A Refresher on Posthumanism – Dependency on Gadgetry

Norbert Wiener discussed the idea of cybernetics and how it could help maximize our potential as humans in an increasingly chaotic and unpredictable world. He believed that humans could use technology and take advantage of it to create fully automated systems that make our lives so much easier; this would give the controller immense power and control. In our world, we are dominated by the desire to communicate using technology and to have full control over these technologies–since we thrive on control and interaction in our new media and technology. However, Wiener warns that people could be enslaved to this sort of technology and machinery; it is becoming quite clear that many are becoming controlled by their technology.

Technology makes the individual user capable of full control but we are now a collective using relatively similar forms of technology. For the differences between things like Blackberry’s, iPhones, Androids, or Windows phones, the underlying theme remains the same; they are all smart phones that make our lives easier. We are becoming a collective that uses technology nearly 24/7. After class, how many people do you see reach instinctively into their pockets or purses and check their phones? How many do you see plug themselves into their world of music?

Hayles notes in her chapter, citing Weizenbaum, that humans must maintain control over our technologies. She states that if we “Sacrifice this, and we humans are hopelessly compromised, contaminated with mechanic alieness in the very heart of our humanity” (23). She later explains that the posthuman world offers ways for humans to maintain autonomy and enhance our well-beings so that we become more flexible and coordinated in the environment around us (25).

Reading her chapter, and from what we know of posthumanism, I imagined it to be similar to what Stelarc had presented, that the body is obsolete. However, from seeing things in day to day life, we’re not exactly there yet. What we do have is human dependency on gadgetry and electronics. From phones to iPods/MP3 players to even laptops, humans are becoming intertwined with technology, like Wiener had envisioned; while we are not physically connected to our devices, we do have a mental dependency on them to get us through our day to day lives.

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OMG Help – What Do I Have?!

j20mill: Hey everyone, I’m a pretty healthy 22-year old, not much history of heart disease, cancer, etc. so I’m pretty lucky, but lately I’ve been having these headaches and can’t really fall asleep. Also, I’ve been feeling really exhausted lately but I found a lump or two on my neck the other day and I’m getting pretty worried. I Googled my symptoms and I found people with the exact same symptoms as I do and most of them said they had things like cancer and mono. I mean I might be overreacting to all this, but man I’m worried. Anyone have any suggestions? I’m trying not to freak out here, but it’s hard to sit still knowing something’s up.

dexter12: Hey j20, sorry to hear. Hope it gets better, but a few years back I had the same things and had a benign tumour (luckily). I had it removed a few weeks after I found it and after a few tests were run. I was pretty healthy too, I used to (and still do) work out every other day, I don’t smoke or drink, and it caught up with me. It was pretty scary. Hope you get through it fine!

miamio: It’s just a cold. Go see a doctor.

FrozenOlive: I don’t know if lumps have anything to do with mono. I mean I had it for a month or so last year but I don’t remember finding any lumps or anything. I was bed-ridden for most of it so get plenty of rest!

j20mill: Thanks guys, I booked an appointment with my doctor. Hopefully it’s nothing.

Phillymania: Thats good. My neihbour’s a doctor and I had the same symptoms so I asked him waht he thought and he told me it might be MS. I had started to feel faint and my vision was starting to go. Is yours? Hope not.

j20mill: Yikes, Phil, sorry to hear. No, my vision hasn’t. I feel fine. Just tired.

Phillymania: that’s good. I saw my doctor a week later and it wasn’t anything serious she said.

NeddyPot: Did you do a WebMD symptom checker? I did one of those a few months ago and it got what I had as soon as I plugged in my symptoms.

j20mill: Yeah I just tried it. Here are a few things: hyperthyroidism, depression, sleep apnea, mononucleosis. I didn’t see cancer, but the lumps are really freaking me out. Doctor’s appointment in 2 hours so I’ll no more. Wish me luck guys, thanks.

Phillymania: good luck!

