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“A cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction.” (Haraway 2007)

An interesting debate with Jen as she pointed out that Haraway bases her argument within the late 80s radical feminist debate. For me this was comforting, safe ground in which to examine the much less safe ground of cyborg and post human.

After several tweets and Haraway’s own definition of cyborg, I still don’t feel any closer to a clear understanding of the terms. However, like my colleagues, I had fun creating my cyborg name – Networked Operational Repair Efficient Exploration Neohuman. Personalising and personifying the cyborg seemed an irresistible urge, at least for six of us. I couldn’t resist selecting the corresponding skeuomorphic image!

Many of the links and tweets in my life stream this week were sparked by Michael’s blog posting “Hayles, Post-Human, and Cartesian Dualism: Reclaiming the body”. The link ‘Mind and Body’ gave a summary of different philosophical positions which helped clarify thinking for my comments to Michael about viewing the human as an imperfectly designed system in which the body is the flaw. However don’t we need the body to experience our emotions and don’t our emotions make us human or are emotions essentially faults in the system too? Michael agreed that emotions are more profound than merely being regulatory agents (physiological) but biological determinism didn’t seem the answer either.My selection of tweets with links to articles on telepresence and avatars was related to this debate.

Finally towards the end of the week, Michael and I began a joint brainstorm of ideas for our final assignments. Michael’s idea of looking at cyborg in relation to mobile technology stimulated a number of links and tweets. My own idea was to look at some aspect of the high art/popular culture debate in the context of cyberculture but I am struggling to find a good focus for this.

The life stream concluded with a blog posting on Hayles and some very interesting extended thinking on skeuomorphs and biomimicry.

Hayles’ article had three or four key ideas which attracted me. She breaks down her ideas into three ‘stories’, the first being “how information lost its body”, or how we came to see information as something which could be separated from humans and exist independently in cyberspace. Of course if humans are simply processors of information the logical conclusion is that we can exist without bodies because after all, computers do the same thing and they don’t have ‘bodies’ – or do they? Is a robot or cyborg form a ‘body’? If it is, is it necessary or just a distraction from what really matters, a skeuomorph? Conversely can we really understand human beings as ‘a set of informational processes’?

Hayles talks about ‘the body as the original prosthesis ‘ If that is so, when a person’s relationship to their bodies is fundamentally changed as in paralysis/amputation, there should be no change in self image or ability to relate to others. Aren’t our bodies purely artificial constructs which can be acquired, added to or removed at will? Hayles quotes Gillian Brown discussing anorexia where

“…….the body is understood as an object for control and mastery”

This echoes Foucault’s concept of the ‘docile body’, the postmodern view of self-reflexive identity, with our bodies being a project to be worked on – shaped at the gym or altered through surgery, to fit some kind of ideal. Will the cyborg free us of this ‘tyranny’ by presenting us with a perfect, replicable, standardised body?

Do we need a body to be ourselves, to be unique or is it our minds or personality that make us so? Shontz (23, 28) says

“The body offers a private world for the personal self to exist. Shielded by one’s physical boundaries, a place of private expression is available, unique and impervious to others.”

Not for Shontz the concept of the ‘hive mind’ or Hayles idea of distributed cognition then! Hayles confides that her dream is of a post human that sees the possibilities of technology but recognises and relishes the fact that death and a finite lifespan are a condition of being human. In a similar vein, I questioned earlier in the week whether we need the body to experience our emotions and whether it is our emotions which make us human or are we to see emotions essentially as faults in the information system ? Zull (2004, p3)) reminds us that

“The thinking part of our brain evolved through entanglement with older parts that we now know are involved in emotion and feelings.

Emotion and thought are physically entangled—immensely so. This brings our body into the story because we feel our emotions in our body, and the way we feel always influences our brain.”

The final point in Hayles discussion which fascinated me was the idea of the skeuomorph. A skeuomorph is a design feature that is no longer functional in itself but that refers back to a feature that was functional at an earlier time.

She suggests that

“skeuomorphs act as threshold devices smoothing the transition between one conceptual constellation and another”.

and wonders about the complex psychological functions a skeuomorph performs. Is it , as Hayles suggests, down to conditioned behaviour, where humans have a fundamental need to temper innovation by replication? The cultural theorist Adorno was also interested in our need to relate to mass produced, replicated products. He says of the masses,

“Again and again with stubborn malice they demand the one dish they have once been served” (Adorno 1991 p45)

Adorno criticises our love of replicated, mass produced objects, suggesting that it makes technological innovation ‘comfortable’ and removes the necessity for us to do the hard work of understanding and enjoying more avant garde products and ideas.

