Posts Tagged ‘ Donna Haraway ’

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. Continue reading

Equipment: Why You Can’t Convince a Cyborg She’s a Cyborg

Everybody knows the story: Computers—which, a half century ago, were expensive, room-hogging behemoths—have developed into a broad range of portable devices that we now rely on constantly throughout the day. Futurist Ray Kurzweil famously observed:

progress in information technology is exponential, not linear. My cell phone is a billion times more powerful per dollar than the computer we all shared when I was an undergrad at MIT. And we will do it again in 25 years. What used to take up a building now fits in my pocket, and what now fits in my pocket will fit inside a blood cell in 25 years.

Beyond advances in miniaturization and processing, computers have become more versatile and, most importantly, more accessible. In the early days of computing, mainframes were owned and controlled by various public and private institutions (e.g., the US Census Bureau drove the development of punch card readers from the 1890s onward). When universities began to develop and house mainframes, users had to submit proposals to justify their access to the machine. They were given a short period in which to complete their task, then the machine was turned over to the next person. In short, computers were scarce, so access was limited. Continue reading

Virtual, Mediated, and Augmented Reality

by Space Invaders

Last week, fellow editor Nathan Jurgenson made a post entitled “Digital Dualism versus Augmented Reality” with a call for more concept work surrounding this topic. I hope to make a contribution to that effort by discussion three competing theoretical paradigms of Internet research. These three distinct perspectives perceive the Internet as either virtual reality, mediated reality, or augmented reality. I argue (in the spirit of Saussure) that these three perspectives are only fully comprehensible defined in relation to one another.

Let’s start with the definition of “augmented reality” found in Wikipedia, society’s great font of prosumptive wisdom:

Augmented reality (AR) is a term for a live direct or a [sic... I fixed it] indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input, such as sound or graphics. It is related to a more general concept called mediated reality, in which a view of reality is modified (possibly even diminished rather than augmented) by a computer. As a result, the technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality. By contrast, virtual reality replaces the real-world with a simulated one.

This is an unsatisfying definition. While it does contrast augment reality and mediated reality to virtual reality (mediated and augmented reality describe relationships between the online and offline worlds, while virtual reality describes their separation), it (self-admittedly) fails to distinguish between mediated and augmented reality. As presented in this definition, mediated and augmented reality are basically synonyms.

Continue reading

A Brief Reflection on Donna Haraway

While we do not necessarily use the term “cyborg” in the way Donna Haraway used it in her famous 1985 “Cyborg Manifesto,” Haraway’s work is of great importance to many of the topics covered on the Cyborgology blog.

As I see it, the primary takeaway from Haraway is the existence of a recursive relationship between technology and social organization. More importantly, as each iteration of this relationship unfolds, there opens a new field across which power relations operate. Haraway is far more optimistic than Foucault or Baudrillard, however, who opine about our inability to escape the techno-social system. For Haraway, we become empowered by figuring out, and, subsequently learning to manipulate, the code that organizes society in any given technological milieu. Continue reading

Social Media: Documentation as Stratification

(Reposted from Sociology Lens)

The new norms of exhibitionism and copious self-documentation have been regular talking points on Sociology Lens over the past year. Consider Nathan Jurgenson’s posts, our digital culture of narcissism and facebook, youtube, twitter: mass exhibitionism online, as well as my own recent post, The Queer Politics of Chatroulette.

It now seems truer than ever for many social media users (particularly, teenagers and young adults) that “If you’re not on MySpace [and/or other social media sites], you don’t exist.” Moreover, the pervasiveness of documentation throughout virtually every aspect of our daily lives has led us to start living for the documents, rather than the documents simply reflecting some aspect of our lives. Today, we must always behave as if our actions will be preserved forever and for all to see (because, most likely, they will). In the world of social media, there is no longer a “back stage” as Goffman once observed. As far as we know, there is always an audience watching our every move with rapt attention, ready to applaud or jeer at any second.

I argue that we should view this “will to document” (as Jurgenson has described it) as a new kind of habitus. Habitus (according to Bourdieu) means simply “dispositions [that are] acquired through experience.” It explains behavior that is neither hard-wired into our biology, nor simply a manifestation of conscious and rational decision-making. Success in this hyper-surveilled, hyper-documented world is wholly dependent on acquiring a set of practices that produce both a highly-visible and favorable image of oneself. Continue reading

Cyborg Systems: Sociology’s Proper Unit of Analysis

(Reposted from Sociology Lens)

The increasing centrality of the Internet in our daily lives has precipitated a spate of theorizing about how we – as humans and as a society – are changing (or not) due to the constant technological mediation of our most basic interactions and activities. Let’s face it: This sort of theorizing is populated mostly by men of considerable privilege (with some very notable exceptions). A cynic might hold that the problems concerning human techno-social interactions are relatively insignificant compared to more pressing issues of race, class, gender, age, etc. One cannot but be sympathetic to such charges.

However, I would posit that a complicated set of processes are at work in causing many to view theory surrounding the Internet and its ever-expanding litany of technical terms (e.g., Web 2.0, prosumption, produsage, playbor, or sousveillance) as largely irrelevant to the salient social issues of our day: 1.) The theorists of the Web, tending to work from a position of privilege, perhaps, simply lack awareness of feminist and other situated discourses, thus failing to acknowledge their relevance. 2.) Privilege may also account for a willingness to be satisfied by grand theoretical projects that produce political objectives couched in inaccessible language, too impractical to be actionable, altogether irrelevant, or simply nonexistent. 3.) Disciplinary specialization is such that the theorists from Marxian, post-structuralist, and/or science and technology studies traditions who are studying similar phenomena may not be in dialogue with one another. Continue reading

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