Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Unfaithful Cyborgs by Andrea Hairston

Pan Morigan and Andrea Hairston

Pan and I had a blast at Wiscon. We have now recovered from traveling across the country. (Two weeks to get over flight cancellation and midnight bus rides!)
My mind is still stirred up from the panels, the Guests of Honor, the hallway rants, the family reunions--the ghosts and spirits too, whispering in my ears. I was lucky to be on the CYBORG IDENTITIES Panel  with Sunny Moraine, Scott E. Gould, and Lettie Prell. We had a marvelous conversation with an engaged, articulate audience about the legacy of Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto.

Sunny Moraine mentioned a man who went offline for a time period and didn’t find the real life nirvana that supposedly awaits those who unplug. I’ve been thinking about this anecdote and our confused relation to technology. The Internet is often viewed as the CAUSE of good or evil effects—mass addictive zombie behavior or successful revolution against oppressive regimes. The Internet as an effective tool facilitates revolution perhaps and also allows addiction (we get a dopamine hit for those I Likes), but CAUSE? That’s a powerful word.

The Internet is mythologized and mystified, maligned and worshiped. It brings wonders and joys and is also calibrated for predatory capitalist monetizing of humans as commodities. The Internet facilitates creative exchange across land and sea, shrinks time and space, and offers us public access to each other. Big Data is a treasure trove for pattern freaks, and human beings are serious Pattern Masters! (Read the Octavia Butler books for a SF meditation on this.). However, despite reverent claims for Big Data, information isn’t wisdom, and Smart Devices shouldn't make us lazy and dumb. We need struggle and serendipity; we need mistakes. Convenience is highly overrated and a wicked marketing tool. Information isn’t knowledge or wisdom. Abstract formulations aren’t the same as concrete experiences--everything can’t be written as an algorithm. But Online experiences are as much a part of REALITY as any other experience.

We are cyborgs, animals incorporating our tools/technology into our bodies and altering/creating the universe we inhabit and that produces us. Story is one of our most powerful, world changing, universe altering technologies! The story of the Net is magical, mythic.

Are we getting the stories we desire?
Do we have the technology we want?

I need a Smart Device that doesn’t interrupt my flow, that supports my creative capacities—not one that replaces them with the paint by numbers version. I need Smart Devices that challenge me and other folks to go beyond comfort zones and like minds to engage in a radical reckoning with difference.

Perhaps our tech and tech platforms are dominated by the same empire ideologies that allowed for colonization of the planet (and contribute to the ongoing destruction of diversity— deadly empire monoculture)?  So what are we doing with that?
In her Manifesto, Haraway notes that Cyborgs “are the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism, not to mention state socialism. But illegitimate offspring are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins.”

We make the meaning. So what are the ideologies behind, around, running through the Internet? How do we choose to use the Net, to structure it? The Net has never been neutral.  However, a predatory capitalist calibration of our technology is not inevitable--it is not the last word.
I’ll be considering unfaithful cyborgs in my next novel, Archangels of Funk.


Pan Morigan said...

An elegant meditation Andrea! I like your notion that we must work our machines with critical values intact - remain awake and aware of their effect on us. "The net is not neutral." So true! Here's my idea of Nirvana: to feel alive, to nurture profound relationships that grow and thrive, to make art/work in the world which can bring liberating perspectives or help change us before we self-destruct. To keep asking questions... (All this in the context of a brutally crushing economy, fundamentally unjust, which is quite distracting itself.) Can't get to Nirvana with some little experiment, that is for sure! Nirvana comes with sweat, an embodied matter. The question I'm left with is, in what ways does an 'online life' make us sweat - be it physically, spiritually, creatively, emotionally or intellectually - challenge our thinking, our assumptions and values, our commitments, so that we must reach deep inside ourselves (and into our communities too,) for spirit, hope, courage, learning, wisdom, change? I'm not saying this can't be done in cyber-worlds - but I think we have to extend ourselves A LOT to get there. Can't even write a paragraph on twitter! Some geek in a room tells you how many words you get! I question this issue - having profit-driven CEOs influencing our communications and our relationships to our own minds and to each other.. Some CEO puking up 'culture' for sale, getting us to buy it kinda mindlessly... Do we have the tech we want, as you say! I don't! I have issues with this isht! A hit is not a relationship. A like is not a conversation. Where is my love button! Where is my time to resist button! What a joke! As you would say, information is not wisdom - it is not even an experience. "No wisdom without experience," I quote you. Lemme come out as a Luddite - always throwing my size 11 clogs at the damn machinery. Your view is more balanced and nuanced than mine. I do not like this online world! (Except for the part where we get vote suppressors and union busters, etc., out of the shadows - that I like a lot.) But as an environment, it seems relentlessly noisy, shallow, impersonal, deadening, distracting, and truly addictive for some. There are people I care about whose output as artists has dramatically dropped since all this stuff became ubiquitous. (Is there a correlation?) We don't even know what is happening to us half the time, here. We are guinea pigs. Is any of this online life our DREAM? The silenced are still silenced. The noisy are still heard more readily. Celebrity is what gets you 'hit.' That or some absurd story - I rode a tricycle across the Gobi desert standing on my head and I'm gorgeous, too. Some people seem able to resist the negative aspects of this stuff, others not so much. Me, maybe not enough. Sigh, back to playing my handmade, 100 year old violin. We'll talk more later!

Vandana Singh said...

I celebrate Andrea's perspective and at the same time sympathize with Pan. Perhaps technology freed of (or in opposition to) the corpocracy will rise above CEO-dictated barriers. And yet...here's Rilke's famous meditation on the machine:

Andrea Hairston said...

Great Thoughts Pan and Vandana.
I hear what you mean--the technocrats in their corpocracy aren't stopping to consider the quality of our lives! Profit rules-can't feel, see, or hear much else. I read the Rilke in German and English. I dare us all to become the wind!