Tag Archives: cyborg

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…)

The Data Self (A Dialectic)

What Facebook knows about you, via the Spectacular Optical tumblr (click for more images)

Rob Horning has been working on the topic of the “Data Self.” His project has a close parallel to my own work and after reading his latest post, I’d like to jump in and offer a conceptual distinction for thinking about the intersection of the online/data/Profile and the offline/Person.

The problem is that our online presence is too often seen as only the byproduct of our offline selves. Sometimes we talk about the way online profiles are passive reflections of who we are and what we do and other times we acknowledge our profiles are also partly performative adjustments to the “reality” of the person. However, in all the discussion of individuals creating this content what is often neglected is how the individual, in all of their offline experience, behavior and existence, is simultaneously being created by this very online data. We cannot describe how a person creates their Profile without always acknowledging how the Profile creates the person.

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Progress versus ableism: The case of Ekso


Eksobionics, a company dedicated to the augmentation of the human body, recently developed Ekso—a “bionic exoskeleton that allows wheelchair users to stand and walk.” In this post, I pose a question to which I honestly do not have a definitive answer: Does this development represent human progress or does it further perpetuate the subordination of physically impaired bodies?

I begin with a brief background on the company and a description of the product. I then present arguments for both progress and ableism. Finally, I question —but ultimately defend—the validity of this dichotomy. (more…)

Trust and Complex Technology: The Cyborg’s Modern Bargain

A few weeks back, I wrote a post about special pieces of technology (e.g., backpacks, glasses, a Facebook profile), which become so integrated into our routines that they become almost invisible to us, seeming to act as extension of our own consciousness. I explained that this relationship is what differentiates equipment from tools, which we occasionally use to complete specific tasks, but which remain separate and distinct to us. I concluded that our relationship with equipment fundamentally alters who we are. And, because we all use equipment, we are all cyborgs (in the loosest sense).

In this essay, I want to continue the discussion about our relationship with the technology we use. Adapting and extending Anthony Giddens’ Consequences of Modernity, I will argue that an essential part of the cyborganic transformation we experience when we equip Modern, sophisticated technology is deeply tied to trust in expert systems. It is no longer feasible to fully comprehend the inner workings of the innumerable devices that we depend on; rather, we are forced to trust that the institutions that deliver these devices to us have designed, tested, and maintained the devices properly. This bargain—trading certainty for convenience—however, means that the Modern cyborg finds herself ever more deeply integrated into the social circuit. In fact, the cyborg’s connection to technology makes her increasingly socially dependent because the technological facets of her being require expert knowledge from others. (more…)

Do We Need a New World’s Fair? (Part 2)

This is the first of a two-part series dedicated to answering the question “Do we need a new World’s Fair?” It is an honest question that I do not have an answer to. What I aim to do here is share my thoughts on the subject and present historical data on what these sorts of events have done in the past. In the first part, I explore what previous World Fairs have accomplished and what we must certainly avoid. The second part will investigate what a new 21st century fair might look like, and how it would help our economy. Part 1 is here.

Our Generation's Only Exposure to the Concept of the World's Fair. (Copyright Paramount Pictures and Marvel)

Yesterday we looked at the last few World Fairs that were held in the United States. Those  20th century fairs demonstrated technologies that today we take for granted as common-place. Everything from Juicy Fruit gum to fluorescent lighting has been introduced to the world through these massive fairs. World Expos still take place, but are now found in China, Japan and South Korea. The 2012 expo will be held in Seoul, South Korea. The latest World’s Fair, Expo 2010, was held in Shanghai, China and set historic records as the largest and most well-attended expo. But the success of the Shanghai Expo doesn’t quite translate to America’s shores. As The Atlantic’s Adam Minter wrote last year:

To American ears, the concept of a World’s Fair sounds archaic, and when applied to Shanghai, a contemporary symbol of all that is new, vibrant, and even threatening, it’s disconcerting. But in Shanghai, where the future is an obsession, this reported $46 billion hat-tip to the past makes perfect sense: just as New York once announced its global pre-eminence via World’s Fairs in 1939 and, again, in 1964, the organizers of Expo 2010 view the six month event as nothing less than Shanghai’s coronation as the next great world city. (more…)