Tag Archives: cyborg

Moving Beyond the Binary of Connectivity

What does it mean to have access to the internet? It’s an apparently simple question that gets complicated when we consider the wide variety of ways people access the web and products from the web. Indeed, the question is wrapped up in recent debates about zero rating, net neutrality, “the next billion” and numerous initiatives designed to bring people from the developing world online.

At Theorizing the Web this year, I presented research that combined my fieldwork and personal observations in developing world internet contexts like rural northern Uganda, urban China and rural Philippines with emergent research and journalism on the use of sneakernets–the physical transfer of data using devices like USB sticks or Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones–in places like Mali, North Korea and Cuba. These latter formed the basis for my talk and a recent paper in The New Inquiry, in which I draw from Jan Chipchase’s writing on binary thinking about connectivity and how this ultimately overlooks the vast diversity of ways that people do access the web and its products. (more…)

The Hidden Anxieties of the Quantified Self Movement

The tools of my self-disciplining.

The tools of my self-disciplining.

The quantified self (QS) movement advertises itself as a way for individuals interested in tracking their daily lives to use sensors and computing technology to monitor their activities, whether those activities involve biological processes or social actions, to better understand the their habits and improve upon them. The tracking and use of personal data through proprietary sensing and software platforms is generally accepted as part of the benign “datification” of everyday life. These services span almost every activity, from making grocery shopping more efficient (Grocery IQ) to monitoring levels of physical activity (Fitbit). Many authors have made insightful criticisms and observations about the contemporary datification landscape as a system. Notably, Frank Pasquale, in The Black Box Society, writes about the increase of commercialization and the sale of users’ data, their “digital reputation,” in the opaque world of the data-as-insight industrial complex. This is a valuable systemic critique, yet I am more interested in the personal effects of self-quantification. I argue that the use of self-monitoring and tracking technologies can create anxiety around the data capturing process. Tracking technologies create an ordering of people and experiences that discourages moments which are not easily quantified. (more…)

Sex Toy Liberation, The Taboo of Replacement, And the Inner Animal: A Review of Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk

Chick Palahniuk's Beautiful You

Chick Palahniuk’s Beautiful You

Penny Harrigan is perfectly average and she’s never had an orgasm. She is the leading lady in Chuck Palahniuk’s latest book Beautiful You, in which C. Linus Maxwell, CEO of MicroDataCom releases a line of sex toys so potent that women literally recede from society, preferring to stay home to masturbate incessantly. Remember the 1998 episode of “Sex and the City” in which Charlotte became addicted to her rabbit vibrator? It’s like that, but global. The book is a quirky cross between a motivational anecdote about a woman’s journey to sexual empowerment, and a grim critique of dystopian industrialized society, just with painful details and boring writing.

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What the hell are people applauding for when they applaud the Apple Watch? 

Apple_-_Live_-_September_2014_Special_Event

What are all those people celebrating with their standing ovation? Even the guy on stage is applauding. Sure the new product is exciting, but applause? Unlike a play or a musical performance (even a U2 performance), nothing is actually happening on stage when a product is announced. All that work that goes into making a product was done months ago, and the audience isn’t even being asked (at the moment) to thank the people that made the product. Instead of rapt silence or an excited buzz, lots of people are moved to show their unbridled enthusiasm in a very specific way. It is the same kind of collective reaction that comes after a political speech and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. When we applaud the Apple Watch we’re applauding an imagined future. (more…)

Improving the Wearable

Image from Robert Cooke

Image from Robert Cooke

On Monday I posed two related questions:  “Are wearables like Glass relegated to the same fate as Bluetooth earpieces and the Discman, or can they be saved?  Is the entire category irredeemable or have we yet to see the winning execution?” I concluded that most of the problems have to do with the particular executions we’ve seen to date, but it’s also very possible that the very idea of the wearable is predicated on the digital dualist notion that interacting with a smartphone is inherently disruptive to a productive/happy/authentic lifestyle. Lot’s of devices are pitched as “getting out of the way” and only providing a little bit of information that is context specific and quickly (not to mention discreetly) displayed to the user. I contended that the motivation to make devices “invisible” can bring about some unintended consequences; mainly that early adopters experience the exact opposite reaction. Everyone pays attention to your face computer and nothing is getting out of the way at all. (more…)

My Dog, the Cyborg

pill

This post is a question. A highly self-indulgent question. About my dog. Consider yourself warned.

The question is this: why have I, a person who explicitly rejects mind-body dualisms, readily altered my dog’s physiology through medicine and surgeries, but strongly resisted altering his brain chemistry through anti-anxiety drugs? Or, in other words, why am I so cool with technologies of the body but distinctly uncomfortable with technologies of the mind?

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The Crown of Being: Full Essay (parts I & II)

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve put together a two part essay/review-like object that explores how one particular work of science fiction speaks directly to certain ideas of what cyborgs are and what it means to be them, with an eye toward a broader appreciation for how fiction allows for a richer understanding of theory. The full piece is below.