NeddyPot: Best of luck!

For the record, I’m fine. This is just an example of a forum where people discuss symptoms and possible causes found using WebMD.com and general Internet searches. We can see that people take to the Internet for diagnoses from others and from the web. They are not medically qualified and most of the time the symptoms are so general it could be anything (such as the possible issues ‘j20mill’ had). I tried to stress the focus people had here on information online being available ASAP compared to seeing a doctor. Perhaps that is why people go online and search their symptoms. Information can come to them right away about their symptoms and they can feel some sort of comfort in having an idea of what they have. I guess it is sort of a any news is better than no news scenario with cybermedicalization and the pursuit of medical information online. How far will this go though, I wonder? Will it get to the point where people not only plug in their symptoms, but will we see things like virtual doctors where people show pictures and video of their symptoms or of themselves to get a consultation from someone else?

Video games as an art form

As we have discussed in class, there is much discrepancy over whether video games are, or are not an art form.  But one important distinction not to be overlooked is the difference between video game creation, and the actual partaking in the game itself.  Most people would agree that creating a video game is a form of art.  You need aesthetic sensitivity, technological capability (engineering and web design know how), creativity, and to know your audience (advertising). Yet many would challenge that playing a video game encompasses the same artistry that the creation of games does, and claim it not to be a form of art.  Based on the listed artistic attributes that make video game design an art, I would like to challenge this concept, claiming that playing video games is a true art.

Aesthetic Sensitivity:

Many gamers will choose video games based on the amazing graphics that creates a true sense of immediacy.  Games such as Call of Duty 2, or more notably Black Ops, the graphics have gotten to such a point that it has become a major part of its selling point.  Is getting lost in your game (such as role play), buying a game based on its aesthetics (like buying a painting or listening to music), not showing itself as art, or at the very least creating an appreciation for the aesthetics of art?

Technological Capability:

Though when playing a game you may not be exceptionally knowledgeable in web design and engineering (as it is not as needed in game play), to play a game you still must have technological capability.  Just as a painter needs to have excellent fine motor skills to apply paint strokes just right, gamers need to know exactly what combination of buttons to employ at just the right moment.  Also, though you may not be creating the spaces for players to roam in like a designer, you are manipulating the area as a gamer.  You must completely absorb your surroundings.  For example, in Call of Duty 2 (or really any shooter game), if you are not looking from all vantage points and do not know your surroundings, you’re dead meat.

Creativity and Knowing your Audience:

Going along with this concept, once you know how to manipulate your space, you need to be creative about it.  Finding creative hiding spaces (where you are predominantly blocked but can still shoot many players), being able to dodge a bullet in many ways are just a few simple strategies that you need creativity to get out of.  In the game Prototype, it is mainly free play so you can get yourself into quite a mess.  By killing someone and taking their identity at just the right time that the authorities will not see, you need creativity and strategy.  And to avoid being hit while you have army tanks, planes, and officers after you, you REALLY need some creativity.

Separate from the concept of space and technological creativity, you also need to know your audience.  Advertisers use creative methods to target certain groups to attain what they want: namely, their product to be sold and them to make money.  In gaming, it is not all that different.  You need to know your audience, so you know who to team up with (clans), who to leave alone, and who to watch out for.  Apart from allies and enemies, you also can use strategies to get what you want on games.  If the game you are playing is stereotypically full of males, you can choose a female character to get free protection, and yet advance your score just the same.  There are many (positive and negative) examples of this, and how knowing your opponents and allies is important.

As you can see, video gaming is an art form, even in games that are not stereotypical seen as artsy (such as guitar hero, which uses music and replicas of instruments).

Thinspiration Videos: Progress?

