I am a cyborg: A personal reflection

To celebrate submitting my first PhD application yesterday, I thought I’d share with you my first writing assignment from my master’s programme.

This was written for my Cultural Theory module. The assignment was to write a personal reflection on the works of a cultural theorist. I chose to reflect on Donna Haraway’s essay, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century“.

The paper was originally submitted in December 2011 and received a distinction. (Who’s a clever girl?)

I Am a Cyborg: A Personal Reflection
By Frances VC Ryan, University of Stirling

Science fiction is filled with stories of cyborgs – futuristic creations of man and machine melded together into a single being; a world run by supercomputers with artificial intelligence systems; alien life forms controlling the human race with technology. It sounds far-fetched but, as Donna Haraway (1991) points out, “a cyborg is … a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction” (p. 149). In fact, part of that social reality can be found in Ofcom’s 2011 statistics on Internet use which shows that 74 per cent of adults living in the United Kingdom have a broadband Internet connection and 91 per cent own or regularly use a mobile telephone. Further, 32 per cent of adults access the Internet on their mobile telephones, giving mobile access to some of the 48 per cent of UK adults who have social networking profiles.

Haraway’s essay, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century”, looks at the cyborg couplings between humans and animals, humans and medicine, and the physical and non-physical. She also looks at the connections between humans and technology – and the communications technologies that are “the critical tools recrafting our bodies” (Haraway, p. 164). It is this area of cyborg theory that fascinates me; the idea of communications technologies altering our bodies and our way of life.

I first became conscious of my cyborg nature at the age of nine. It was 1983 and I was given my first digital watch: A Casio with a built-in calculator, alarm, and address book. After that, I had to have the latest gadgets and I needed to be an early adopter of new technologies. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, owning these technologies put me in a social group outside of the mainstream, but I felt connected to others who were like me – others who dreamt of the day when technology became the mainstay of society. Over the past 15 years, however, the rest of my social circle began to embrace technology. Owning a personal computer has gone from being a subculture hobby to being a near-necessity for social survival in the western world. The change in electronics ownership – from personal computers to mobile phones – has drastically changed the way we communicate with each other.

Communications with family and friends changed as society has embraced their cyborg selves; these devices are paramount to a new way of life, for “communications technologies depend on electronics” (Haraway, p. 165). With more than 800 million active users on the social networking site Facebook, and more than 350 million of those users accessing the site with their mobile telephones (Facebook, 2011), the site has become the primary tool used for communications between some groups. Families share digital photographs of the newest generations, but also scan old black and white photos from generations past. Invitations to birthday parties and baptisms are sent through social networking sites, or by mobile text messaging. Even attendance at family events can take place by webcam when someone is unable to attend in person.

Cyborgs have also used these communications technologies to communicate with like-minded groups who may not otherwise be reachable. Groups of virtual networks – people who have never met in person – have become a normal part of some societies, aided by communications technologies. These technologies have allowed people to connect about shared hobbies and belief systems, to share information on topics of passion, and even to create romantic connections. However, it is not just human interactions within these social networks – communications technologies allow users to interact with other websites and external applications, integrating users’ lives into one cyborg-enabled interface. Facebook estimates that its users install applications more than 20 million times a day and that there are more than seven million applications and websites integrated with the site. News organisations such as The Guardian and The Telegraph have integrated their information within the social networking site to make it easier for cyborgs to find and share information with their networks, and other organisations have begun to use the tool for marketing to their constituents.

This cyborg world of communications is celebrated with so many positive aspects, but this is not to say there are no negative aspects of the modern infliction of communications technologies. We have become slaves to the mechanisms which we praise so highly; as “our sense of connection to our tools is heightened” (Haraway, p. 178) our tools seem to have taken dominion over us. Haraway talks about the “trance state” many cyborgs experience being a “staple of science fiction” (p. 178) but that trance state can be observed on the city streets, on public transportation, and even in the classroom today. With the majority of the UK population using mobile telephones, it might appear to the ironic observer of human evolution that our bodies have adapted to the technology which is integral to everyday life for many users.

The cyborg world seems inescapable, but it is not one I wish to escape. I am a cyborg. My relationship with electronic devices has kept me in communication with family and friends. Communications technologies have changed the way I interact with the world as a whole – from business dealings and educational attainment to social calendaring and religious expression.  Electronics have played a pivotal part in the shaping of my world and they will continue to play a role in shaping my future. I control these machines and these machines control me. But Haraway summed it up best when she said “I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess” (p. 181). 

(1) Facebook. (2011). Facebook Statistics. Retrieved 29/11, 2011, from https://www.facebook.com/press/info.php?statistics
(2) Haraway, D. (1991). A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century. In Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (pp. 149-181). London: Free Association Press.
(3) Ofcom. (2011). Ofcom Facts & Figures. Retrieved 29/11, 2011, from http://media.ofcom.org.uk/facts

Join the conversation!