Cyborgs: Not Just a Scifi Concept Anymore

May 17, 2011 by Lydia Allen

In reading Andy Clark’s “Natural-Born Cyborgs” and Donna Haraway’s “The Cyborg Manifesto,” I have come to realize a broader conception of what it means to be a cyborg and the implications of the cyborg concept for society at large. When imagining a cyborg, I construct a model that is part human and part machine. This model is both like me in its humanness and unlike me in its integration of machine parts into its physical being. Andy Clark breaks down this “Hollywood” representation of the cyborg in his book, arguing instead for the increasing interdependence of humans and their machines. I agree with Clark’s assessment, here, as it is not uncommon to experience a sense of loss when one’s cell phone goes missing or breaks, when one’s computer hard drive is wiped out (without  a backup), or even when one’s free, online email account is deleted from neglect of use. Technology is changing the way we store our memories (such as photos and communications from friends) and the way we socialize. I recently experienced the loss of a valued friend when she passed away, but I can still visit her facebook page, re-reading her thoughts and feeling her presence. I can leave her messages there to tell her how much I miss her and I can read her other friends’ messages, too. Her facebook page has become a memorial to her in which she participated while still living. This experience is completely new, but comforting to me.

Social networking also allows me to construct a public identity of myself in new ways as well.  For instance, in blog comments or chat rooms, I can remain ageless, genderless, raceless, and classless if I choose to do so. Haraway’s essay hints at this new construction of identity, for she plays with the notion of gender in her analysis of technology in feminism and socialism. Although Haraway originally produced the essay in 1985, its themes have applications today. With the use of technology, I can present myself publicly in many possible ways. Admittedly, however, I often choose to present myself as I am (but with some anonymity for safety reasons).  In blog comments and chat rooms, I am a 30-something, female, white, middle-class woman.  But I don’t have to be, and it is interesting to note that when I present myself completely anonymously, people often assume I am a man.

So, having read the works of these two scholars, I must admit that my notion of what it means to be a cyborg has changed. I’ve come to believe that even though I am fully organic in my physical being, I am mentally, in several ways, a cyborg. It seems a strange label to give myself, but it seems to fit nevertheless. I am a cyborg. How about you?