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That darn fictional panel…

2009 February 22
by Hlin

I had something to say about it.  The words didn’t properly form in my head until dinner on Wednesday, and by the end of the night, I’d completely forgotten.  And reading some recent posts about ways in which we isolate ourselves with technology has made me remember again.  Yay for communication.

Anyway, one of the things we explored was a spectrum of existence between human and machine.  Among the characters portrayed, there were dolls, robots, cyborgs, a computer program made to resemble an interactive person, a real person that underwent programming, etc.  We spanned a wide array of genres and settings, but something many of us had in common was a high degree of destructiveness.  I see this as an indicator of a sense of apprehension on the part of the creators of our developing relationship with technology.  And since the panel included many figures in pop culture, maybe it’s not just the creators but also society itself.  That image of someone who’s part human and part machine is a powerful one.  But all plots, action, and shiny futuristic gadgets aside, every fictional character we talked about was to some extent an abstraction of modern man.

Last month, I had the misfortune of getting my personal laptop hacked.  It became extremely slow, my task bar locked itself up at start-up, and the hacker had posted dirty pictures all over my desktop.  I knew I had to reinstall my computer, and at the time, I didn’t know if it would work.  As a result, I was worried sick.  A person outside of this strongly technological culture may have thought it was just a piece of equipment which I could eat sleep and drink without.  But I felt angry and violated, because my computer is an extention of me.  It contains memories, art, personal information, terrible fanfiction… things that I wouldn’t completely feel like myself without.  So while I was trying to fix it, I felt a strong sense of isolation that someone who lived a hundred years ago surely wouldn’t have understood.  Several of my friends who had lost their cell phones or broken their MP3 players experienced a similar feeling.  Without our technology, we feel handicapped and incomplete.

So, I think we already have a symbiotic relationship with technology.  It just doesn’t usually manifest in as visually strong of a manner as, say, a bionic arm, or a face that’s partially metallic.  In a sense, it has handicapped us- I can’t even remember the last time I did long division without a calculator- but with our tools, we’re capable of things our great-grandparents couldn’t even dream of.  In the process, I think it has altered our human identities.  And to me, that’s kind of unsettling.

But then I start playing my MMOs, and I get over it.

4 Responses
  1. Hannah Mueller permalink
    February 22, 2009

    I agree that we have a symbiotic relationship with technology for all the reasons you give, but I think it’s interesting/problematic that we want to use the word ‘symbiotic,’ since it inherently refers to a relationship b/t two organisms (symBIOtic). Do we need a new word, or is this one good because it questions the separation between technology and biology?

  2. Hlin permalink
    February 22, 2009

    Well what I thought when I used it was: in some cases, technology has become so important to us, that we need it in order to feel “whole”. We can live “naturally” without it, but I’m not sure that we’d be fully functional. So in a weird way, it’s like an external organ. Technology has become encompassed into our view of self… so I guess in a way, machines are a part of us. But you’re right… symbiotic might not be the right word.

    Sympsychotic then? Hrmmm. Symtechnotic? Hey, that’d be a good electronica band, Symtechnotic. (Honestly I have no idea.)

  3. Hannah Mueller permalink
    February 22, 2009

    I think you’re right when you say ‘machines are a part of us’ and ‘external organs’, and if they are then they must be alive in some way. Unless we want to think of ourselves as part not-alive, or dead, which I don’t. So I would stick with symbiotic, although that really would be a good name for a band…

  4. Alexandra Funk permalink
    February 22, 2009

    Ha It’s so great that you brought this up. About a week ago after a track meet, a few of us from the team got to talking about this very topic. Our coach was discussing his cellphone headset that he says he uses basically every time he drives. A lot of the girls were in agreement that they wouldn’t know what to do without their cellphones. It reminds me of a paper I read on electricity, probably some time in middle school. Basically, it said that when Thomas Edison died the United States wanted to turn off all electric light for sort of a unique “moment of silence” in his honor. But by the time of his death the world had gotten so dependent on electric light that it would have caused all kinds of problems. It wasn’t possible.

    After all these years this has stuck with me. I think mostly because I’m terrified that all of these gadgets will one day blow up in our faces. Anyway, if your interested one of the books I recommended for the class is Natural Born Cyborgs by Andy Clark. It’s about this very topic and if we don’t end up reading it for the course you should check it out anyway.

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