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Wearable Technology: Cyborg fashion and incentives for permanent tattoos

Apparently, I wasn’t quite done with this thought process on wearable technology and how it applies to cyborg. What I found unique about this approach were the accessories, that essentially there are secondary markets (and thus economic incentives) focused on melding technology to human. It might have started with a nose guard on eyeglasses, but it has now morphed into a fashion accessory. There is always prestige value to the technology, certainly, but now there is prestige value in mapping this technology to the human.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CXW79zOHCTg]

I suspect this is the natural evolution of the heady cocktail of

  • convenience- this desire to simplify processes and eliminate efficiencies (why carry it if you can wear it?)
  • mobility- the Internet really accelerated this trend towards portability; first in terms of data, and now in terms of technology (as conveyors of that data). From desktop to laptop to mobile to earbuds to finger taps as input devices, all of this represents if not a progression than certainly a shift.

Besides this process of cyborgization (why not?) I see occurring  here, a process born now not always out of necessity (as in the prosthetic limb or eyeglasses) but by choice (tech as fashion), the big question that arises in my mind, one that I have been laboring over quite a bit is whether we will take the next “efficient” step and make these mappings permanent.

I am thinking more along the lines of tattoos than bulky apparatus or prosthetics, but will we map ourselves with technology both for necessity and as a declaration of identity? Code indicating class, prestige? QR codes for the skin? I suspect some will, most certainly, but many will also opt, as I do, for a temporary union of human and technology. One based on need, utility, assembled quickly and disassembled with the same alacrity.

Either way, the engine of social status has been attached to the power of technology and that is one powerful boost. The minute they started mentioning hipster with this was the signal that the race is on.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJoBtJzs1DM&feature=related[/youtube]

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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.

6 Comments

  1. This is a fascinating angle to explore, and I remember you also mentioning nanotechnology previously in relation to ‘mapping technology to the human’.

    I blogged briefly about Professor Warwicks surgical interventions into cyborg research the other day, and I remain unconvinced about actually breaking skin. Anyway, cyborg theory is surely about conceptual (but not unreal) reclassification rather than physical interventions. As you suggest, ubiquity and mobility perhaps much better ways to bring technology into the spheres of our cognition. Your suggestion of new tribal identities seems to relate to the reclassifications implied in the cyborg.

    ‘many will also opt, as I do, for a temporary union of human and technology’, agreed, and I think that this really makes tangible the notion of shifting identity suggested in the posthuman. Our cognitive capacity will change according to which wearable or tattoos we augment ourselves with.

    ‘cyborgization (why not?)’ – indeed.

  2. Hello there, Jeremy.

    Thanks for this. After reading your post and your response to this post, I realize I was skirting a bit too close to a technological determinism, that the technology and not the shift in identity and capacity, was the real focus. That isn’t really the case, so thanks for that.

    I do suspect there is something to this willingness of humans to not only adopt, but to wear (and even transpose) this technology on their physical being. It feels significant, but not sure quite why yet.

    It is certainly a reclassification of sort, a new subset of tribal identities breaking down across utilitarian lines? Not sure, yet, but definitely good to think about.

    Perhaps what we are dealing with here, rather than this search for delineation, rigid boundaries and distinctions, is an embrace of transience. That the natural state of consciousness, of information, of humanity and association, is absolute flux, a state of constant change. That situated is the aberration.

  3. I think it is fairly utlilitarian Michael – haven’t we always (us humans!) liked to carry our ‘tools’ with us? Hunter-gatherers, nomads etc. Isn’t wearing technology a bit like that – we just like to have what we need instantly available to do the job we need to do.

  4. Hello there, Noreen.

    Utlitarian, certainly, but all interactions are to some degree. Indeed, evolution has transformed the human organism over the years to become more utilitarian (opposable thumbs, perhaps).

    I agree that is indeed like a toolbelt or the first human using a bone as a weapon or something like that; it is an extension of utility. Over time these are refined to be more useful through design, to conform to our natural contours and processes and such, but in turn these tools radically alter what we perceive as possible. Our consciousness and sense of identity change with them. The tools are an extension of the human system as they provide feedback to us and vice versa.

    I am just interested, I think-still working this out in my own head, in the human impulse to push further, expand, refine, and that impulse often lends itself to this discussion. Technology as enabling agent, that sort of thing. In and of itself, it is meaningless; wielded towards purpose, it is expansive.

    I was really taken with the quote from Hayles (I think, having difficulty finding it now) discussing the US Constitution. Did the document presuppose an America that didn’t exist at the time? Did it essentially create the entity known as the American (whatever that might be)? It had me thinking quite a lot about cyborg/technology/posthuman.

  5. I liked the stuff in Hayles (I think it was in that article) about science fiction pushing the human further – as you say, ‘to expand, refine…”. That’s probably because I love science fiction but it does ring true doesn’t it? What is seen as fantasy is just an environment for the human imagination to take science and technology to its logical conclusion and see what happens and decide what we think about it.

  6. It certainly does ring true, Noreen. Science fiction is so potent precisely because it is predictive. It both stimulates and articulates future society. This “fantasy” is like some vast container that we fill with our explanations, constructs of what that container is. It is like everyone agreeing on terms for a debate; it structures the conversation.

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