In a similar way, biomimicry is comforting because it reminds us of what we already know and understand – a plane that looks like a bird, a robot that walks like a human. That comfort comes from the fact that this shape, this action has been replicated countless times in nature and functions perfectly every time. In fact there is even something called ‘biomimic marketing’ where people sell products to us by focusing on the ‘natural’ qualities and actions – see this example

If this human need for the familiar, the reassurance of the ‘natural’ is so strong will we ever want to separate the ‘body’ or nature, from the information and wouldn’t that ultimately be self-defeating? I’ll finish with a quote from Janine Benyus (2005) TED

“Life adds information to matter. In other words structure. It gives it a function that’s different than without that structure”

Benyus, J (2005) “Janine Benyus shares ideas with nature”, TED talks


Breakey, J.W (1997), “Body Image: The Inner Mirror”, Journal of Prosthetics and Orthetics, Vol 9, pp. 107-112 http://www.oandp.org/jpo/library/1997_03_107.asp
Strinati D (1995) “Introduction to the theories of popular culture”, Routledge
Zull, J (2004), “The Art of Changing the Brain”, Teaching for Meaning Vol 62, No 1 Pages 68-72

Networked Operational Repair and Efficient Exploration Neohuman

Get Your Cyborg Name

Yes, still couldn’t resist the feminising of embodiment!

Is what we are as humans defined by our environment?  Haraway seems to argue that it is – that gender relations to date have been defined by nature and technology and to a lesser extent, culture, politics, geography but that cyberspace will provide a new environment where dualisms like man/woman, nature/technology, black/white cease to exist and current gender relations are irrelevant to the new cyborgs who ‘live’ there. 

“The dichotomies between mind and body, animal and human, organism and machine, public and private, nature and culture, men and women, primitive and civilized are all in question ideologically”  Haraway (2007)

Maybe environment/context, in the shape of cyberspace, is the new ‘god’ which spawns the human or post-human?  Is cyberspace the new point of ‘origin’?

According to Haraway our new identities will be defined by difference, otherness and affinity rather than identification and unity.  Unity is seen either as an illusion or something to be struggled against because it represents domination or incorporation. Will humans finally be bound by our lack of similarity, our new fragmentary identities?

“The cyborg is a kind of disassembled and reassembled, postmodern collective and personal self.”  Haraway (2007)

I’m afraid I’m not ‘buying’ most of Haraway’s thinking. If nature and technology have been such huge determiners of our identity, our humanity,  haven’t men been as much a victim of this as women and people of colour?  Having power isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be! So for centuries, men have had little relationship with their children, little contact with their own emotions and little choice about being in the workplace.  Doesn’t sound much fun to me!

 Can we just dismiss dualisms? Aren’t they so pervasive and long-lasting because they are deeply imprinted on nature and the human psyche?  Can we just dismiss nature when technology is still choosing to mimic it in the field of biomemetics?

Having constructed and posted my virtual ethnography I was surprised to be the only person to choose a community in which I was both a participant and a moderator/administrator.  Did other people think objectivity might be a problem or does no-one else play both roles in an online community?  My objectivity stems from the different stake I have in this community compared to other participants. I am no longer a teacher or student of A Level Communication and Culture, which lends some distance and detachment although I continue to have an interest in the subject.    

My weekly postings included those to the Communication and Culture network to give a flavour of my interactions there and a link to a brilliant student powerpoint called Cyborg Productions .  I focussed on commenting on a handful of colleagues’ ethnographies in order to give full and hopefully thoughtful feedback. 

Having compared my ethnography to that of my fellow students my choice of Picasa/Autoviewer showed my preference for linear structures in the presentation of survey data, screenshot and quotes – the ‘storyteller’ in me?!  Many people chose Prezi or a wonderful piece of software called Isuu which encouraged a more ‘scrapbook’ approach.  I think of myself as a lateral thinker – is it mutually exclusive – linear and lateral thinking?

In a full ethnography key issues to be examined would have been the tension between student and teacher membership and the attempt to change the balance of power – teacher as facilitator and the lack of interest by staff in establishing an online identity. 

The focus on a core set of interests within digital culture was reflected in my research for the final assignment and comments on the readings on post humanism and cyborgs. Following up from quotes in my first blog entry, what has happened to the cultural debate about high art and popular culture in the light of digitization and has the postmodernist perspective just made the whole debate irrelevant? The link to David Hockney and digital art in my life stream was an attempt to engage with this, as was the link to the Guardian article about Doc Martens as cultural symbols.  Are cultural symbols based on clothing, objects of desire, music etc now irrelevant?

