Are We Cyborgs?

I’ll be covering this at length in my Wednesday podcast, but having written the production on the subject, I had some thoughts I wanted to get out. As technology continues to develop, and we become increasingly dependent on it, the cyborgization of humanity has become inevitable. From the early days of science fiction, we have assumed that at some point, humans will start to graft technology directly to our bodies, and in an example of life mimicking art, it has indeed begun. From wearable technologies to subdermal body modifications, we have created a localized Internet of Things around each and every one of us.

So then comes the notion: are we already cyborg? To some, the mere act of wearing glasses makes us a cyborg, even though it’s a 100% passive effect; you wear a supplemental lens that is perched on your face, and you can easily remove it. However, no person that wears glasses, including myself, would argue that we are at a loss when we aren’t wearing them. In my case particularly, as my vision has gotten progressively worse over my lifetime, the mere act of dropping them causes a small amount of anxiety lest I step on them before finding them.

In a more modern sense, however, we are cyborg not because of how we interface with tech, but because we are dependent on it. Take away a person’s smartphone, and watch how they flounder. We have become so wired into our devices, that they are essentially an extension of ourselves. A mere ten years ago, having a cell phone out at work was a disciplinary problem, which often led to termination. Now, many companies are encouraging people to use their phones in the course of their work, most notably Best Buy, who have designated cellphones used by both Blue Shirts and Geek Squad as their “sidearms”. This expansion of technology use has created a world where we view our devices as extensions of ourselves, a piece of our body that isn’t necessarily attached, which if you think about it is very machine-like on its face.

While many technologies help to reduce or eliminate handicap (such as glasses, and hearing aids), others expand our senses and capabilities. With a few taps on my phone, I have access to the World Wide Web (yes, that is still technically what it’s called), and the sum of all knowledge that humanity has come up with (although good luck verifying the veracity of what you find). I can download an app that uses the phones inboard sensors to detect radio signals, ambient radiation (with an attachment), light, directional sound, and other environmental factors. I can instantly communicate with everyone in my network, no matter where in the world they are.

That last part, taken to its extreme, will of course result in a Borg Collective, however I doubt we’ll go quite that far. That said, it is not too far to state that we should start looking at ourselves as having started the process of integrating into the very technology that we have come to depend on. So next time you are compelled to pull out that cell phone, or reach for the Bluetooth collar you wear as both fashion and device, take a moment and think about where this could eventually go.

Honestly, I’m waiting for the port in the back of my neck so I can play videogames using only my brain.

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