I’ve been grappling with how Donna Haraway’s utopian metaphor of the cyborg relates to our relationship with technology and contemporary politics, as well as how it fits in with digital education.
If we are to live as cyborgs as Haraway’s metaphor suggests, we cannot divorce our own nature and history from that of our future selves. This seems implausible, unachievable and very much like an allegorical fairy tale from bygone times. But much like those fairy tales about power and loss, we see the dominations of ‘race’, ‘gender’, ‘sexuality’ and ‘class’, by those in positions of power, evident throughout our technological world.
There are countless examples of oppression in relation to technology. There are examples of the disparities; of how wealthy (white) companies still exploit poor (black) countries and their people for their resources without supporting the connectivity needs of those countries. Since The Cyborg Manifesto was published we have seen the gender gap in careers in technology widen. The digital divide is persistent in developed countries with regards to location and income and ethnic background; while undeveloped countries struggle to find alternative ways to access information with the lack of infrastructure.
In relation to education, Watters in her article Ed-Tech in the Time of Trump gives examples of how universities can use data to carry out surveillance on students and staff. She demonstrates how this happens through the collection of data. Using data, universities, big companies, governments and powerful individuals are able to control what we see, where we go and how we access information. This is evident in the UK with the Government’s Counter-Terrorism Strategy and how universities are tasked with monitoring extremism with the Prevent Duty agenda. Students are being monitored more than ever before.
The ‘ubiquity’ and ‘invisibility’ of the cyborg that Haraway dreams of is simply not possible because the technology and the spaces that we inhabit when online, have been taught to recognise us. Technology has been taught to read us, tasked to find out what we like, see what we look like and with whom we engage. It knows what we buy, sell, watch, read, and search for. It knows where we worship and who we love. It knows us. Most importantly technology has been taught to remember this information, this information then shapes our experiences online.
The control universities, companies and governments have over our information perpetuates the injustices and exclusions that occur in the physical world. If individuals are not aware of the information that is being collected, and of how that information is being used, they could marginalised without knowing it.
Haraway, D (1991). “A cyborg manifesto” from Bell, David; Kennedy, Barbara M (eds), The cyber cultures reader pp.34-65, London Routledge
Watters, A (2017). Ed-Tech in a time of Trump. Retrieved: 6 February 2017 http://hackeducation.com/2017/02/02/ed-tech-and-trump