When I was very little, my dad would sit me down at night and say, "I'm going to teach you about time and space in the future." And I said, "Great." And he said one day, "What's the shortest distance between two points?" And I said, "Well, that's a straight line. You told me that yesterday. I thought I was very clever." He said, "No, no, no. Here's a better way." He took a piece of paper, drew A and B on one side and the other and folded them together so where A and B touched. And he said, "That is the shortest distance between two points." And I said, "Dad, dad, dad, how do you do that?" He said, "Well, you just bend time and space, it takes an awful lot of energy, and that's just how you do it."And I said, "I want to do that." And he said, "Well, okay." And so, when I went to sleep for the next 10 or 20 years, I was thinking at night, "I want to be the first person to create a wormhole, to make things accelerate faster. And I want to make a time machine." I was always sending messages to my future self using tape recorders.
When I was writing my thesis on cell phones in college, I started to realize that everyone was carrying around wormholes in their pocket. They weren't physically transporting themselves, but they were definitely mentally transporting themselves. They would click on a button, and they would be connected from A to B immediately. And I thought, "Oh, wow. I found it. This is great." I realized that these cell phones had effectively compressed space and time. You can stand on one side of the world, whisper something, and be heard on the other.
But I get ahead of myself. The reason this book is a dictionary can also be traced back to an experience from my childhood. When I was little, I was always making up strange words. My classmates would egg me on to create a dictionary of these words. The requests began in first grade, to which I responded “soon, soon - I’m not yet a writer, and I haven’t got many words in me yet!”. In true procrastinative spirit, it took me eight years to sit down and write the first dictionary of strange words. I called it The Complete Dictonary of Coolish Language. It was an oddity full of strange philosophical arguments, bizarre concepts and novel words. Curiously enough, it became an underground hit at school, and I printed out copies from my printer and sold them to classmates and teachers. My mom, who had to bear through my first tome, (presumptuously titled “A Psychology of World Peace”) liked the flow and wit of this dictionary quite a bit more than the pseudo-psychological writings of a 13 year old with nothing better to do with a summer vacation. It was a turning point. I realized that I had failed in writing before simply because I had been a bit too ambitious. I also had a fleeting and jumpy attention span, perhaps a product of our ADD-inducing technological architectures. I often couldn’t remember what I wrote only a few days ago, and restarting a paragraph, or even finishing one, was difficult.
At some point in my college career, I happened to sit in on a philosophy conference on campus. I was somewhat intrigued by the various presentations, but it was the last talk that would prove to change everything. A woman stepped up to the podium, dressed from head-to-toe in a leather motorcycling outfit, with giant leather boots, thick black-framed glasses, and bright-red hair to complete the image. She was right out of a cyberpunk comic-book or techno-thriller novel, and her name was Deborah Heath. Her talk was on a fledgling field called “Cyborg Anthropology”. It was legendary. Most of the students in the audience thought it was pretty cool, but I went ballistic. Finally there was a subject that made sense to me, a subject that married the analytical, technology-obsessed side of my brain to an understanding of humans. This was a framework with which to understand humans and technology! I should note that this speech occurred right before Facebook cast the campus into an addiction of techno-social glee and obsession.
I was a shy and anxious college student. Rather than get along with my classmates, I was a quiet and quirky conundrum. This speech was an exception. Immediatey afterward I went up to Dr. Heath and asked her more about the field of cyborg anthropology. I didn’t think it really existed. I thought she was making things up. “No”, she said, “it’s quite real. I helped found it. I even teach a class on it here. You should take it!”. I had to wait a few years before the class was offered again, but I took it. I took my thesis with Dr. Heath as well, and wrote it on “cell phones and their technosocial cites of engagement”.
When I finished school I found that other people were curious about the strange subject that I had studied in college. It began to become synonymous with my name. The methods of cyborg anthropology also became a very good tool-set for understanding a world rife with rapid technological change. There have been many requests for a book on cyborg anthropology, and I have tried many manuscripts. Because of the nature of the subject, and the nature of technological and social development today, I think that a dictionary format is a good starting point. It’s a way to get a quick look into a certain concept, as well as an overview of the discipline and ideas as a whole. This book is not meant to subscribe to a particular view, but to many. It is a set of thoughts and ideas and different ways of understanding the world. This book is meant as an overview of concepts related to the study of cyborg anthropology. It is a definition of a universe of ideas and new developments, concepts and ways of thinking in a quickly morphing world. This is not a book of methods, but a book of ideas.
