Cyborg Nation

30 Jun

What’s happening right now in modern culture is that our minds are changing.

Not like, we’re deciding to do stuff we decided not to do earlier. The structure of our minds. The way our minds work. That’s changing right now.

It’s a normal thing to happen to human beings, and historically, it happens more gradually and it happens within certain cultures as opposed to everywhere. For instance, at one point, it was simply impossible to get package across the country in any short length of time.

So people would walk around thinking that way. If your brother was in California, and you were in New York, and you wanted to send him a birthday present, you’d start thinking about it a solid two months early. California was far away.

Then came railroads and the Pony Express. Gradually, the way we all thought changed. You might start thinking about your brother’s birthday a couple of weeks early, instead of a couple of months. California was the same distance away, but the world was changing, and so was the way you thought about it.

Flash forward a bit, and you had the postal service – they’d get it out there in a week. Then Fed Ex – absolutely positively overnight.

Suddenly you could remember your brother’s birthday two days in advance, pick him up a present, and get it to him.

Ever since I’ve got on Facebook, I’ve been feeling my brain changing. It’s different from the distance aspect – though certainly the world seems much, much smaller now, when I can tap Keri Chryst on the shoulder in Paris, and wisecrack at her, and then she can smirk at me with punctuation marks.

We’re becoming integrated. It’s not just our computers networking together, it’s our minds.

I’m not complaining – I think it’s pretty obvious I like Facebook. It’s just odd. There was a time when the idea of being a collective was pretty scary – and it wasn’t too long ago.

Star Trek introduced us to the Borg, a race that had evolved to hold no value in individuals and to instead value the collective race. They didn’t do it in a cool, Facebook, photo-swapping kind of way, either. They did it with eyeball drills and new mechanical hands and really pale skin and suits that looked like you never got to take them off.

Sometimes going to the bathroom is the only time to yourself you get all day – that would stink.

It wasn’t a particularly new idea – insects work as a hive, and there have been countless sci-fi stories about humankind losing their identities in various insect-like ways. Invasion of the Body Snatchers was a creepy example.

I’m not going to go on again about corporations and modern jobs and the hive mentality they tend to value, it’s more of a personal thing.
In our personal lives, we are starting to value integration with everyone else, more and more.

Just fifteen years ago, I remember being really alarmed to hear that they were going to start building in GPS chips in every cel phone. It was going to be possible to track anyone who had one. Big Brother was here.

Now we go on Facebook and alert everyone what we’re doing. Some people even have an app on their phone, so when they walk into Chuck E. Cheese or Comfest or Best Buy, it posts it on their Facebook page. Let’s everyone know you just walked in the joint without you even asking.

Other phones will allow you to put your appointments in them, and then if it notices from the GPS chip that you are not in a position to get to the appointment on time, it will email or text the person. Give them an ETA.

I don’t know about you, but I would prefer to retain the power of bullshit. Where you at, TC? I’m at the library.

Hard to pull off when Facebook just told everyone I’m at a bar. Sure it’s optional now – just don’t get the app.

Cell phones were optional once. Remember when nobody liked people with cell phones?

Phones are shrinking and getting more powerful at the same time. It’s only a matter of time before they are not only tiny enough to fit inside our bodies, but that they’ll have more processing power than our own brains.

That used to be a horrifying futuristic society thing, from the movies – having chips inside us, linking us to the oppressive not-too-distant-future government. Most of us at around thirty-five or forty plus years of age, we’ll have a really hard time getting on board with the idea.

But that doesn’t matter. We’re old. What we do or don’t get on board with really doesn’t matter at all.

Because kids right now have been Facebooking for years, have been carrying chips in their pockets for years, have had headphones plugged into their ears for years, and they’re not nervous about that sort of thing at all.

Two years ago, I heard on the radio about a guy who was Twittering directly from his brain. Thinking stuff, and it was going out on Twitter.

If you got a phone that a teenager can swallow like a pill, and then project a small input screen right onto their retina whenever they think a certain code, they’ll be right on board.

Look, I barely think it’s sad, it’s just one of those things that’s happening so gradually, I don’t know if people are noticing it. Cybernetic implants linking us permanently to the Internet are the next logical step, and your kids aren’t going to care if you are nervous about it or not.

In fact they will care – much like tattoos and piercings and hilarious hairstyles. The fact that you are not comfortable with cybernetic implants will be one of the exact reasons the kids are all going to pile into lines to get them.

Arthur C. Clarke wrote a story about seventy years ago called “I Remember Babylon.” It was very short, and it was set in the future (at the time), and it was about satellites.

The main character was talking with his friend about how human beings were just putting into place the last satellite to complete a global network, such that there won’t be a place on earth where satellites couldn’t reach. This was an incredibly new idea at the time.

He said, I know that it’s a great technological advance, and I know it’s good for humanity.

But he also knew that we were going to lose something along the way – personal things, like conversation and written letters and the time you take to think about those two things, versus the instantaneous way we do them both now.

When we finally did get the first bunch of satellites up in the exact arrangement he predicted, we even named it The Clarke Belt, after that story.

I feel like that now. Like what’s going to be possible and normal is not going to be consistent with who I came to be. Like me and my brother are going to be sitting on a patio, watching cyborg kids go by, and grumbling about them like they have mohawks and girl jeans on.

It’s not that I want to go back to licking stamps and asking for directions at gas stations. I like the system we can plug into and connect with each other.

It’s just that I worry it’s getting harder and harder to not connect. I could stand going back to the time when you could sneak off to a bowling alley, or take a nap in your back yard hammock, without the universe tapping on your shoulder anytime you crossed the mind of one of the people in it.

I remember pay phones, that’s all. I remember when there wasn’t a digital leash to yank on. I worry that we’ll lose the ability pretty soon here, to take the leash off.


Posted by on June 30, 2010 in Uncategorized


3 responses to “Cyborg Nation

  1. Sharon Wampler

    July 1, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    I was talking to a friend the other day about this topic…and we decided it feels a bit “dehumanizing” doesn’t it? Like some authentic human qualities will be lost?

    • thomaschalfant

      July 1, 2010 at 11:38 pm

      Well, humans keep changing. When we started wearing clothing, there were probably a couple of old jerks sitting naked in a tree, going, “That’s the end of humans as we know them.” Cooking food, living in houses, shaving, cutting our hair, wearing make up, driving cars – all a bunch of stuff that didn’t used to be normal human stuff to do..


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