Friday, November 30, 2012

Social class and cyborgs

Will Barratt, Ph.D.

If you are reading this you are already a cyborg, at least according to William Gibson.  You have augmented reality, peripherals, external memory, and arrays of information all at your fingertips, a mouse click or a voice command away.  Gibson outlined this idea of cyborg in his 2008 talk to the Vancouver Institute “Googling the Cyborg” (in Distrust that particular flavor).  I was taken by his idea that we don’t need to be hardwired to be a cybernetic organism.  We are not hardwired like the Borg or memory augmented like Johnny Mnemonic, but how we affect our peripherals and how they affect us is cybernetics. We can still unplug our broadband, tablet, laptop, cellphone, game console, and silicon based peripheral life.  Yet few of us unplug.

For me, the idea of the peripheral goes beyond silicon, and that is where social class comes in.  In the performance of our selves in everyday life (see Irving Goffman’s Performance of self in everyday life) we have all manner of personal identity peripherals.  People with more money will have more high quality, designer, high speed, maximum bandwidth silicon peripherals with obviously designer labeled cases.  You can get a Prada iPad case that costs more than an iPad mini.  A silicon peripheral can have a designer fashion peripheral, layering it all in complex ways.

According to Wikipedia, the most excellent source to use in this particular blog, “Cybernetics is a transdisciplinary approach for exploring regulatory systems, their structures, constraints, and possibilities.”  “A cyborg, short for "cybernetic organism", is a being with both biological and artificial (i.e. electronic, mechanical, or robotic) parts.”  Do peripherals not hard wired to you count as part of you?  Yes, according to Gibson.  You rely on sensory input (glowing screens) and physical output (typing) to use peripherals, the hard wiring is irrelevant.  If silicon-based input and output peripherals are part of our cybernetic organism selves, then our other peripherals are equally part of our cybernetic “regulatory systems, . . . structures, constraints, and possibilities”.

Our fashion and accessory peripherals help us in the performance of our gender, our ethnicity, our social class, and the myriad identities we have on public display.  Dan Ariely in The (honest) truth about dishonesty explores honesty and counterfeit fashion.  His, and others’, research tells us that knowingly wearing real high prestige designer sunglasses makes us slightly more honest and knowingly wearing counterfeit high prestige designer sunglasses makes us slightly more dishonest.  This makes knowledge about a fashion peripheral part of a person’s regulatory system, structure, constraints, and possibilities.  Sunglasses are a fashion peripheral and affect your perception of the world, as well as affect your honesty.

Cybernetic analyses is exploring regulatory systems, structures, constraints, and possibilities.  Thinking of cell phones as silicon technology peripherals makes us cybernetic organisms in a more traditional sense.  We are linked to technology is a systemic way which affects both the technology and us.   Thinking of fashion as a peripheral also makes us cyborgs, linked to our manufactured clothing and accessories which in turn affects our self-image and behaviors, which in turn affects those around us who in turn affect us. 

No comments: