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Environment, Cyborgs, and Non-Identity (Karl)

November 16, 2009

Non-identity is a question of effect. Can actions exist that have no effect on others?

I have never been particularly enchanted by Haraway’s notion of the “cyborg.” Theoretically, it seems a solid concept. Our functional reality is a combination of crafted and natural worlds.  In reference to our current “dependence” on “technology” it is even better founded. I put both “dependence” and “technology” in quotes because both are used rhetorically to portray meanings at odds with their object. They both do possess a saving factor: both terms simultaneously convey not only the particle view that individuals use these things, but a field view where a majority of influential individuals use and interact with these things daily.

Saying that we “depend” on technology is false-to-facts.  We currently use the various technological marvels to great excess, and they have penetrated every aspect of our daily lives. I, for instance, wake to an alarm, turn on a light, grab milk from the fridge, rely on plumbing for a shower, check email, etc. all in the morning soon after I wake.  But, do I “depend” on these things? Every summer I spend weeks without the above and  to do fine. Our use of “depend” to describe current primary use appears to make the dreadful error of research, confusing correlation with causation. Of course, the irony of this whole discussion is that to test whether “depend” is accurate, someone would have to die, which is not very preferable.  “Technology” is at odds because it is dangerously vague. Is the wheel “tech” or only electronics? If we call the “wheel” a technology because it provides a mechanical advantage, then so is pretty much anything else we use as a tool. However, I doubt anyone would consider a “club” technology. Restricting “technology” to industrial and electronic products is not significantly more clear, but for terms of discussion, more useful. Today, our primary method of interacting with the physical world is through industrial and electronic products.

As a “field” description our dependence on technology takes a mimetic role, appearing to faithfully report the physical world. What they are reporting is not the physical world but our interactions, the virtuality that Hayes describes. Curiously, technologies like the cell phone and email are not new forms of communication, nor even really a new medium. We speak and hear with phones, see and “write” with email. I question whether this virtual world is an objective environment except for when we make it so for discussion. We may define our person along technological lines, but the definition is limited to a time-segment and does not affect the physical world.  When the virtuality is removed, the physical world still remains. Destroy a cyber-persona and the person remains, no matter how much of their memory or prosthetics have been integrated. For all the hub-bub surrounding emerging tech’s like web pages for writing, the dreaded paradigm shift just hasn’t occurred.

My question: is a cyborg environment a non-identity condition?

Haraway draws “cyborg” from science fiction, and this is where it runs into problems. Describing our condition as a cyborg is convenient and an apt comparison, but while precise, is it accurate? Cyborgs have been present pretty much as long as science fiction has existed. Haraway has noted a state of fractured identity. Borg, Cylons, KITT, Morlocks, and headmasters: none of them are ever content with their strange cyborg existence merging humanity and machine. Always there is the drive to change to one or the other. Haraway also asks us to learn from the condition.  If science fiction is, like Haraway’s treatment of nature, a topos, a place to work out our ideas and relationships, what does this long literary examination of “cyborg” say about the condition? The merging is unhappy, if it is a merging. By using technology for cinteraction, have we merged with it? I don’t think so. “Merge” implies dependence.

Return to our “dependence” on tech. The statement carries a buried assumption that the cyborg existence will perpetuate. If the literary examination never provides happiness, can there be perpetuation? If no perpetuation, a non-identity, I’m not sure viewing an “objective” environment is valid. The place of non-identity in a discussion of a technological landscape is tantamount. Is the environment self-perpetuating, or is it simply a stance of the dominant mores? If it does not perpetuate, is it an environment?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary G permalink
    November 17, 2009 10:37 pm

    A note on this issue of dependency: while I follow the line of reasoning that leads you to argue that we are not, in fact, dependent on technology, I feel as though I can only partially agree. At an increasing rate, local, national, and global organizations and systems are relying on technology at multiple levels. If you look at the medical field, for example, many doctor’s offices and hospitals use digital charting methods to the extent that material originals no longer exist and new information is only housed digitally. I don’t want to sound paranoid, but technological snafus or malfunctions, in this example, could carry very real life-or-death consequences. I do agree that on an individual level, many of us would readjust to a life without our everyday technologies with little-to-no negative side effects. On multiple collective levels, though, there is an increasing dependency on electronic and digital apparatuses.

  2. kmckimps permalink
    November 20, 2009 7:19 am

    A good point. I think what I was trying to get at is more the kind of absolutist thinking that underlies assuming “dependence.” I think the rhetoric is misleading and can potentially lead to justifying broad conclusions (No one can survive without technological innovations) from singular instances (life-saving devices).

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