Croatian Interview with Nacional
1. You are presented as a cyborg anthropologist; what does that mean? Can you explain it?
Cyborg anthropology is the study of human and non-human interaction, especially tools and networks that are formed by networks of human and non-human objects.
Tool use has been physical for most of human evolution. Now we see computers as an interface not to the physical self, but to the mental self. The mental self is an internal space, which is unseen, and a lot of what we see on a computer is unseen unless we look at it through an interface or portal.
For example, over the last 3000 years the design and function of the hammer has not changed very much. The shape and form and function are still similar. But the first computers were very different from today. Instead of small devices, they were giant machines running on vacuum tubes. The computer’s overall look and function and shape and size has drastically changed.
Humans have externalized their own evolution. An animal must evolve a better tooth, or sharp edge in which to capture and kill prey. If a tooth breaks, or is not sharp enough, or the animal is not fast enough, that animal dies and cannot reproduce. But a human can simply make a new knife when it breaks. Once we externalized objects and processes, we externalized evolution.
2. You are also called a digital philosopher. Can you explain that?
I’ve been called a digital philosopher because of my theories on how culture is affected by technology. A lot of my work is theoretically based. I try to find patterns and examples in the real world and create a theory that explains why they occur.
3. Can you explain your thesis that we are all cyborgs?
You’re a cyborg every time you look at a computer screen or use one of your cell phone devices because you’re entering into a technosocial relationship with a piece of non-human technology. Our cell phones, cars and laptops have turned us into cyborgs because we use them to do things that we can’t do simply as humans.
In his essay “On Low-Tech Cyborgs” David Hess writes:
“I think about how almost everyone in urban societies could be seen as a low-tech cyborg, because they spend large parts of the day connected to machines such as cars, telephones, computers, and, of course, televisions.”
An example of high-tech cyborg would be the Terminator, because he is part man/part machine, and the technology is physically intertwined with him. Though we are not attached permanently to our devices, we do become a cyborg when we use our eyes to interface with a laptop or phone for a period of time. Though we can look away and change the phone, we are in a collaborative relationship with with the device for a period of time.
4. How did, in your opinion, social networks affected communication between people and where does it lead? How do you see communication in a few decades?
I see communication as it always has been: a natural extension of the self. People have always communicated. It is part of what makes us humans. Whether we use books, cave paintings, music or cell phones, the basic building block of society is communicating with one another. Social networks have only increased the reach and speed of communication. It is not that we are always connected, but that we alwys have the ability to connect, and when we do, our reach is akin to a superhuman. The Earth is small. You can stand on one side of the Earth, whisper something, and be heard on the other.
5. Since we are all building second identities on social networks and spending more and more time there, do you think that real communication is going to become less important, maybe even vanish?
Social networks provide real communication. They are placeholders for when peope can’t interact with people face-to-face. They help facilitate real-life interaction by helping us remember birthdays and helping people to keep updated on each others lives. If anything, these networks are allowing people to connect more, communicate more, and meet more in real life. They are allowing Ukranian grandmothers to participate in Thanksgiving dinner with their families while they are on the other side of the world through Skype.
6. What do you think, is it easier to make an good impression about yourself on social networks or in person?
That is a good question. It really varies from person to person. It depends on if you are cognisant of the impression you are making. For some, building one’s social profile in a careful way is easier than presenting oneself in real life. For instance, if you are shy in person, you might find yourself more easily communicating with people onlien that share your interests. You might also find it easier to express yourself online. For others, it is much easier to make an impression in person, eye to eye, than it is to create a powerful online presence.
For some, a social network profile is a second self that they groom just as much as they groom their actual self. For others, it is an akward thing. They are still getting used to it. Some people who feel awkward online but notin real life have to go though a kind of “teenage” period online in order to feel comfortable with their online identity. It’s kind of like learning to drive a car. A car in an extension of your phyiscal self. When you are first driving a car your brain has not yet mapped out its reflexes to the brake pedal. A social profile is a mental extension of yourself. Sometimes people just need to take a little time to learn how to drive it.
7. What could be some psychological consequences of having those two identities? What kind of effect that has on people?
I think many people are treating them just the same as their physical self. It is just an extenion of who they are. When the web first became available, a lot of people experimented with their identity, creating alternate identities with alternate names. Now people sign up for social networks with a real name, and they use it to share things that happened to them in everyday life. There is not really a difference between the online and the offline self for many people. It is just another channel of communication.