“Thinspiration” videos and pages have been popping up all over the web.  As discussed in the bioethics of cybermedicalization, it is hard to ever find a true black or white on these issues.  Original “thinspiration” videos got a lot of hype, and were eventually seen as a negative thing by most of the world.  One of these reasons is how it encouraged girls to strive for unattainable means.  With photoshop and airbrushing, these photos are often not “real” people, which means some girls will die trying to achieve the impossible, by having that perfect, and truly unattainable body.  How can one ever reach the impossible? Another reason that thinspiration was viewed in a negative light is that ways of “attaining” that body would often be embedded in the video or in the text beneath, encouraging starvation if it was necessary. To combat this, some have tried to make “healthy” thinspiration videos. For example,

This video encourages girls that “thin doesnt have to mean anorexic”, and attempts to promote a healthy approach to weight loss.  But the problem is, the pictures they are using are again, unattainable. Using mainly celebrities who have obviously been airbrushed, it creates again an unattainable body that people can fight to the death for.  So, what is the next logical type of thinspiration to employ? How about healthy bodies which are naturally thin?

So called “real girl” thinspirations are real girls, NOT celebrities with airbrushed perfect bodies.  Yet again, it is encouraging girls to reach unhealthy standards.  These girls may be naturally thin, or may be using unhealthy methods to get there. But even if they are naturally thin, girls who are not as thin as that who want to lose weight will try to attain something that will never be there body type.  For example, you could end up weighing 100 pounds, but if you naturally have wider hips, no amount of weight loss will change that.

The negative is all thinspiration promotes that where you are, right now, is not good enough.  Why can girls not be viewed as beautiful, and view themselves as beautiful, just the way they are, at this very moment? Some may argue that some people are trying to get inspiration to lose those stubborn pounds that are putting them at risk for diabetes and other weight related diseases.  Well then isn’t becoming HEALTHY your inspiration? Knowing you will see your daughters wedding day, or can spend more time with family would be more appropriate.  It is not bad to want to lose a bit of weight and look sexy.  But when it becomes a need instead of a want, and happiness becomes a destination rather than something that is with us through that journey, that is when weight loss can become a negative thing.  Weight loss over striving for a perfect (unattainable) body is a much better goal, and thinspiration videos does not promote this.

Video Games: To be Art… or Not to be Art? That is a Good Question!

Mr. Hancock proposed a very interesting question at the end of Monday’s lecture. Are video games considered art?

To begin this debate I want to introduce you to Roger Ebert. Ebert is a renowned screenwriter and film critic most famously known for establishing the thumbs up thumbs down system of evaluating movies. However, he is also notorious for voicing his belief that video games can never be “art”. Ebert defines art as a reproduction of reality that is filtered through human consciousness. With this definition in mind, one of the reasons he suggests that video games can never be art is because they are based on objectives. (Essentially, he is saying that if you can win its not art). According to Ebert art is not something you win, it is something you experience. He says for example, you wouldn’t call a sports star an artist. Ebert also suggests that video games can never be art because art is not a collective creation, it is singular. He thinks of art as the product of one artist. (For example, paintings done by one artist, dances created by one choreographer etc…) In this sense, video games can never be art because they illustrate the interpretations of many contributors rather than one individual. To successfully create a video game you must utilize programmers, developers, designers, artists, testers… and the list goes on. (As does Ebert’s reasons why video games can never be art). If you would like to take a look at Ebert’s article you can visit the following link:

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2010/04/video_games_can_never_be_art.html

So, my question to you is… Do you think that Ebert is correct in saying that video games can never be art?

Personally, I would have to disagree with him. For one, I don’t think its fair to say that video games can never be art because they are more about winning and completing objectives. I think Video games today engage more with the gamers experience with the game and how they play it rather than “winning” it. I also think that Ebert’s definition of Art is a little ironic in the sense that you could use it to describe video games themselves. Aren’t most video games some sort of reproduction or representation of reality? With the ever-evolving technologies used to create video game graphics the “art” now lies in how well they reproduce reality, or some sort of representation of reality.

