Tue 23 Jun 2009
i hear it everywhere, popping out from headlines, referenced casually until it begins to smell of truth. and stink a little with the impotence and collective rot it creates.
a whiff of faint bewilderment, the fear of mortality and obsolescence. the thrill of feeling one has eaten from the prescient tree of knowledge, even if the tree is plastic, planted in sand.
our children will not be like us, it whispers. they are wired, and thus wired differently. they are beyond us, aliens of the future. sit back and watch the reckoning. wash your hands.
it is no Kahlil Gibran, this voice, cautioning acceptance and unconditionality. it is more Bradbury, laced with the pleasures and promise of the macabre. it tells us these children we’re raising are blasphemous offspring of the cultural collision of the human and the technological – beings whose integrated circuits are inherently foreign to our own, digital natives whose minds we will never entirely fathom.
in all this repeated discussion and dissection and fretting, there is one note missing.
yes, they will grow up in a digitized world. they play their games on screens, in many cases. they conduct entire relationships on Facebook. their cognitive synapses may fire slightly differently from those of us who grew up with only Candy Land. but if they are cyborg, oh my friends, do not fear.
they are no more so than we ourselves.
if i invited you over for a playdate, if i sat you down on my couch with a coffee or a glass of water or a mimosa -whatever your poison – and looked into your eyes and said, so, hey, i’m a cyborg…i suspect you might be taken aback.
cyborg. huh, your head might shrill, as you’d politely flatten yourself against my door, eyes wide and darting, looking to grab your precious babies and run for the hills.
she seemed so pleasant on her blog. barely batty at all… and she never even talked about Star Trek, let alone cyborgs. jesus. this is worse than an Amway party. is there an eject button here?!?
but if i say it here in this ether space where we are accustomed to interacting and performing our rites of friendship and social grooming…maybe the words will not seem so alien.
i am cyborg. and so are you. precisely because of this space. we have evolved in our own lifetimes, into creatures of 20th century myth.
the cyborg was never truly about technology. we may not yet have our screens embedded into our retinae or curliqueue wiring connecting flesh to metal and plastic, and we’re still – inexplicably – bound to the keyboard and print text…but we all of us who live out parts of our identities in front of our screens, whose lives are rich with people we know and bare our hearts to and exchange ideas with daily in many cases yet have never, ever laid eyes upon? cyborgs, all of us, creatures of the integrated circuit. and so is our parenthood.
our lives are couplings between organism and machine. our internal worlds are not circumscribed by the mere physical, and our external worlds – even and perhaps especially our days spent hands-on with the children we cherish – are not an existence solely of or in the body. this world, wherein we write and speak and interface and connect, is always present or available on the internal screen of our minds. it is a room of one’s own, even if our houses overflow with toys and dishes and no space that is ours alone.
Donna Haraway wrote The Cyborg Manifesto more than twenty years ago, now. her cyborg was, as she wrote it, a creature without origin and without innocence, resolutely committed to “partiality, irony, intimacy, and perversity.” its existence breaks down the old dualisms of nature and culture, of public and private – it exists between, a hybrid.
as we do out here, in this ether. we write representations of ourselves that are partial, constructed…simply by the very nature of time constraints and audience, we cannot write ourselves whole. thus the “us” we speak through out here is an avatar, without innocence, aware of its origin as a narrative, a story told in once upon a time fashion. we exist between the public and the private, all of us negotiating the boundaries of how these avatars interact and integrate with our flesh selves and the others in our lives. we connect. we interface. some of us pay a high price domestically for the space for self we carve out here, this intimate space where we are so often ironic and perverse. the patriarchy, Haraway cautions, is threatened by the cyborg, its bastard child, unwanted issue. illegitimate offspring, she notes, are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins. Their fathers, after all, are inessential.
the cyborg mother, of course, ought to be a contradiction in terms. the mother image is organic, the original origin story. but the cyborg is contradiction embodied. and the cyborg mother lives firmly in the postdigital age that the voices of doom and essentialistic difference do not realize has reached us. the digital age is as much a part of us as the technology of the telephone or the pencil. we have incorporated it into ourselves – our baby monitors, our Dr. Google, our youtube videos of our children or for our children, our networks of identity and friendship and expression and marketing. who we make of ourselves as a result will be different from the mothers we grew up with, indeed, as will our children be different from the 70s and 80s versions of self we once were.
but our children as aliens, morphing inexorably into creatures of a vaguely foreboding future we cannot conceive? nay. not to those of us out here already, living on the integrated circuit, connecting, living beyond the boundaries of our flesh and in it, holding those selfsame children by the hand.
now if only the cyborg as mother could just break down the pointless polarization of good mother and bad.
what does it mean to you, the space to be connected, ironic, intimate, perverse? if it all collapsed tomorrow, this online world, what of yourself would you find amputated?