Best, Amber Case
"To live in the world of creation – to get into it and stay in it – to frequent it and haunt it – to think intensely and fruitfully – to woo combinations and inspirations into being by a depth and continuity of attention and meditation – this is the only thing.” - Henry James
This is a book is a dictionary of cyborg anthropology. In short, it is a guide to interface culture. What is this study called Cyborg Anthropology? Why is it important? What does it entail? Why does it exist?
What is Cyborg Anthropology? Cyborg Anthropology as a formal subject of study was formally introduced in 1993 as a subset of the Anthropology of Science to address the need for a set of methods and theories to understand the increasingly-complex relationship between humans and technological objects.
To understand Cyborg Anthropology, we first need to understand the two terms that make up make up the discipline, "cyborg" and "anthropology". Anthropology, from the Greek “anthopos” (human being), is the study of humanity. There are several main branches in Anthropology, but it is cultural anthropology that interests us here. Cultural anthropologists seek to understand human cultures by immersing themselves in a culture and figuring out how each custom, ritual, institution, belief, profession, practice, and technology work together to form the complex whole we call “culture”. There have been entire libraries written on how to best undertake this task, but for now lets just say that the process tends to involve writing an “ethnography”, or a description of the people based on interviews, careful observation, questionaires, etc. Historically, anthropologists would travel to exotic cultures to do this research, but today anthropologists also write about cultures and sub-cultures much closer to home.
CYBORG The object of study for Cyborg Anthropology is the cyborg. The term cyborg was originally coined in 1965 by Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline in a paper about the advantages of human-machine couplings for surviving in space. Broadly speaking, a cyborg is traditionally defined as a system with both biological and artificial components. In one sense, the use of any tool that functions as an extension of one's abilities qualifies one as a cyborg, but cyborgs are more narrowly understood to have actual, physical technological extensions or prostheses. Thus in the narrowest sense, examples of cyborgs would include people with pacemakers, insulin pumps, and bionic limbs. In the broadest sense, all of our interaction with technology could qualify as a cyborg system (and since the border of a cyborg system has no inherent limits, the entire ecosystem could qualify as a cyborg). The narrowest sense of cyborg does not let us grasp the many synergies of human/non-human splices, while the broadest conception runs the risk of being so broad that the discipline cannot be defined. Donna Haraway’s essay “A Cyborg Manifesto” inaugerated the cyborg as a noteworthy object of study in the humanities and social sciences, priming the ground for Cyborg Anthropology today.
CYBERNETICS Another way to think about cyborgs is through the discipline of Cybernetics. Cybernetics was a discipline that was pioneered in 1946-1953 during the Macy Conferences. At these conferences the concepts of feedback loops, information, and systems were brought together to understand a wide range of phenomenon, from brains and computers to weapons and rats. Besides the ubiquitus prefix “cyber”, Cybernetics has seemed to slip into the cracks of historical obscurity, but it’s basic assumptions are still found in the set of disciplines now called “Informatics”. Informatics include the disciplines of Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Bionics, Information Technology, Nanotechnology, Genetics, Artificial Life, Cognitive Science, Neuroscience, and the variety of sub-disciplines within these larger fields. The common link lies in the pervasive concepts of information, systems, and feedback loops, and their corresponding implicit metaphor of organism as machine, machine as organism, and everything as information. Every time someone says “I’m not wired for this type of work”, or “One second, my phone’s thinking”, they are propagating an extended metaphor that was incubated at the Macy Conferences. The fields that make up Informatics are at the forefront of researching and implementing the technologies that are forming our cyborg condition--technologies like genetic engineering, brain-computer interfaces, smart phones, and prosthetic limbs. By grounding the cyborg in Cybernetics we avoid studying all technology--a monumental task for any discipline, and also trace a history in an area where history is often overlooked in the excitement for future technologies.
Thus Cyborg Anthropology studies humankind and its relations with the technological systems it has built, specifically modern technological systems that have reflexively shaped notions of what it means to be humans. But this still leaves questions as to why the discipline needs to exist. If you find yourself reading this book, you probably have a good idea of why we should be thinking about how technology affects our lives. Things are changing fast--very fast. The long term effects of these changes are difficult to measure, and thus require careful study from a variety of disciplines.
