Digital Artifact and Contextual Essay

Contextual Essay

Over the course of this semester, I have read, highlighted, circled and noted a tonne of information on cyborgs, technology, societal thoughts, pop culture and prosthesis. As a result of this ten week journey I have managed to produce a body of work which is made with a hope of sharing some much needed positivism in our dark and gloomy world.

My main research aim was to discuss technological prosthesis in order normalise the concept of the cyborg in mainstream societal thought. The podcast delves into the negative associations society has around technological advancements, particularly the relationship between humanity and machines. I describe the role of popular culture by using interviews and surveys I conducted myself. This process went really well, the only thing that could have been improved was the amount of responses I received. I do acknowledge that twenty responses is not a lot in the grand scheme of things but considering the size, time and ethical restraints I had to take into consideration it was a pretty rewarding outcome.

I use three stories of people who have overcome obstacles and broken down societal boundaries through their relationship with technological prosthesis. Every human can relate to the central themes of wanting to prove something or seeking to belong.  It is my personal belief that people rely so much on technology and yet are confronted by the prospect of it’s position in the economy. By incorporating Donna Harraway’s work and my own research I could demonstrate this paradigm that exists and perhaps convince the people listening; that cyborgs don’t necessarily have to be emotionless machines, instead they are everyday people, like you, me and the seven other billion people found on earth.

Technology is so rapidly evolving that society is scared that it is an uncontrollable force. So when there is discussion of cyborgs and humans people obviously are going to freak out. I wanted to do two things:- Firstly, stop people from freaking out or at least ease the transition towards the inevitable truth. Secondly, I wanted to show that technology actually has a positive influence and power position in society. My aim was to look at the benefits, gains and people surrounding technological prosthesis instead of focusing on the fears, apprehensions and problems almost always projected into society. This Digital artifact was a progression that evolved over time, my first two blog posts helped to narrow down ideas and in reflection I am grateful they were compulsory assignments during the semester.  After I received feedback for both of them, I tried to improve the clarity and aim of my research ideas.

My biggest issue was compiling the overwhelming amount of information I received into a succinct yet coherent project. It was a long and tiresome task but in the end I achieved what I set out to do. I provided happy stories of happy people, redefined the cyborg through a process of normalisation and demonstrated how technological prosthesis is beneficial for human kind. Personally, I no longer have that uncomfortable feeling brought on by my exposure to Terminator as a child. Instead, I am looking forward to changing the subconscious of all my listeners by redefining the cyborg through technological prosthesis discussed in my podcast.

Digital Artifact

 

Bibliography

  • Murray, Craig. (2005). The Social Meanings of Prosthesis Use. Journal of health psychology. 10. 425-41. 10.1177/1359105305051431.
Advertisements

Live-Tweeting, An Eight Week Saga

For the last several weeks, I have immersed myself into the art of live tweeting. Throughout my university degree, I have never once been asked to do this. It was refreshing to have a subject with no pre-conceived knowledge of what the tasks would involve. To live tweet, we watched an array of science fiction films applying the theories and concepts discussed in lectures. Through that foundation we extended those ideas by collaborating with other members of the class, discussing thoughts and opinions whilst also proposing questions for others to answer. It was a way to engage the audience with the content and introduce a new and exciting way in achieving class collaboration and discussion. Therefore, this blog post will be a curation of tweets, both my own and others, in a week by week layout to demonstrate my overall experience of the live tweeting process.

Week One: – Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 Anime – Ghost in the Shell.

The beginning of any new task always requires a warm up stage. I used this week to grasp the concept of live tweeting. The film was an effective introduction into the future cultures course content; it highlighted some keys themes that would be addressed throughout the semester. My initial thoughts after week one lingered around the ideas and impacts of technological advancement, the ethics involved in creating robots and the way in which this film highlights some important societal issues relevant even today. There is a scene in the movie known as the puppet master’s speech that alludes to issues surrounding politics, power, money and technology. My favourite tweet for the week discussed merging and suggestion it was a form of love.

Week Two – Michael Crichton’s 1973 Film: – Westworld.

By far one of the best films we watched. This week was interesting and provided so much material for solid class discussion. I think this film conveyed some powerful messages around gender, equality, sexualisation, slavery and so much more. It really focused on the representation of emotion. Can robots have the same emotional responses as humans when they are only machines or are they no longer just machines?

I was a major fan of the film techniques throughout each scene; I love directors who can successfully make the visual stimulus just as important as the clues in the dialogue. Another major aspect of this week was the objectification of women through sexualisation. I found this tweet important for the movie context but also to highlight a prevalent issue in contemporary society.

 

Week Three: – Robert Longo’s 1995 Film :- Johnny Mnemonic.

Honestly this movie was somewhat good and somewhat bad. Some iconic actors and actresses but each scene made me cringe uncomfortably. However it did have an amazing visual representation of cyberspace. This week is where I retweeted some posts produced by other members of the class. I particularly liked the one posted by Angela alluding to cyberpunk in the entertainment industry. I think it helped explain some of the core elements of cyberpunk representation in this film.