In his article Ebert bases a lot of his argument on another article written by Kellee Santiago, a video game designer and producer. (She argues that video games can be art). But the main problem here, and the issue that I think arises in all debates concerning this topic is the loose definition of art. How can you say classify something as art when no one concrete definition exists.

Thoughts? Do you know of any examples of video games that could be classified as art?

Pro-Ana Websites: The Ethical Contradictions

In “The Bioethics of Cybermedicalization” the authors mention how individuals’ (young women, as they pointedly identify) choices to live with their untreated eating disorders can be perceived as a lifestyle choice. Miah and Rich then outline the ethical problems that come into play, such as whether or not certain cases can be justified in favour of medical intervention, and also, whether or not these individuals are competent in their judgments and lifestyle decisions. The essay uses the general example of pro-ana websites to examine the moral and ethical issues that arise with bioethics, and how they are translated online.

With the purpose of exploring this topic, I visited various pro-ana sites. Most of these sites established in their introductions or welcome pages that they were not promoting eating disorders. Many also restricted access to their forums and chat rooms to only those who had eating disorders and met age requirements. One site (http://pro-ana-nation.com/) issued a warning that you must be 18 years or older to enter their site. Although I am 19, I recoiled from going any further because I was wary of what kind of content I would be exposed to. Other sites, such as Pro Ana Online (http://proanaonline.com/), advertise that it is not a pro anorexia site, but that it exists “to offer a community to those with eating disorders”. Pro Ana Online also states that it does not offer diet or weight loss tips.

However, I noticed that this site, and many others like it, seemed to be embedded with ethical contradictions. For instance, despite Pro Ana Online’s assertion that they are not promoting anorexia, on its page of links it lists a number of other sites and blogs that seemingly do. This includes Thinspo links (http://thinspox.tumblr.com/, http://thinspox.tumblr.com/) which are blogs that provide “thinspiration” through photos. What I noted was that these thinspiration sites, as well as Pro Ana Online, warn that they are “trigger sites”, meaning that they could impede the progress of someone working towards recovery from an eating disorder. To me, all of these warnings and labels are confusing and misleading. If these sites are confirming their roles as triggering, can this role be viewed as supplementing the promotion of eating disorders? Additionally, do you think that pro-ana sites may be a “productive aspect of the recovery process” (213) as Miah and Rich ask us to reflect upon in their essay?

The Human Genome

There are many films and novels that explore the issue of controlling human genetics. It is easy to think that a world where our genes are selected is far off or impossible, but one has to take into account that there are several very large projects being developed that track the human genome of one cultural group or, in some cases, several. In the essay “Biocolonialism, Genomics, and the Databasing of the Population” by Eugene Thacker, we are shown the magnitude of these projects.

Thacker also outlines some of the major fears that are often associated with human genome projects. One of the largest taboo concepts is biocolonialism—taking samples of genetic material in order to find the economic or medical value. This ties in closely with issues of race and population. As part of discovering the genome, there will inevitably be race identification. Currently, activists find that this identification makes it okay to emphasize racial and ethnic differences. Taking that one step further, Once we have figured out where these genes can be found and how we can alter them,  a deeper level of discrimination would be possible.

It is scary to think about how much power is held in knowing and understanding the human genome. At the present time, most projects do not progress with the intent of being able to use the genome, but rather to understand it.

If you take a look at the research goals of the popular Human Genome Project, you can see that there is no negative intent outlined. They simply wanted to discover all the genes available to humans and determine the sequence of these genes. What the researchers discovered was that the project was much larger than they had anticipated.

http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/hg5yp/index.shtml

Even though the research aspect of this project has finished, people still continue to analyses their findings. Thus, there is still potential for this project and others, which started off innocent, to become something bigger and threatening than it already is. Thacker mentions how biology, anatomy, and politics is already starting to come together to create a biopolitical power. The consequences he outlines of this are in line with what some people fear about studying the human genome.

Like with any new technology, it is difficult to see what direction this will be taken. But it will be interesting to see how the body and technology will merge in the future.