Thursday, June 07, 2007

We are becoming hybrids

Sherry Turkle is a clinical psychologist, author and professor of the sociology of science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She worries that new technologies like instant messaging, Wi-Fi and cellphones are transforming human psychology.

In an article this week in the New Scientist she goes further to worry that this same technology is gradually turning us into cyborgs.

Naturally, I share this concern.

Sherry runs seminars at MIT on 'Technology and Self - how our sense of self is changing as a result of our interactions with technology'.

These have led to three edited collections, being published by the MIT Press, on the relationships between things and thinking. The first, Evocative Objects: Things We Think With, was published in April.

Eleven years ago she wrote: "When I landed at MIT in 1976, I was struck on day two by two things—that my students had what I considered eroticised relationships with their computers, which had an intensity, a holding power... it was compelling. It was not addiction, but it was something very powerful and it was completely new to me.

"And secondly, the way they use computer language where I would have used psychoanalytic language to talk about the self. I thought this was fascinating. For example, they say "Don't interrupt me, I have to clear my buffer", or "It's not a Freudian slip, it's an information processing error."

I have noticed the same response in myself.

The mind controls the body - mind over matter. As our thinking is changed by technology, and our bodies are distorted by using technology, so we recreate our bodies in the image of technology.

Sherry says this is not an addiction (or wasn't 30 years ago). I believe it is now. Anyone who has tried to get a child or teenager to come off a computer or watch less tv will agree.

She is right to say that it is also eroticised.

The first technology to be eroticised was the car. The most eroticised artefact now is the mobile phone, followed by the car and the MP3 player.

What does eroticised mean? That the technology's use triggers a state of arousal and anticipation, and produces attempts through whatever means to incite those feelings.

This is a response below conscious level. It becomes almost instinctive. Computer use, like driving, becomes an extension of our selves and incorporated in our dreams. It becomes desirable and necessary of and for itself.

SF stories of the past foretold that machines would take over. They never dreamt that this would not be by deliberate machine-led conspiracy but by an insidious process of designers producing desirable objects for profit-driven corporations, that use the tricks of marketeers to hook into our psychologies.

This drives an iterative process resulting in consumers becoming more and more wedded to successive generations of better-targeted products.

This process is akin to natural selection. Which depends partly on sex.

The erotic relationship demands consummation. At this point we have surrendered to the masters, the purveyors, the manufacturers, the corporations who are technologies' pimps.

We have surrendered our self-control and let go of the link to 200,000 years, or 99.9%, of our species history, when everything humans related to, and were part of, were biological (natural) ecosystems.

Now, at this moment in our species' development - as we are radically destroying or modifying these ecosystems, through mass extinctions, climate change, and the addition of 100,000 new chemicals - we are becoming intimate with technological ecosystems, without any idea of the consequences...

We are becoming hybrids.

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