Science, Technology, and Society (STS) is probably the closest discipline to Cyborg Anthropology.
Not sociology, less quantitative analysis, more philosophy.
From this basic understanding of Cyborg Anthropology we can start to study some of the derivative properties of Traditionally, the central unit of analysis in anthropology is the ethnography, a snapshot of how a culture functions as a whole (often with some recourse to the notion of the "structure" of a culture, a metaphor that is steeped in connotations of unchanging stability). In this sense, anthropologists often spend less time considering how a culture has changed over time and instead try to understand how the culture functions as a synaptic whole. Cyborg Anthropology seems different in this respect. Because technology and interface are changing so fast, cyborg anthropology is much more likely to note the changes over time in culture and use this diachronic analysis to understand the ramifications of our cybernetic condition. The rhizome (a cybernetic, feedback-looping, adaptive, decentralized network) is the metaphor that replaces static structure. Insofar as Cyborg Anthropology is studying phenomena that have very little cultural precedence, it seems to be inextricably tied to historical analysis and theories of interface r/evolution.
Actor Network Theory
Form and Content
Amber’s previous experience with dictionaries was what originally inspired the format of this book, but as the writing progressed other reasons for the format quickly emerged. This book is the offspring of the Cyborg Anthropology Wiki, an online database for those interested in the subject. For those unfamiliar, a wiki is a platform that allows multiple users to easily create and edit pages, which can lead to brilliant projects like Wikipedia.
2. Most books have a linear narrative and are meant to be read from cover-cover. We didn’t feel this was the best way to explain the various threads that make up Cyborg Anthropology. Linear narratives suggest a cohesive voice that is authoritatively explaining the subject matter
3. The editing process was facilitated by Google Docs and Skype, seemingly appropriate mediums for a book on how technology is changing our lives.
This dictionary was primarily created on a closed-wiki devoted to Cyborg Anthropology, with many a session on Skype and Google Docs to supplement. A wiki is a unique creature. Rather than a linear narrative, a wiki is a node-based creature that mutates and evolves over time. We wanted the form to follow the content, and thus have tried to have the format follow the content of the book. Rather than a linear narrative that cohesively and absolutely explains cyborg anthropology, we have chosen to create a cloud of concepts orbiting around the various nodes that make up cyborg anthropology. This has been part of the writing process from the very beginning, with all of the articles having been written on a wiki devoted to Cyborg Anthropology.
Those who are interested in the subject can are invited to comment on and grow the entries over time. We have thus have tried to create a book that reflects the changes that our world is going through.
Talk about need for interdisciplinary scholarship and coming together to think about big issues.
Many of these concepts are
(good) These entries are meant as small synaptic snapshots that weave together a rizomic sketch of possible futures. They are not meant to be read from cover-to-cover, although you are welcome to do this if you feel so enthralled. We don’t want to claim to be objective. Besides this being an impossibility, there is no way to be objective about the future. (Include?) I think one of the values of anthropology and the anthropological mindset is the ability to walk the line between subjectivity and objectivity. To be able to understand the subject at hand as well as understand the cultural constructions that led that person to manifest in that space. The objectivity allows the anthropologist to see the subject or set of culture on a longer and larger time scale. Not as one incidence, or static system of set of ideas, but as part of a
We are not here to provide a bjectivity died with modernism. With the rise of postmodern ethics, there’s the loss of master narratives, but that doesn’t mean that we’re just stuck with purely subjective experience. The ideal compromise is to have an objectivity emerge out of a network of subjectivities, thus allowing for an emergent “postmodern objectivity”.
One of the major reasons for writing this book is to answer the polemical visons that often colonize the futurist discourse. Historically, the first futurists were religious prophets, and too many writers, thinkers, scholars and media pundits follow in this tradition by proclaiming the imminent techno-utopia or ecological apocalypse. This dynamic is also fueled by the formidable influence of Science Fiction in helping us think about our future. Regardless of the cause, we seek to mitigate these master narratives by providing a set of concepts to think about the role of technology in the future of humanity. Following Keith Ansel-Pearson, we wish to “question, problematize, overturn, revalue, announce, renounce, advocate, interrogate, affirm, deny, celebrate, critique” technology and the role it is going to play in our future.  Some of the entries are very optimistic, while others express grave worry. Hopefully by
This book is partially descriptive, but it is also fundamentally evocative, and is meant to actively sow new memes for thinking about the future. Taken another way--a kind of choose your own adventure vs. a visit again into the tired old narratives of dystopianism and technopositivism.
