Take Two #58: Cyborgs Among Us
By Kyra-lin Hom
Now, I want to jump right in to this topic, but it's been requested that I follow up my Thanksgiving column from two weeks ago. So here's a quick rundown on how that baking with everything BUT any of the normal ingredients went. In brief, the word 'yummy' doesn't exactly spring to mind. All of my efforts were for naught. Oh, the food was pretty great. My dessert, however... frustrating.
My friends' semi-impromptu Thanksgiving celebration went well – not according to plan but well. Though I suppose if we ever stuck to the rare pre-made plan, death by shock could be a real possibility. The pair bringing the turkey and stuffing bailed. They brought the traditional beer instead. That's filling, right? Luckily they had given the side dish team enough heads up that the sides were super-sized into meal proportions. The hosts bumped the time of dinner up an hour without telling me. One person bailed entirely. Another showed up hours late. Yet another showed up unexpectedly. And let's just say I'm re-attempting this sugar/soy/lactose/gluten/nut/etc.-free pie out of shear principle and perhaps some stubborn baking pride too. You know, just maybe. All in all, par for the course. (I'll keep you posted on that pie.)
All right, that said, “cyborgs.” It's an abbreviation of the phrase “cybernetic organism,” a melding of living creature and technology that together form something greater than its parts. Colloquially, the term is sometimes applied to people with pacemakers, artificial limbs (with electronic systems), and so forth. Technically that's kind of stretching the definition. The implants are glorified tools, the people they're implanted in aren't DC or Marvel cape qualified and most importantly so far people and their medical implants don't meet the requirements for a “closed signaling loop” (feedback between the system and its environment).
I have another application of the term to propose: our dependence upon the internet and our computers and mobile devices. Specifically – not to discriminate – everyone about 30 and under with the codependence becoming more pronounced the younger you get. It's not our bodies that are merged with these technologies but our minds. The way in which we use the internet and our personal electronics is actually altering the way we think, remember and process information.
From Hildebrand to texting to Twitter, we have grown accustomed to expressing ourselves in brief 140-160 character spurts. We are more accepting of summaries and vague statements. Our attention spans are shorter for the written word. What started out as enough space for a basic statement has evolved into the space deemed appropriate for complex events and ideas. Some researchers are concerned that this is even simplifying (I think of it as flattening) our thoughts.
Studies aside, something that me and mine have really noticed is that the ready availability of the internet has all but killed my generation's factual memory. There's no need when we can instantly look up any fact we want (sarcasm intended). Sure we can remember factoids about things we really love, but the dry facts? Good luck. The upswing is that we seem to synthesize more information at a faster rate. A necessary skill when your reservoir is as deep and booby trapped as the internet. Obviously, as with everything, some people are better at this than others.
Another example, I know I write better when I type than when I have to write by hand. It's become far more comfortable for me. At least part of the reason is that I can type faster and longer than I can write with pen and paper. Plus Times New Roman is more legible than Kyra-lin Hom 20-12. The only exception to this is poetry where form is part of the art.
So am I a cyborg? Earlier this week I managed to drop my computer, severely damaging the motherboard. My bright orange-encrusted baby was crying out a steady low, something-is-very-wrong beeping, and the screen was frozen. I panicked. I literally ran to my car and then from my car to the computer care center. Leaving it behind for its overnight diagnostic was like walking away naked. For two days I only had my droid smartphone – a pitiful back up connection to the internet. ...Yeah, I'd say I have issues. But at least I'm not alone.
For a lot of us, the internet is like an extended brain. Search engines and bookmarks are our retrieval system. We affect it and it affects us, creating that oh so critical “closed signaling loop” system insofar as I understand it. If the technology of the world suddenly shuts down, yes, we're going to have problems. But in the meantime, I'm really okay with being a primitive cyborg. After all, the total capabilities do surpass the sum of our parts.