Cyborg writing is about the power to survive, not on the basis of original innocence, but on the basis of seizing the tools to mark the world that marked them as other.  –Donna Haraway

Inanna cast down Tammuz and stamped upon him and put out his name like an eye. And because Tammuz was not strong enough, she cut him into pieces and said: half of you will die, and that is the half called Thought, and half of you will live, and that is the half called Body, and that half will labor for me all of its days, mutely and obediently and without being King of Anything, and never again will you sit on my chair or wear my beautiful clothes or bear my crown of being.

You might be surprised, but this is a story about me.  –Catherynne M. Valente

Speculative fiction and this blog are not strangers to each other; it’s been written about here before,  as a means to understanding how the present has come to look the way it does, and as a means for the imagining of potential futures (also zombies). Indeed, the term cyborg always brings with it a host of connotations firmly rooted within SF, however much it may also describe a current and very real state of being. The important thing to pay attention to here is the power of stories – the ways in which they can serve as a way to do theory in a kind of experimental setting that would otherwise be impossible. In SF – and in fiction in general – we can take the implications of theory and watch them play out, see what they would look like, solidify them in words and images, pick parts of them up and move them around. We can tweak settings and watch other worlds unfold in response.

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We Danced to Become Machines

On Techno, Dancing, and the Augmented Self

1997, 3 am. I’m sitting against the concrete wall of a dark, empty warehouse, off Hegenberger Road in Oakland. My body is vibrating—a strong, healthy kick drum beating hard against my chest. I squint and see the DJ behind a booth, flanked by black speakers that look like monoliths. Silhouettes are scattered about: strangers dancing alone, in open spaces or near the speakers, but also in tribes, moving within circles.

My pulse is racing, thumping at the same tempo as the techno blasting in this space. The beat is urgent, extending each moment—making now last longer. And it’s kinetic, frenetic—like a rubber ball bouncing round the room. My friend’s forearm grazes mine, warm and slick from perspiration. As we touch, I feel the reverberation of the sound on her skin. The music is so loud, as if we’re in the bowels of a manufacturing plant, listening to machines repeating the same tasks over and over. These sounds consume each second, not giving me much space to think about much else.

I watch a cluster of dancers on the far side of the room. From afar, I see a flutter of geometric parts, picture flipbook pages turning in front of me. The dancers move too swift for my eyes to follow, and I see tracers of their limbs in the air. I think of Duchamp: his nude, descending a staircase, flashes before me. It feels like I have several pairs of glasses stacked sloppily on my face, and I’m peeking through a kaleidoscope in the dark.

Glowing bits and streaks of neon green and yellow and pink are sprinkled throughout this darkness, creating a network of electric vertices floating in space. A series of lasers shoots out from the opposite wall, casting a (more…)

The High Cost of Abstention

Every Saturday morning I set up cages and tables at a retail outlet where a local animal rescue agency holds adoptions. On a recent Saturday morning, I was talking with an employee who had to cancel her internet service due to financial constraints. The hardest thing about this, she said, was her absence from Facebook. Not only was she outside of the social communication loop, but talked about a weekend trip with friends where she found herself socially marginalized. She wound up in the kitchen making fruit salad as people popped in to grab strawberries before returning to conversations from which she was excluded.

Technically, Social media is optional. No laws or formal rules require that we participate. As seen in the example above, however, there is a strong social cost to abstention. As an integral aspect of everyday life, social media is increasingly difficult to opt out of. P.J. Rey points this out in his recent discussion of Facebook exploitation. Here, I want to explore why and how this is the case. (more…)

Politics of Beauty and Pleasure

As Langdon Winner aptly points out, artifacts have politics. They have politics built into them, are used with political intention, and interpreted through political lenses. Often times, however, the politics of an artifact are hidden from view, disguised, or misleading.  Here at Cyborgology we often deconstruct the political meanings and implications of different kinds of artifacts. Today, I want to deconstruct two artifacts that operate with the potential for, and under the guise of, technologically facilitated feminist liberation. Specifically, I look at the Fuck Skinny Bitches internet memes, and the now vastly present and prevalent female-coded masturbation devices (i.e. vibrators and dildos)[i]. I argue that these artifacts, rather than dissolving hierarchical gendered boundaries of bodily control and sexual pleasure, surreptitiously trace over these boundaries with invisible ink, only to be revealed under the light of critical sociological analysis.

Recently, we have seen in influx of internet memes that attempt to provide a feminist rejection of hegemonic standards of the beautiful body. These memes contrast images of curvaceous women to very slender women and include text that preferences the larger body/bodies. These are portrayed as the feminist answer to the unrealistic body sizes showcased and revered on runways, red carpets, and the annually released  Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. I call these Fuck Skinny Bitches memes. A couple of examples are pictured below. (more…)