This is a piece I wrote to explain the rationale behind my visual artefact to be published on a project site created by Michael Sean Gallagher & James Lamb…
I created this visual artefact to summarise learning from ‘Cybercultures’ block of the Education and Digital Cultures course, which forms part of the MSc in Digital Education.
The key themes that emerged from these studies were:
- almost human
- divisions between technology and humanness
- the preservation of the authentic human
- the utopia and dystopia of technological intervention
- centring of the desiring human subject
The visual artefact was my attempt at representing as many of these themes as I could, and to hint at points raised in some of the academic discussion on the subject of cyberculture.
The scene outside the window is a response to this quote from Miller, V. 2011
“Most people’s first introduction to the cyborg is within popular media –and particularly science fiction – where the notion of the cyborg has almost always taken on a threatening quality”
I wanted to highlight the fact that this representation of cyborgs as evil is not a recent phenomenon and you will see that there are images from several generations, starting with the tripods (which are not strictly cyborgs as they do not have a human form) and the more recent ‘Terminator’.
As Miller points out, cyborgs are also sometimes portrayed as helpful in popular media:
“At the same time, more benign cyborgs in popular media, such as The Six Million Dollar Man or Robcop, portray cyborgs as helpful, as opposed to threatening, but still with a sense of pathos associated with the denigrated human”
With thin in mind I included some of the more recent movie characters such as WALL-E, Jonny 5 and Big Hero 6. All of these stretch the cyborg definition a little but they each have characteristics we would recognise as intrinsically human.
In the foreground I am sat at a workstation surrounded by a plethora of devices that are all connected to the ‘cloud’ and, on one way or another, to my body, either directly, such as the headset and the Fitbit, visually through the array of screens, or aurally through devices such as the Echo Dot. This represents a quote from Haraway, (1991)
“By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are all cyborgs. The cyborg is our ontology; it gives us our politics. The cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality…”
The circuitry that can be seen through my shirt is intended to indicate that we are perhaps becoming cyborgs ‘by stealth’, that it is creeping up on us from behind. Whether you see this a spreading infection or an enhancement will, perhaps, depend on your point of view. As you can see from the image it is causing me some discomfort, which alludes to my own thoughts on the matter, particularly with devices such as the Echo Dot and their ‘big brother is always listening’ connotations.
Lastly, through the screen array I wanted to show what Miller refers to as ‘technological embodiment’; multiple virtual representations of me facilitated by the computer mediated communication routes we use for the course, such as blog comments and Twitter, though my work Academy and through my social life represented as a Facebook page and the Fitbit, which represents me on ‘Runkeeper’.
Quoting Richardson (2007), Miller writes:
“Mobile media technologies, and tele-technologies more generally, are therefore not simply prosthesis or augmentations of our sensorium, but tools which impact upon our bodily limits, shifting the variable boundaries of embodiment, and altering our sense of having a body: they educe altered ‘involvements’ of the soma.”
In the text Miller refers to Richardson proposed that:
“Our engagement with screens at a perceptual and phenomenological level is, of course, deeply embedded in an assorted history of image technologies and collective media-body interfaces”
The eight screens are also the type of array used by stock and commodities traders to view, often automated, transactions and trends. This was intended as a nod to the third block of the course ‘Algorithmic Cultures’.
Miller, V. (2011) Chapter 9: The Body and Information Technology, in Understanding Digital Culture. London: Sage.
Haraway, D. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York; Routledge, 1991), pp.149-181, quoted in Miller, V. (2011)
Richardson, I. (2007), Mobile Phone Cultures, Edited by Gerard Goggin, Routledge, 13 Sep, 2013, also quoted in Miller, V. (2011)