Incoming Transmission: Transhumanism and the Future of the Human Body (Part 5 – The Technoscape)
Cultural Technoscape: The hyper-real plays out in a world increasingly sped up and networked, where we interact with increasing numbers of screens and travel is (albeit not during rush hour!) quicker than ever before. We live in a different world, a world not only increasingly pervaded by a ‘world picture’, but a world’s end [nuclear], a world whose vision-scope seems to have become too big. There is little mystery left: things are more-real-than-real.
The earth is increasingly becoming networked and interconnected. Communication technologies, air travel, fiber optics and satellites are reconfiguring the notion of a distance. In areas where these reconfiguring-technologies are abundant, the world often seems a very small place. But we need not stop at the earth: that we can receive a message from an astronaut outside of the atmosphere in less than the same length of time it takes to fly across the Atlantic is something to consider.
Nor have our bodies escaped this radical drive toward re-configuration and adaptation.
We know that something is occurring: we know it from the ‘war of worlds’ transpiring between those for and against the globalization of finance and the body: One might assume that this reconfiguration would usher in an era of peace, acceptance and understanding.
Yet, in a paradoxical development, despite this spatio-temporal reconfiguration, we have observed a tremendous surge in nationalist and fundamentalist rhetoric.
Despite being in close proximity, able to travel to any point on the earth faster than we ever could, our differences seem as pronounced and incommensurate as ever. Likewise, we find a strange commingling of ‘genetically modified’ and ‘organic’ foods.
Also, we are, in the present day, inclined to counter the ‘progressive’ triad of cloning-science-evolution with a ‘regressive’ triad of bioethics-religion-creationism. It would be a massive oversight to take cybernetic prosthesis, thanatophobia (the fear of death and aging), cloning-science-evolution, botox/cosmetic surgery, genetically modified foods, fiber optics/high speed telecommunications, accessible air and space travel and the emergence of internet based virtual ‘avatars’ to be occurring independent of one another. Nor can we hold them independent when what opposes them: the organically whole human body, acceptance and submission to the physiological demands of the body, bioethics-religion-creationism, organic foods, nationalism, fundamentalism and the self as embodied, single and autonomous appear so obviously interconnected.
As the Parisians glimpsed the city of Paris from high above, at the 1879 World’s Fair, so too might we begin looking down on our world to see what has happened to it. We find the widespread use of mobile, networked and digital technologies, and the strange sense of embodiment we feel while occupying the ‘third space’ these techniques create between ourselves and our interlocutor(s). We find wi-fi networks creeping into cities, trains, and pacemakers, the list goes on… At a point we arrive, as we discussed in an earlier post, at something akin to Sterling’s SPIMES, of a world of models, an informatics-world, a world of artifice, of human ingenuity – one not false, but hyper-real.
Amidst this, we find the distinction between public and private collapses (space-time continuum), and so too have we seen a collapse between the binaries male-female, space and place. Cosmetic surgery, prosthetics, and other cyborgizing technologies lose their transgressive natures, bodies are reverse engineered by the Human Genome Project, cloning becomes less a dream of the fictional (uncanny) doppelganger, and more a possibility – an experiment of globalization and its economic consequences. These developments become commonplace, the system has absorbed them. They begin impacting the ‘self’, and the individual’s ‘subjectivity’.
As Slavoj Zizek explains in a 1998 interview:
[We have]…no firm identity, shifting and multiple identities. This is how subjectivity functions today. To cut a long story short, in this sense perversion is not subversive, and the first step towards subversion is precisely to reintroduce this hysterical doubt. I think the present social relations can fully acknowledge multiple identities. I think that today the ideal subject is bisexual: I play with men, I play with women, anything goes and it’s not subversive. And the strategy of imagining the nastiest perversion will not create a situation which the system will not be able to sustain. I think it’s politically wrong and I think it doesn’t work. When you have a look at the art system for example: Perverse transgressions are directly organized by the establishment to keep the market functioning and alive. (see Zizek, Slavoj. “Hysteria and Cyberspace” in Telepolis. Interview (Aug 10, 1998))
We become used to flexibility and malleability. Our daily lives are awash in a sea of technologies that act as physical and psychological prostheses. Devices transmitting the latest musical hits enter directly into the canals of our ears. To some it is unthinkable to have to endure a bus or subway ride without such a device. In hospitals we find bodies kept alive by machine, presenting us with beings whose entire lives are indebted to a technical object, an object equally as important and authentic as any organic liver, lung or heart could hope to be. Or, take the dam system that keeps (when it works) a city like New Orleans abreast. The dam system is an integral part of the city. It does not play a role in the city. It is a part of the city.
Cybject is nothing more than a thought experiment