Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Saturday, July 07, 2012

"Am I Going To Become A Cyborg In the Future?"

Also posted at the World Future Society.

Anti-Futurological Answers To Futurological Questions: "Am I Going To Become A Cyborg In the Future?"

No, you are absolutely not going to become a cyborg in "The Future." And if you are a self-declared futurologist, or your thinking about technoscience questions has been deranged by your exposure to pop futurological formulations, the reasons you are not going to become a cyborg in "The Future" may come as a surprise to you:

The ready-to-hand gizmos on which many of you rely without thinking to spur your memories or communicate with your intimates, the therapies and vaccinations that have enhanced your body's resistance to diseases, the spectacles or contact lenses on some of your eyes or the pacemakers in some of your chests, the clothes you are wearing, the language you are using to organize your thoughts and testify to your history and your hopes, the laws, norms, infrastructural affordances, marketing and surveillance profiles that articulate your attention and your conduct, even the acquired but unconscious deportment of your body through which you signal your state of mind to your peers in ways both you and they are scarcely aware of… all of these material and ritual artifacts and techniques are already absolutely prosthetic, and all of these are already usefully susceptible to analysis in cybernetic terms (cybernetics is, you will recall, the study of the forms of communication, regulation, and control in and among biological, mechanical, and electronic systems). As I like to point out over and over again, all prostheses are culture and all culture is prosthetic; "technology," properly so-called, is the ongoing collective prosthetic re-elaboration of personal and inter-personal agency in history. The definitive impingement of the cybernetic upon the organismic is inaugurated by the entrance of a being onto the stage of history itself, culture is the natural way of cyborg protagonists in the world.

And so, you are not going to become a cyborg in "The Future" either because you are already as much a cyborg as you ever will be, or because the fantastic "Sooper You" which is what you really mean by the phrase "becoming a cyborg" involves profound errors or mystifications on your part about what technology and culture and history actually substantially mean in the first place and these errors and mystifications are never, ever going to become more right or more relevant or more sane later on.

It seems to me that this gesture, and the false quandaries arising from it, are all perfectly typical of futurological discourse: The question, "Am I going to become a cyborg in the future?" begins with a basic confusion about a technoscience issue. Rather than clarifying that confusion by actually addressing it, the futurological form of the question reframes the initial error as a predictive dispute about "future facts." What it is crucial to grasp is that such a re-framing is not only incapable of resolving the confusion at hand, but actually depends on the maintenance of the confusion, which is thereby transformed into a kind of black box into which all sorts of idle desires and dreams and dreads of super-potence, omnipotence, and impotence can be plugged and indulged in a way that has the sufficient appearance of "serious thought" while in fact precluding any serious thought from taking place at all.

Futurology provides no intellectual resources unique to itself with which to speculate (or organize) more reasonably about the diversity of costs, risks, and benefits of specific technoscientific changes to their actual stakeholders -- the relevant expertise will be found among the scientists, policy makers, and communities directly concerned with those changes -- meanwhile, futurology mobilizes confusions, fantasies, and fetishes occasioned by the technoscientific change to distract, derange, and denigrate our attention from existing intellectual resources the better to indulge irrational passions and peddle amplified consumption and acquiescence to the elite incumbent beneficiaries of the status quo to whom is entrusted the delivery of that amplified consumption which is what "The Future" of the futurologists usually amounts to.


Lorraine said...

I suppose someone could become a VR addict in the future. That would seem to be a realistic thing to aspire to—what Huxley called "the feelies." The feelies seem to be a technology within reach.

Dale Carrico said...

It would be a rather odd thing to aspire to, given that addiction to online porn or Glee re-runs On Demand are already available to those with such susceptibilities! But I wouldn't agree that a VR addict of 2032 AD (to keep to the classic 20 year horizon beloved of our futurological friends) would be any more cyborgic, stricto sensu, than a hairy hominid hunter-gatherer two million years ago grunting instructions to his fellows and shaking his scraped flints.

Of course new artifacts and techniques will always come and go (unless we manage to destroy ourselves through their misuse), and their vicissitudes will continue to articulate our material capacities in ways superficial and profound -- I just don't think futurologists have much to say that is particularly useful if what is wanted are progressive technodevelopmental outcomes (where "progress" refers to the most equitable distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of technodevelopmental change to its actual stakeholders on their own terms) or what is wanted is a better practical grasp of the actual technoscience involved in these changes.

Summerspeaker said...

You make a critical point in describing all culture as prosthetic, though as you might expect I think popular ideas about what going cyborg means have merit as well. I offer that if I lost a leg and got a synthetic replacement, I'd be more a cyborg than I am today. The same goes for brain implants and what have you. Currently all I have is a few titanium screws in my ankle. The distinction between language and bodily integration with high technoscience contains considerable meaning.

Dale Carrico said...

But of course everything material in history matters in its specificity, and in ways it makes sense to specify -- indeed it is our responsibility to try to do that as best we can. But I think you should give some serious thought to the work being done by that word "high" you are yoking to technology here. I don't think there is any specificity in it at all, and I think it says much more about you than it does about anything technological, properly so-called. That's fine, we all have our little fears and foibles and fancies, me not least of all. Just be aware that you are dancing an ideological dance here, make no mistake about it, and that when it comes to this particular jig, the tune has long been called by reductionists, techno-fetishists, eugenicists, industrialists, militarists, and hyper-consumers who are not the sorts you seem to think of yourself partying with as far as I can see.

jimf said...

> [T]he fantastic "Sooper You" which is what you really mean by the
> phrase "becoming a cyborg" involves profound errors or mystifications
> on your part about what technology and culture and history actually
> substantially mean. . .

You mean I'm not gonna get super-strong and super-fast like
The Amazing Spiderman so that the hot Science High School
school bully is gonna respect me and give me hugs instead of
slamming me into the lockers?

I'm gonna cry.

fijime said...

we can abandon fixed utopias and start to understand the cyborg and the city as organic entities that can never be completed or perfected.

John Howard said...

"Am I going to become a cyborg in the future?"

How is "become a cyborg" different from "reproduce with another man"?

Here is what you wrote about that:
Dale: "It is true that IF same-sex procreative ARTs (assistive reproductive techniques) were developed, proved reliably safe and were made affordably available to everyone who actually wanted them who were well informed and not under duress (and for me the bar should be higher than it tends to be at present for saying someone is truly informed and nonduressed), then no, all things being equal, I don't have a pre-emptive prejudice leading me to declare a blanket ban on the very idea of such a thing."

So why don't you say that about "becoming a cyborg"? I guess you'd say you are consistent in that you also aren't saying that becoming a cyborg should be banned, but why not answer "if cyborg technology is developed and safe and wanted, then OK, you can become a cyborg?"

Dale Carrico said...

The substance of my actually stated position on this topic in this post you are supposedly responding to but haven't read is that all of us are always already cyborgs as much as we ever will be because language and culture are prosthetic. How is this different from reproducing with a man? Well, there are no men reproducing with men, John. So the difference is pretty much the difference between everything and nothing which is a pretty big difference, now, isn't it? Of course, the answer for you, since you can't shake your sick obsession with a heterosexual reproduction that is presumably menaced by the imaginary specter of same sex reproduction that fills your waking moments with terror and your dreams with grunting cries of unholy ecstasy, is that there is no difference at all, because apparently everything is always about this one topic no matter what is actually under discussion, which is why you flit from website to website trying to derange every comment thread in which I appear to precisely this nonsense. But this is my blog, John. Don't think I'm going to allow you to derail another Moot thread with your obsession on this topic. Get it under control or I'll just delete your comments. And, for heaven's sake, get some help, dude.