 The Hayles reading introduced the idea of ‘skeuomorphs’ which I found immensely appealing – this was the idea that we hark back to familiar shapes, aesthetics and concepts even in new technology. In fact I found a whole blog/website devoted to examples of skeuomorphs and posted it to my life stream.  It struck me as a similar instinct to that of biomemetics except this is harking back to nature when designing new technical processes.  Made me consider that Haraway’s idea of the cyborg might be on a ‘hiding to nothing’ – we humans are such nostalgic creatures!

Comms and Culture

Click on the image above to go to my virtual ethnography. Please could you comment on it on this blog. Thanks

Creativity doesn’t work in a vacuum – it feeds off all the experiences and ideas around the creator so encouraging students and teachers to be creative requires a stimulating environment for collaboration and discussion. My ethnography has meant that I have spent more time looking at this network than I have for a few months – a bonus for fellow members since I am the administrator and it has prompted me to make some improvements I have been considering for a while!

Most of my feeds this week were related to social networks, whether articles or comments about the use of virtual communities in different fields or posts from the social network which is the focus of my virtual ethnography – Communication and Culture network.

The survey I mentioned last week has provided some interesting feedback. Confirmation of the huge value members place on the sharing of teaching resources prompted me to add a Ning app called Box.net which enables members to upload and download resources in a much simpler and more coherent way.

Some of readings and links this week also helped me identify my particular virtual community as a ‘community of practice’ rather than a social network. As Wenger, Snyder and McDermott (2002) say,

“Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems or a passion about a topic and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an on-going basis……Over time they develop a unique perspective on their topic as well as a body of common knowledge, practices and approaches.”

Through Delicious I shared a link to the International Journal of Web-based Communities but unfortunately the library did not subscribe to this e-journal so I was unable to read any of the articles published there, particularly one by Piet Kommer.

The idea of maps and online communities had been sparked by Hamish Macleod and Jen Ross with the MSc World Map and Marie Leadbetter’s Lifetagging visual artefact so tweeted some links to maps and also added a Member map to my own ‘community of practice’.

I was struck by a quote about communities of practice using narratives

“Sharing tacit knowledge requires interaction and informal learning processes such as storytelling,[my emphasis] conversation, coaching and apprenticeship of the king that communities of practice provide.” Wenger, McDermott and Snyder (2002)

which tied in very well with my on-going interest in digital storytelling – see tweets on Trans-Social-Media Community Engagement. I’m enjoyed the way my lifestream is beginning to focus on a core set of interests within digital culture and the way that each week reflects slightly different manifestations of this as we move into different areas.

What is a virtual community and how does it fit into cyberculture? As John Seely Brown (2000) remarked,

“Culture is the constant process of producing meanings for and from our social experience”

Much of our social experience in cyberspace is gained from the virtual communities we belong to. Kozinet seems to see virtual communities or networks as online groups with the same dynamics, rules and motivations as offline groups – the need to belong, the social relations and interactions performed in order to bond and establish norms.

Based on earlier work I had done, I posted a reference to my lifestream about the rules of virtual groups based on the work of Walther J.B and Bunz U (2005) which should prove useful in my virtual ethnography.

The social network I will be using for my netnography is the network I created for teachers and students of Advanced Level Communication and Culture. Being both the moderator and a participant gives me a dual perspective, which I hope will give me some interesting insights. Kozinet’s article gave me some ideas for a survey of my members to find out specifically what they use the network for and what it is that the value about being a member. I hope to interview at least two or three members in more detail as well.

For Bell virtual communities was “about belonging and exclusion, about ‘us’ and ‘them’” and he quotes Benedict Arnold (1983)

“the extent to which all communities are imagined and held together by shared cultural practice (rather than just face-to-face interaction)”

In the case of my chosen network, the shared cultural practices will be those of both professionals and teacher-student relationships. These ideas of common cultural experiences and practices were followed up in another of my life stream postings from The Guardian about books that you might have expected your peers to have read in the past. The same applies to television – whilst channels were restricted to the five terrestrial channels there was a common British cultural experience. People tended to watch the same programmes at the same time and discuss these with peers at work and school the next day. Niche TV and multi-channels have removed this common experience. Bell, quoting Anderson on the sense of nation says

“…..we need ‘things’ to coalesce a shared sense of identity around..”

Also posted were a couple of very clear video contributions by David Gauntlett, University of Westminster on participation, creativity and connections. The Communication and Culture network members use the site to swap resources and ideas about teaching materials and student coursework. My personal belief is that creativity doesn’t work in a vacuum – it feeds off all the experiences and ideas around the creator so encouraging students and teachers to be creative requires a stimulating environment for collaboration and discussion.

