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Cyborg anthropologist: We can all be superhuman

Cyborg anthropologist: We can all be superhuman

December 7, 2012 - Cyborg anthropology is the study of the interaction between humans and technology, and how technology affects culture. Mobile technology allows one to stand almost anywhere in the world, whisper something, and be heard elsewhere. These devices that live in our pockets need to be fed every night require our frequent attention. In only a few years these devices have become stitched into the fabric of our everyday lives. Phones offer us respite from the boredom of waiting in lines, but they also inhibit us when they run out of batteries.

Everyone that uses technology is a superhuman.

I'm fascinated with mobile devices for another reason -- they are a bundle of sensors that we walk around with every day. That sensor data can be used to do very interesting things, such as automatically turn on the lights in your house when you get home, or turn the lights off when you leave.

In traditional anthropology, somebody goes to another country, says: "How fascinating these people are! How interesting their tools and their culture are," and then they write a paper, and maybe a few other anthropologists read it, and we think these cultures are very exotic. cyborg anthropologists step back from the modern world and look at the everyday life and how the people around us are influenced by technology in everyday life.

Why did you decide to study cyborg anthropology?

When I was little, I was very interested in technology, science and mathematics. I grew up in the '80s, but read my dad's copy of 1960 World Book Encyclopedia. My favorite entry was on the modern computer. The machine filled an entire gymnasium and was used for military and business. As I grew up, I saw technology transition towards being used in everyday life. The only problem was that technology was still a pain in the neck to use. Most systems had too many menus and buttons.

A cyborg is not Terminator or Robocop, but the experience of everyday life that's been altered by technology.

During my freshman year of college, I was introduced to the field of cyborg anthropology -- the study of humanity and technology. What I really liked about cyborg anthropology is that it crossed multiple fields of study. In academia, you can learn a lot about a certain field, but know nothing about another. Technology is so intertwined with humanity at this point that it takes multiple fields to understand both tools and people.

Explainer interactive: What is the 'Internet of Things'?

How would you define your cyborg self?

A cyborg is simply someone who interacts with technology. The technology can be a physical or a mental extension, and doesn't need to be implanted in the person. The origin of the word cyborg was from a 1960 paper on space travel, where it was used to describe the placement of external devices and clothing on a human to make them fit for space travel.

For thousands and thousands of years, everything has been a physical modification of self. It has helped us to extend our physical selves, go faster, hit things harder, and there's been a limit on that. But now what we're looking at is not an extension of the physical self, but an extension of the mental self.

( via cnn.com )


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