8. You've said that people have never been so connected in history of human kind. What it does to one person when the society is pressing him to compete for attention of all those people he is connected to, on all of those society networks and in real life too?
Society has always been this way. Children in groups compete for the attention of their friends and their parents. People in companies compete for promotions from their boss. Politicans compete for airtime on television. Each of these people competes for the people they are connected to. But the connectnedness lends itself to a new dimenion. Instead of only being able to connect to those around us, we are now able to connect to a network greater than the geographical region in which our friends and family lie.
We have the ability to be connected to, and affect, networks of a much greater magnitide than ever before. Before the web, only authors, celebrities, politicians and news pundits could achieve such a social reach. Now everyone has that power and potential at their fingertips.
9. You've said that because of the modern technology people are not slowing down, have no time to think about long term plans and figuring out where they are in life and where they want to be. What are the psychological consequences of living that on line life as a lot of people live today and will live much more tomorrow?
The web is “now time”, and the real world runs on a completely different time. If you open up a lot of different websites at the same time, you’ll find that each one probably has a different time zone associated with it. News is no longer published every morning, but constantly, from everywhere in the world. It is social spread, and to-the-minute. Because information arrives in intermittent bursts, it is easier to become addicted to.
B. F. Skinner was a psychologist that found that rats who received food pellets at random intervals when they pressed a lever were more likely to compusively press the lever than if they received food at set intervals. E-mail and Facebook are intermittenet interfaces that provoke this kind of behavior. It is very difficult to shut off. This is my largest concern.
I am also worried that the use of laptops and cell phones for prolonged periods will cause sustained eye strain and back problems, as well as general unhealthiness and mental stress.
10. You've said that the life online identities are quite difficult for adolescents. Why?
Growing up has always been difficult. Part of childhood is picking on one another and playing psychological games. Technology provides an additional iterface to grow up with. In addition to exploring one’s identity in the physical world, one must also maintain and grow one’s networked self.
Social networks also add a whole new dimension to bullying. Instead of simply making fun of someone in class, or beating someone up after school, one can be tormented through Facebook and Foursquare, by wall posts and anti-fan clubs in the first example, and virtual places and messages in the latter.
11. How does modern technology, internet and social networks effect children and the evolution of their brains? Lot of scientists are warning about the consequences like the deficit of attention and hyperactivity.
12. What will be advantages and what disadvantages of that kids which grew up in, like you called it, button clicking culture?
Children are preparing for future work in a world which will require a completely different toolset for success. For instance, it will be less important to store knowledge in one’s mind than storing knowledge of how to think, how to quickly find information, and how to quickly synthesize that information into applicable actions. The benefits will be quick adaptability to new situations and environments. The defecits may be the inability to polish off projects, as well as rampant multitasking and the data hangover caused by staring at a screen for a great deal of time.
13. What about addictions? What is the situation with that problem in the world?
There will always be a subset of the human population that will become addicted to something. There are people now that are addicted to food, gambling, alchohol and watching tv. Because technology is often more readilly available than tv, gambling and food (as it is in everyone’s pockets) it offers an easier opportunity to become
14. How do you see the future considering all those technological changes and their influence on the society?
We are now are using mobile phones to increase the reach of our ears and text, and to improve the speed of communication, as amputees use prosthetic legs to walk. But we've had to pay to use these electronic devices. I imagine that there will be impacts to those who cannot afford to continutally upgrade. There will be major questions asked about the right to communicate and even the right to purchase the ability to communicate. It seems that communication and connectivity are another utility we will have to pay for, and that expense of it may cause detriment to some based on their income level.
There will also be increasing issues of E-waste and the rapid development and obscelescence of all kinds of companies. I see people functioning more as bees or ants rather than human communities.
However, I think technology itself is neutral. It is the human that determines what they will use it for. Some humans won’t understand it and fall prey to it. Others will use it solely for distraction and entertainment. Others will be responsible for programming it, and others will be responsible for owning more and more of it. It’s like television, except that there a zillion channels, and people sit very close, and now you can have your own channel without paying millions.