This week’s readings about virtual communities and social networks have revolved around the two poles of opinion cited by Bell

“….on the one hand, and on the other those who argue that online community is damaging RL community, by encouraging a withdrawal from ‘real life’.”

If we accept that communication and interaction are vital for both establishing and maintaining a sense of community, then certainly both these elements are required in online and RL. However, Anderson’s (1983) point about certain ‘communities’ being imagined, such as the concept of ‘nation’, does seem to be a good analogy to use with online communities. The evidence of the community is not the actual presence or meeting of individuals, but as Anderson says, ‘shared cultural practice’. Both Rheingold (2000) and Shirky (2003) also discuss the necessity for shared social codes (rules or netiquette) and reciprocity. Successful communities need to have bounded size, enforceable norms and mechanisms for ejecting or controlling hostile users. Shirky (2003) makes the point that there will always be a small group of users who care more about the group and that they become a ‘core group’ . I have already observed this in the social network selected for my mini ethnography, along with

“….the role of elites, gossip, and conflict in the formation and maintenance of an active, thriving community.”

In Hine’s article she quotes Meyrowitz (1985)

“…looking at the ways in which new media might alter the conditions of identity performance.”

In my chosen network, constituted from teachers and students of a particular curricular subject, normal conditions of identity performance such as visual identity, professional status and teaching experience is singularly lacking for the teacher members. Student members seem to have constructed identities modelled on their prior knowledge of social networks – that is, purely social. So much so, that as moderator I have had to construct a welcome message which reminds them of the function of this particular social network.

Kozinet points out that where individuals

“….believe that their interaction is going to be limited and will not result in future interactions, then their relations tend to be more task-oriented.”

On casual observation, this also seemed to be the case with the Communication and Culture network. Members’ prime motivation seemed to be sharing resources and gaining information. For that reason many members do not personalise their profile page at all.

However, in some initial responses those same members confirmed

“….a strong sense of community as well as detailed information and intelligence about a central, unifying interest and activity. These communities I term Building communities. (Kozinet 2010)

“I’m trying to think of life streaming as ‘notes on an identity’ rather than the full manuscript.”

I wanted to develop my ‘notes’ in my visual artefact. However, using Prezi has been a bit of a challenge for me. The advice to jot down thoughts, key words and associated images as a starting point just didn’t resonate with me largely because I have a rather linear and traditional approach to storytelling – beginning, middle, end with sequencing provided by the author! My grasp of layout and spatial awareness is not strong – Dennis introduced his artefact by stressing the importance of

“the idea that form and material are aspects of, not only physical worlds, but are understood as critical elements for full literacy in virtual space.”

It was comforting to think that spatial literacy may be something one can learn, rather than just an innate male ability! Thanks to the discussion around Dennis’ artefact I picked up some interesting ideas about how externalising thought helps one to think through ideas

“The loop through pen and paper is part of the physical machinery responsible for the shape of the flow of thoughts and ideas…” Clark (2008).

So although the random externalising of thoughts in Prezi didn’t help my thinking, the physical typing up of my final blog posting this week “What is this thing called Digital Visual Literacy” produced a direction and focus for my comments which had been lacking from the purely mental processing of the same information whilst I had been reading.

Even in Prezi I did finally manage to group my ideas together and then plan a path through them despite being spatially challenged! Part of the problem may have been my compulsion to ‘impose meaning’ onto the presentation, rather than leaving it to the viewer. As it happens, that was a waste of time since each viewer had a different perspective, judging by the comments.

Much easier was the choice of music to enhance the presentation – Jen called it “very wistful” which certainly fitted in with the word ‘lost’ in the title of the presentation. However well developed cyber culture is becoming as an addition or substitution for actual culture, our place in that space and our identity is constantly changing – as I say in the presentation ‘fragmentary, hybrid, incomplete’ but also ‘jokey, ironic…”.

Jen also mentions the use of music ‘asks us to consider Sterne’s point about the neglect of the auditory! “ This is a reference I would like to follow up in the future.

‘Gaze’ theory has been another area of interest for me this week following up my interest in visual identity and the influences of gender and psychoanalysis. Since visual literacy has dominated this week’s reading, I found that the use of my Flickr feed was much more frequent this week than in previous weeks. The need to reflect my thoughts in a visual way has been an enjoyable and enlightening experience. My final blog posting of the week reminded me that I actually know quite a lot about the construction of images and some of the methods used to analyse them. However, it has been valuable to add some other perspectives to my largely semiology based approach.

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