technology, such as Google Glass, should be discouraged. They are concerned that future technologies will create a world in which privacy is no longer an option because of expanded surveillance and control coming from a more deceptive “authority embedded in the design of techno-social systems”, thereby also infringing upon fairness and justice. Personally, I think this approach is just a little paranoid for me to accept but that’s not what I want to discuss. What stood out most to me about their website was the title: Stop the Cyborgs. I couldn’t help but wonder to myself, isn’t it a bit too late for that?
Consider this 8 minute Ted Talk, We Are All Cyborgs Now, by Amber Case in 2010. She discusses what it means to be a cyborg and points out that cyborgs are more common than you’d think:
“You’re cyborgs every time you look at a computer screen or use one of your cell phone devices. [A cyborg] is an organism to which exogenous components have been added for the purpose of adapting to new environments.”
If that is true, then it is indeed very much too late to ‘stop the cyborgs’. Our cellphones, laptops, tablets and small gaming devices are practically attached to us everywhere we go. We watch TV and play on gaming consoles. As Case mentions, we create technology such as space suits or scuba diving equipment that allows us to adapt to space or the depths of the ocean. All of this technology has been created by humans, for humans. They make things easier and quicker, they extend our physiological limits and provide entertainment for us. We have all been cyborgs for some time now.
Case talks about ‘extension of the mental self’ and uses the computer as an example of this. Our computers are sacred to us because they are an extension of our own mind in a physical sense. They contain information considered vital to each of us, such as school notes, photos, music, games, records, recorded projects and other important documents. Our computers have been personalized to match ourselves in the real world. Your web history, emails and other documents may reveal what kind of person you are and what kind of person you are not, what you like and what you dislike. To lose all of that would be, for some people, a terrible ordeal.
“We can put anything we want into [a computer], and it doesn’t get heavier, and we can take anything out. If you actually lose that information, it means that you suddenly have this loss in your mind, that you suddenly feel like something’s missing, except you aren’t able to see it.” (Case)
I can actually relate to this. When I was in grade 11, I managed to accidentally delete all the files on my computer right before the end of the semester. I lost a lot of pictures, music and documents, but specifically I lost all of the notes for my philosophy class journal that we were supposed to individually write throughout the semester. I cried, I was frustrated, I was mad and I hated computers and their unreliableness. But, life went on, I did something else for my end of term philosophy project, and I ended up getting 92% in the class anyway. The whole episode did not profoundly effect my life in the long run and looking back on the event now, it really wasn’t nearly as dramatic and terrible as I thought it was. But at the time, it certainly felt like it. One second you have all the info you need right at your finger tips. The next, you’re watching a bar on your computer that say ‘Deleting Files’ fill up in microseconds, and it’s the end of the world.
Another interesting concept that Case mentions is the ‘second self’. This refers to your online presence and the way in which you present yourself in the virtual world. We all have a second self whether it be your Facebook profile, your Linked In Profile, Twitter profile, Google+ or Youtube. I have taken this idea a step further in representing myself on this website as Erin Fink-Nottle (which if you didn’t already know is my chosen pen name). While Erin Fink-Nottle and Emma are still one and the same person, I will appear differently to my audience here on this website than to my friends on Facebook. By that I mean, here at Cyber Anthropology I am a university student sharing my thoughts and ideas in carefully constructed, well written blog posts. On Facebook, I am simply just a girl, sister and friend, with tons of photos of my pets and updates from Lady Gaga on my home page. I guess you could say that I have two second selfs really. Regardless, your second self has to be maintained, as Case says. Your digital self must be up to date with your real self. Your profile picture and other information must be current, otherwise you and your second self will fall out of sync.
This is where being a cyborg really comes in. In today’s world, many people represent themselves via technology through their phones and laptops with online profiles, comments, messages and videos. As a result, technology shapes itself to represent you.
That profile picture looks a lot like you, it’s even got your name and the same birthday! That’s because it is you.
This comment here on this post sounds a lot like something you’d say. That’s because you did say it.
It’s possible in this day and age to know someone via their second self without ever having met that person in real life. We do this all the time when we look at someone’s Facebook profile who we don’t really know in person, or when we talk to strangers in discussion forums, message boards, groups chats or comment sections. In this way, we have melded ourselves together with technology (not physically, but mentally) so that we can interact with others without being there in person. Hence, we’re all cyborgs, and we’re everywhere.
One of Case’s concerns with being a cyborg is that people do not take enough time for ‘mental reflection’. You often here people say, especially younger people, things like “I could never live without my phone!” Perhaps you’re one of those people. Case calls this ‘ambient intimacy’. People constantly check their phones and their accounts for notifications or new activity. Why is that? I think the answer lies within human nature. People like to belong, they like to be ‘in the know’, and they like to be connected. The problem today is that people are connecting only virtually a lot of the time, they depend and rely upon it to maintain relationships that they can’t physically sustain in reality. I know I do this with people that I don’t or can’t really see anymore on a daily basis. We sporadically talk over Facebook and…that’s it. In today’s world, everyone has two relationships with the people they know: an online one and an offline one. One can affect the other and vice versa. For example, how many time’s have you been offended if someone didn’t reply to your message or text but it turns out, in reality, they just happened to be busy at the time or perhaps didn’t even receive the message? Error’s in technological miscommunication arise all the time and can have very negative effects in relationships. I think Case’s point with this is that we need to disconnect to reconnect once in a while.
Another issue Case mentions in this cyborg-filled world is that modern technology can be very addicting and exciting, especially for teens and children.
“I’m really worried that, especially kids today, they’re not going to be dealing with this down-time, that they have an instantaneous button-clicking culture, and that everything comes to them, and that they become very excited about it and very addicted to it.” (Case)
This makes for very impatient children in today’s world. My mom has noticed this with my siblings and I. My brother, who is the oldest, is far more patient than either me or my sister. I can be fairly impatient with some things, but my younger sister is even more impatient when it comes to technology, especially when trying to teach my mom how to do something technically. I’ve noticed that it has gotten even worse in younger people today and I happened to witness such an example the other day.
Last weekend I was coming back on the ferry and had set myself up in one of the work stations where there are plugs to charge your devices and work in a private work area. My computer was practically dead and I decided to charge it up and go on the Internet for a bit. The Internet connection, however, was horrible and extremely slow, so I mostly just typed up some notes in Word. A little while later, a young boy of about 7 came and sat in the station next to me. His mom had given him a laptop and mouse and he promptly set it up, and proceeded to connect to the Internet (something I wouldn’t have had a clue how to do at age 7). But because the connection was so bad, I could see him getting frustrated and mad as he continuously tried to connect. It’s a little unnerving seeing such a younger generation so insistently dependant upon something that can be so unreliable at times.
That being said though, I do not think technology is a bad thing, as long as we realize that there’s more to life than checking our social media and instead of living online, we should strive to live in the world as it is now, happening around us at this very moment. Case finishes by saying machines are not ‘taking over’, rather they are helping us to become more human by helping us to connect with one another in a way that has never before been done in the history of humanity.
It is inevitable that technology will evolve and new technologies will arise. Google Glass is no different from carrying around your cellphone or Ipad, except now you can wear it. Of course it still has to be tweaked and modified as it is a new product, but it will continue and things like it will evolve, there is no point in trying to ‘stop’ that because for one thing, it’s already happening. Technology is an extremely useful tool – what matters is what we do with it and how we allow ourselves to evolve with it as cyborgs.