Prosthetics and Their Discontents

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A prosthetic can be classified as any external manufactured object that can be purchased or acquired. A human will use millions of prosthetics in a lifetime. Electronic devices are one of the most shedable objects. The human is often forced to shed a device and update an object-prosthetic attachment. In four years, a single human can go through multiple mobile phones. It is a pain to have to constantly update, but it is faster than evolving those capabilities internally.

Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents suggests “a possible future in which the magnificence of humans as prosthetic gods is tempered by the ill-fitting and troublesome nature of their auxiliary organs.[1]

In a modern society, failing to upgrade brings more and more friction when dealing with reality. Upgrades decrease this friction. Updating allows one to glide more freely through the rigors of society. There are now on-demand body parts/extensions one can purchase, ready-made. We are used to these things. They surround us. We use hundreds daily. There exists a finite amount of value that can exist, and once the value is replaced by the next prosthetic, woe be to they who do not upgrade, be it clothing or computers.

Good experiences are guaranteed as long as one stays on top of the purchasing wave. Once one falls behind, the prostheses becomes worrisome. If an interface or prosthetic device is not updated in relation to others, the prosthetic will turn against the wearer. Humans exist inside a system of objects that decay on different life cycles. All humans sheds prosthetics like trees shed leaves. Seasons change and we have different prosthetics. Software changes and we download liquid prosthetics. The individual is often identified by their extensions. Glasses, clothing, house, and car. Now one can can also be identified by their invisible online presence. The upper middle class has a product swap cycles that allows them to dispose of objects before they have chance to decay, separating them and their existence from the vey idea of decay itself.

"The human subject becomes the support and the symbol of that relation we want to call trans-individual”.[2] Relationships become managed more and more as a function of prosthetic connectivity. In turn, systems of social and economic currencies change more quickly the more readily they adopt faster prosthetics. Any lag in upgrading is a cost in functionality, profit, and social status. A worn-out vehicle or a mullet haircut, power tools and legacy systems.

Object-relations arise precisely from the “constitutive incompleteness of the individual”[3] The individual, seeking completion or capability, must collaborate with the object in order to achieve goals. “The technical object understood according to its essence – the technical object such that it has been invented, conceived and desired, and taken up by a human subject - becomes the support and the symbol by that relation that we want to call the transindividual".[4]

There are some social classes who do not experience decay because they constantly upgrade their external prosthetics. Their clothing is thrown away before it is fully used. All of their devices are upgraded before they have a chance to turn against their owners. Interface culture is now occurring when with the rise of fractal prosthetics. We have screens inside of machines, protheses inside of protheses. Software, the liquid manifestation of our prosthetic devices.


  1. Freud, Sigmund. Das Unbehagen in der Kultur (Literally: The Uneasiness in Culture). Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag, Austria. 1930. Later named "Civilization and its Discontents. London: Penguin, 2002.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Simondon, G. (1958) Du Mode d'existence des objets techniques. Paris: Aubier in Hansen, Mark. ‘Realtime Synthesis’ and the Différance of the Body: Technocultural Studies in the Wake of Deconstruction. II Technics and Continuity. Culture Machine, Vol 6 (2004). Accessed 15 Aug 2012 via Google Cache.
  4. Hansen, Mark. Bodies in Code: Interfaces with Digital Media. CRC Press, Sep 19, 2006.