Why does this need to be studied?
future shock! changing faster than we can objectify the changes changing EVERYTHING Technology has always been implicated in the question of what it means to be human, but since WWII and the proliferation of informatics disciplines this question has gained whole new horizons. Technology is radically changing the way we interact--faster than any other point in history.
Humans and technology have co-created each other since the beginning of humanity. A hammer extended the capabilities of the fist, and a knife extended the capabilities of the tooth. More recently, however, technology began to extend the capability of not only the body, but also the brain as well. The increase in technological development went hand in hand with the logarithmic increase in population. Because technology is expanding logarithmically, we no longer have generations to integrate new technologies into culture. Anthropologists and their methods of understanding cultures can help us grapple with these changes.
We define ourselves as what’s closest to us. Lao Tzu defined human nature as nature itself.
If we were to categorize the entries in this book into a set of overarching themes, here’s what they would be.
Central themes: Hayle’s Notion of Technogensis. We are created through our technology. (Hayles’ How We Became Posthuman). A symbiotic co-creation.
The cyborg operates at the borders of the self. It takes the cohesive individual subject that has played such an important role throughout history and explores where the self has become permeable and elastic through technological augmentation. The adaptation of these technologies doesn’t merely effect the border of the self, it derivatively affects many other pervasive concepts that we use to organize our world. The concept of place morphs into a concept of space with the widespread application of social media. The realm of the mind expands beyond the carbon substrate to silicon chips as we integrate memory into computers. The border of private and public is thrown into chaos with the voluntary creation of intimate online identities. Sometimes strange paradoxes emerge, such as in the case of media consumption. On one hand we live in a golden age of access to movies, shows, and music, while on the other hand we mind ourselves with our tailored private iPod that mitigates the diversity of the radio or broadcast television.
In Liquid Modernity, Zygmunt Bauman describes how technology is changing the individual, work and place, space and time, the private and the public and emancipation. Technology can bring the far near, and the near far. It can make the individual a part of a larger whole or feel completely isolated. Play and work blend together.
Embodiment, transcendence (embodied and grounded in the world - vs. transcending to the realm of pure thought. And in a sense the Internet is about that pure thought - transcending space and time, and yet one of the first and enduringly popular applications of the internet is pornography, media depicting the most embodied experience we partake in. Geography and the ability to move. Are we embodied in this particular area? Or are we able to go where ever we want?) I would argue that the former dichotomy of imagination and reality is blending into each other. There's this spectrum of human experience no matter how much technology there is. However, there is little work on sanity, cognitive expansion, and mental effects of technology. An increasing number of the populous is experiencing Future Shock.
How to take elements from this book and apply them? Is there a normative program underlying this book?
-Are there ideals we are trying to express through these concepts (technological becoming and ecological awareness? Sanity and cognitive expansion? idealism with a dose of pragmatism?)
A nod to all the thinkers that inspired this endevour, perhaps a reading list of the best books and authors in this field A note on how this book will not remain static and updates may be found on the wiki.
My other favorite quote is from Hayles' How We Became Posthuman, p. 5: If my nightmare is a culture inhabited by posthumans who regard their bodies as fashion accessories rather than the ground of being, my dream is a version of the posthuman that embraces the possibilities of information technologies without being seduced by fantasies of unlimited power and disembodied immortality, that recognizes and celebrates finitude as a condition of human being, and that understands human life is embedded in a material world of great complexity, one on which we depend on for our continued survival.
((Douglas Adams “a nerd is someone who calls his friend up on the telephone in order to talk about telephones”. Technology doesn't just get adopted because it works; it gets adopted because people use it and it's made for humans. Keeping humanity in technology. The best interface is invisible. It gets out of the way and lets one live one’s life.))
A Dictionary of Cyborg Anthropology
This book is meant as an overview of concepts related to the study of cyborg anthropology. It is a definition of a universe of ideas and new developments, concepts and ways of thinking in a quickly morphing world. This is not a book of methods, but a book of ideas.
- The Transhuman Condition : A Report on Machines, Technics, and Evolution (New York: Routledge, 1997 p.1