Boundary Breakdowns, Man/Machine

Iwas captured by the notion of cyborg and after reviewing this week’s assigned video and Haraway’s (1991) A Cyborg Manifesto. I found myself agreeing with the notion of blurring boundaries. Of particular interest to me, is the boundary blurring between machine and human organism. More and more technology is beginning to blend and merge with human life. From biomimicry in design to ‘smart’ assistants such as iPhone’s Siri, we are creating increasing “intelligent’ [and] adaptive sensor-equipped environments” (Buechley, 2008). The result is a culture of living technological artifacts and landscapes that are shaping themselves to us, and us to them.


If one considers all of the digital devices people carry on their person during the day, it’s easy to see how we have begun to rely on technologies as part of our world and being. We have moved beyond thinking only of “technology as automation” (Buechley, 2008) and closer toward thinking of technologies as part of ourselves. Consider for a moment the credit card. Is this not a digital prosthesis for our abilities of work/trade/commerce?  Items like hearing aids, pacemakers, and neural implants are more concrete examples of these technological prosthesis. Beyond wearable devices, the development of technologies to fuse with our bodies and interface with our minds directly also is underway. For example, a mind controlled bionic leg to replace a lost limb is no longer a distant sci-fi fantasy. Surely the receiver of such a device, through use, begins to feel as though this technology is a living part of him/her. A bionic eye, allows people with blindness to detect light. But, as Haraway (1991) describes, not everyone feels comfortable with these changes, rather some feel that “our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves [have become] frighteningly inert.” An interesting but not so subtle implication that technologies may shift the balance of power.


Another example of technological prosthesis is the mobile phone, undoubtedly a “creature of social reality” (0:20). Technologies such as this augment our bodies to “do things, or express things, that were formerly beyond [our] range,” (Buechley, 2008). Mobile phones allow for the extension of communication and connection that was formerly impossible.  As fewer and fewer people bother to memorize phone numbers, grocery lists, appointments and birthdays when this can be managed by a device it also becomes evident that technology changes our integrated patterns of behavior, knowledge and belief  (Petrina, 2009). Many have begun notice just how much these technologies have begun to augment (replace?) parts of our memory and also widen our knowledge pools.


Take for example transactive memory which in the past meant that one’s knowledge pool was expanded through (physical) social transactions with others whose expertise and abilities could be drawn on to expand one’s own knowledge and abilities. The most recent and interesting shift in society with the invention of the internet is the shift from analog (social) transactive memory to digital transactive memory. That is to say, studies have shown (see Sparrow, Liu & Wegner, 2011) that people are beginning to value the ability to remember where or how information can be retrieved more than information itself; thus, the internet may someday become “a primary form of external or transactive memory” (Sparrow, 2011).


It is odd to think that through our vast immersion in technology has caused us to begin modelling our minds (memory) after these technologies. Have we begun to rely on technologies more than we do our peers? When I think to my own research practices and daily habits, I can easily see how this shift has begun in my thinking. From this viewpoint, it becomes obvious just how much of the time that technologies augment, replace, and blur the physical and social lines between human and machine.


Buechley, L., Eisenberg, M., Catchen, J., & Crockett, A. (2008). The LilyPad Arduino: Using computational textiles to investigate engagement, aesthetics, and diversity in computer science education. Proceedings of the twenty-sixth annual SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 423-432), Florence, Italy, 5-10 April.

Haraway, Donna. “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. Accessed online.

Petrina, S. (2009). What is culture? Vancouver, BC: Tech no-Printing Press.

Sparrow, B., Liu, J., Wegner, D. M. (2011). Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips. Science, 333, 776-778. Retrieved online.

Unknown Author, (2006, November 4). Cyborg Manifesto [Video file]. Retrieved from Youtube.

Image source: Andres Nieto Porras. (2011). 311/365 Cargando las pilas. From Flicker under CC by SA 2.0 license.


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