 

Week Five:- Netflix’s Black Mirror – “Be right Back”, Season Two, Episode One

This sci-fi anthology series imagines realities in which people are forced to power their own existence, receive memory implants and more. I really enjoyed this week’s content, it requires you to pay close attention to each subtle gesture in the film. My aim was to engage deeply with the content this week provided so I could offer personal insights with a little more depth. I had two tweets where I think I tried to analyse some of the major themes of love and loss, pain and suffering, right and wrong.

 

Week Six:- Jake Schreier’s 2012 film:- Robot and Frank

This week’s film was lighthearted comedy with some pretty unexpected heart wrenching moments. It dealt with the isolation of growing old, the deterioration of dementia and the ethical issues surrounding robots. This week my engagement wasn’t the best with the live-tweeting, I was too engrossed in the actual film itself but I did find this quote I tweeted quite relatable to the ethical debate surrounding the use of robots as slaves.

Week Seven:- Netflix’s Black Mirror- “Hated in the Nation“, Season Three, Episode Six

By far the best week for engagement, this episode highlighted online bullying and the psychological impacts this can have on people. It talked about social media, online behaviours and the ramifications of power imbalances. I loved the collaboration of discussion between my peers. Throughout the screening we discussed some serious issues that have impacted people personally and collectively too.

 

On a less serious note, depending on the way you want to look at, I had my most liked tweet happen in this week. I still think it was a worthy and relevant tweet that needed to be shared about the spider take-over that could occur any moment.

Week Eight:- Ridley Scott’s 1982 Film :- Blade Runner

What an epic way to end the live-tweet saga with one of the best sci-fi films ever made. There are so many subtle references to the control of corporations, power imbalances in class structures, cyborgs, cyberspace, ethics, social injustices, sexualisation of women, the human deconstruction of the natural environment, biblical references and so much more. What makes us human is the main question that goes unanswered in the film, rather it purposefully leaves a void for you to decide with your own interpretation.

 

Redefining the idea of the MANBOT

“Pamela Anderson has more prosthetic in her body than I do. Nobody calls her disabled”. Aimee Mullins (2009, TED TALKS, YOUTUBE)

In relation to my first blog post, I focused on the fears and apprehensions society faces in relation to the MANBOT. I discussed my personal woes around this half-human, half-robot reality. More importantly, I realized there is a major stigma in society against technological prosthesis. The assumption many people conclude, is that machine and man cannot intertwine without the loss of humanity. The perception comes from ingrained fears of the other, something so different it is deemed to be threatening. This is exacerbated by different media representations in films, movies, books and comics. As a result there is a current societal skepticism towards technological advancement. In reality, technology is constantly changing and further enhancing human capabilities: with individuals becoming dependent on technological support to regain function of certain body parts.

Cyborgisation is occurring all around us and has positively affected the lives of many. There are so many inspirational stories of people with disabilities, injuries and other conditions who enjoy a better quality of life due to implants and prosthesis. Therefore, my digital artifact will look at the development, impacts and benefits of technological prosthesis. It will challenge the negative notions through examples of individuals in need or opting for cyborgisation. The hope is to debunk this fear of the MANBOT and redefine societal understanding by demonstrating the crucial role technology has in aiding human existence.

Prosthesis has been around for thousands of years, since ancient times people have used objects to amplify/extend their capabilities. Wars, poverty, environmental disasters, uniqueness, change, individualism, to name a few, have seen objects become supplements for certain body parts. Over the last few decades, technological advancement has led to a new era of prosthesis. This has seen a massive change in the way in which prosthesis has developed. Before the 20th century, wood and metal where two of the main products used in created artificial limbs, materials unable to replicate the full natural function. Even today “current prostheses on the market are impractical, expensive, non-ergonomic and at times, painful for the user,…However….The time is ripe for these technological advances to benefit the industry and the lives of prosthetic users”.(Gerardo Montoya, 2017).

The market is constantly changing and evolving and with the acceleration of new technology comes new innovations. The below video depicts Bob Walsh, an amputee experiencing some of the newest technology available on the market.

There are also individuals seeking to redefine what is accepted as a normal prostheses, Neil Harbisson (whom i mentioned in my previous post) was born color blind and uses an antenna to turn color into audible frequencies. The antenna allows him to interact withe world in a whole new way. 

hq720-1200x675

(Image Credit:-TED TALK)

Another example is Rob Spence, Toronto-based filmmaker. who replaced his missing eye with a prosthetic, completely equipped with a wireless-transmitting  video camera. “Thanks to a partnership with RF wireless design company and a group of electrical engineers, Spence created a prosthetic eye shell that could house enough electronics in such a small, confined space” (Tangermann, 2017).

eyeborg-1200x675

(Image Credit:- The Eyeborg Project)

In the midst of my research I realized I needed to invest more time into the academic literature available , A Cyborg Manifesto proved helpful in my research by creating a framework between man, machine and animal through a boundless relationship,  rejecting a distinct and restrictive definition. “The Social Meanings of Prosthesis Use” a paper by Craig Murray , a lecturer in Psychology at the University of Manchester has been an asset to my work. He conducted a series of face-to-face interviews with individuals to see the social role the prostheses would have on the user, the social meanings it carried and the emotional impact it would have on the individual.

