Friday, October 12, 2007

"Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto, domo...domo"

I have had the pleasure (such as it is) to have Styx racing through my brain for two solid days.

I was working as one of the hosts for a convention of business innovators that took place in Providence. The conference was called the BIF-3, or Business Innovation Summit.

Now I am going to just come right out and say this. I hate conventions, as a rule of thumb I would rather be picking pumpkins or standing around leaning against a wall; however, the BIF summit is very interesting, because they don't spend an inordinate amount of time talking about returns on equity, profit margins, "cap-ex" budgets or any other kind of meaningless shit that talking heads say when they want to obfuscate that they make money and don't really understand why. The point of the conference is to talk about their experiences innovating their respective fields and what they did to become leaders or how they handled difficulties in their businesses.

But that is not the point of the this post, it is a qualifier to tell you where I was when I was hit this thought that I am going to lay out for you.

I think that certain segments of humanity are much closer to being cyborg than we might perceive. For two days I watched people plugged into all manner of blue-tooth, cell phone, mobile laptop computing gizmo that has been invented, and some that probably aren't on the market yet.

I had to look-up the word cyborg just to remind myself what the actual definition was and I was a little shocked. I was mostly amazed that the definitions listed in the link provide no mention of the level of integration; simply, that it mentions that someone for whom physiological processes are aided or enhanced by technological means.

So I am going to join the growing bandwagon and say that we--the royal, all-encompassing we--are cyborgs.

I come to this conclusion using communication as my physiological process of choice. I think, although have no proof, that most anthropologists would put homo-sapiens' ability to communicate as one of the principal factors in our rapid ascent to the being dominant species on the planet, and when I look at the way we communicate with each other the proof seems to be beyond denial.

Cell phones have become ubiquitous in the United States; so much so that even middle school students have them in prodigious quantities. They are everywhere; at the mall, at the dentist, at the conference I was working, in the movies (much to my chagrin) and at the bus stop. But they aren't limited to vocal communication anymore either; look at the growing dominance of text messages, phone email applications, and instant messaging.

Just this morning I was able to text message my friend Adam who lives in Chicago to find out who the stop-time animator behind Clash of the Titans and Jason and the Argonauts was; Ray Harryhausen, but he didn't know, I had to call a friend in New York. It is amazing that I can send an instant thought, no matter how banal, to someone who lives a thousand miles away.

But it doesn't stop with cell phones and text messages. MMO Games, like World of Warcraft, represent a different class of this same phenomenon. Except that it is worse. With an MMO not only do you allow technology to be your voice (as with a cell phone) you are also allowing it to be the medium for your physique and personality as well. I know whole groups of people for whom WoW is more than a hobby. They measure time spent playing the game in days per week because it is just easier, and they have two versions of their personality that they live; they have an on-line self and real world self and they are often very very very different.

Even as I sit here typing out this blog post I am amazed at the number of people that may (or may not) read it. Technology has completely, unalterably changed the way we communicate with each other. I remember a time at work when our voice mail and computers were down and one of the portfolio managers I worked with started to have a first rate freak-out attack. It was sort of funny watching fifty year old man having a temper tantrum, and he asked, with all earnestness, "What are we going to do with the voicemail out? How am I supposed to know who called?"

We handed him a blank notebook and a pen.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really thought cyborgs were robots, but with an epidermis. That's spooky- we're all cyborgs!!

10/13/2007 12:01:00 AM  
Blogger Nicky said...

I think you're right about the cyborg thing. Check this out.

10/13/2007 10:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, that vibration thing is eerie. It's like when I quit smoking - I could still feel my arm lifting my cigarette for an inhale!
I just started reading a book called Seeing Voices by Oliver Sacks. It's about profoundly deaf people (it was my mom's book). He explains (his writing is extremely accessible) that it is communication that lifted us into a collective society of beings, and that at it's foundation, it is language that does it. Without language we have no ability to think. Ponder that! jan

10/14/2007 02:16:00 PM  

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