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Wearable Technology and Cyborg Augmentation: Reflexive Feedback

I am actually of the opinion that wearable technology, which is logically defined as technology that can be worn (generally embedded in the clothing or itself), offers a good metaphor for the differences between cyborg and posthuman.

Posthuman implies a consciousness independent of form, namely that consciousness can reside in a variety of identities, an attempt to understand the world from multiple perspectives. Essentially, the consciousness is mobile and not a singular, defined individual. Perspective emerges from multiple views, etc.

Cyborg, on the other hand, implies an augmentation of rooted self. Haraway defines the cyborg as a “cybernetic organism”, a kind of “a hybrid of machine and organism”, “a creature of lived social reality” and even a “creature of fiction” (Haraway).  Fiction notwithstanding, I am inclined to agree with this notion of hybrid and lived social reality. I think wearable technology speaks to this a bit.

I do believe, however, that hybrid might imply some sort of permanence in the communion between human and machine, which I don’t intend to dispute. I would merely argue that these unions are many and often transient (me at the computer right now), at least for the time being. I have worn glasses for decades and that is the most permanent of my cyborg inclinations. However, like networks of any sort, connections are fast, varied, and often temporary, discarded when utility has been extracted.

Further, I see cyborg as augmentative unions between humans and machines; they push past physical limitations, harness existing physiological processes for maximum gain. Like glasses; I would be blind without them.

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About Author

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

2 Comments

  1. Hello Michael,

    Your wearable technology posts remind me of this story from a couple of years back (although I think it’s ongoing) over the ethics of whether an athlete with prosthetic legs should be entitled to compete in the olympics:

    http://tinyurl.com/yqqq49

    The suggestion that the athlete is ‘erasing the lines between abled and disabled’ made me think of Hayles’ ‘blurred boundary lines’ between man and machine in the cyborg system.

    And to borrow your apt phrase, the athlete in question has ‘pushed past his physical limitations to pose some difficult questions for sports administrators.

    Fascinating post, Michael – I’m going to revisit the ‘wearable soundscape’ over the weekend.

    1. Thanks, James, for the comments. Great points. That is essentially the question in all of this, isn’t it? Not the technology, not the dystopian visions of future, or even the merging of the human and the machine; ultimately, the question becomes what does it mean to be human? And this is the same question that humans have been asking for centuries and centuries. What am I if not a set of observable actions or thoughts? If pushing past physical limitations through some union of human and prosthesis, redefines that notion of human, then it is a worthy topic of analysis.

      All of this technology we take for granted, even the iPod, is expansive in this way; it facilitates us pushing past our perceived limitations and our notions of what human is and who we are. We are meant to do this, I think; to push beyond what was deemed possible. We are astronauts, all of us.

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