Human beings are innate at defining the other. In western society our supreme definition of the human body is never projected as someone missing a body part. It is ingrained into our collective thought, to label, categorize and define something or someone as lesser then us due to this difference. Aimee Mullins, is an athlete, activist, actor and a proud owner of over 10 pairs of prosthetic legs. Aimee is also a double amputee of both her legs since the age of one. Her story is one of inspiration and persistence, but more importantly she is a strong advocate for re-shaping the way we define the other. Her aim is to dissolve the boxes, challenge and exceed societal boundaries and redefine the way in which we view people with disabilities.

In conjunction with the above research, I am currently in the process of establishing group interviews (family and friends to avoid ethical problems) where I will use visual stimulus of different types of technological prostheses and record the reactionary response to determine the attitudes currently held by people directly unaffected. I think it will add an interesting layer to the project. My aim is to show technology as an effective tool in enhancing life and helping to re-define the way in which technological prostheses is viewed.

 

 

 

The FEAR of the MANBOT

“Creating a neural lace is the thing that really matters for humanity to achieve symbiosis with machines” – Elon Musk

Unknown

In 2017, Telsa’s Founder Elon Musk claimed humans must become cyborgs if they are to stay relevant in a future dominated by artificial intelligence. Let’s take a moment to process this statement. Allow this claim to sink into every crevice of your brain as it starts eating away at the minds logic and reason. You begin to fear the machine as you imagine it wiping out humanity. Perhaps your lucky enough to escape this phase of assured annihilation and appreciate the powerful impact technological advancements can have on society. This integration of machine and man suggests a total reshaping of society and introduces a world where artificial and organic merge into one.

My initial reaction to Musk’s words,  was one of pure fear. This embedded fear that grew within me originated from some heavily overthinking of fictional film during my early teen years. With a brother five years my elder, I was exposed to some pretty intense, cyborg, post apocalyptic settings. My most favourite franchise during these years was “Terminator”.

For those unfamiliar to the story, Terminator’s main crux is the creation of an artificial intelligence network that overcomes it creators and seeks to destroy humans. Basically it is the rise of the machines and the downfall of humanity with a few protagonists, fighting scenes and some superb acting by none other then Arnold Schwarzenegger . I do highly recommend the entire saga, as Terminator is still iconic not only for the plot line but also for providing us with some spectacular catch phrases of the 1980’s till now- “I’ll be back”- being one of the most significant. While I appreciate the fictional predictions within a film, a small fragment of my mind got heavily obsessed with the idea that machines were going to rise up against people and take over the world. The core of my fear was the terrorising idea I would one day consist of machine parts, with little to no humanity left within me.

As I’ve grown older this fear has subdued, however this instantaneous worry that I felt is one that society also faces. Technology has advanced dramatically over the last century and the merging of machine and man is literally a current international occurrence. Prosthetic limbs are an artificial limb which “delivers renewed functionality and is cosmetically pleasing, but it also serves to complete the wearer’s sense of wholeness. A prosthesis then, is as much medical device as it is an emotional comfort, and so the history of prosthetics is not only a scientific history, but the story of human beings since the dawn of civilization who by birth, wound, or accident were left with something missing”.

Since ancient times we have used machines to extend the capabilities of the physical human self. In twenty first century society we have individuals even opting to implant technology into their bodies for further enhancement. My project will consist of case studies about people who have gone through prosthesis of varying degrees. One individual I’ll focus on is Neil Harbisson, the first human cyborg, who can “see” in UV thanks to an antenna-like implant that boosts his perception of light and gives him super-senses. 

Therefore where does this fear that society harbours about prosthetic limbs originate? Is it the fear of loosing one’s identity? Loosing one’s emotions? Loosing one’s humanity? Does attaching something synthetic to your body make you less human?.

For my Independent Future cultures research project I want to explore why society is fearful of prosthetic limbs. Do we fear those more who choose to have prosthesis compared to individuals who have too? Where did this fear come from and what allows for it to fester? What is the role of cinematic institutions, power, money and technology in exacerbating this fear.

At this particular point in time, I’m interested in using case studies and comparing the societal reaction to pre-existing cyborgs. I want to run my own focus group (with family and friends so I avoid ethical problems) and record the reaction they have to visual prompts of existing cyborgs. I think first hand experience will strengthen my digital artefact. Initially my two options for presenting the artefact, is the podcast or report, however I have not set this in stone yet.

Personally, I think this project  has great potential for explain the notions of  fear and acceptance humans grapple with as technological evolution becomes more and more apparent.