As a quick note before we start the blog post, I was really excited to examine the texts for this topic as it should have lined up exactly with the release of the videogame Cyberpunk 2077, an upcoming RPG game about being a cyborg. The game has been delayed until September, so I unfortunately could not write about it here. I’m looking forward to revisiting this topic and these texts come September, though!
It’s been a couple years since I’ve seen The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In the conclusion of How We Became Posthuman, N. Katherine Hayles examines some fears that humans will be “displaced as the dominant form of life on the planet by intelligent machines” (Hayles 283). This rumination sparked a memory for me from the film: when an alien named Ford Prefect, naming himself after the automobile, came to Earth for the first time only to be almost hit by a car, he remarked, “I thought cars were the dominant lifeform. I was trying to introduce myself.” I’m not sure how extraterrestrials fit into the concept of “posthuman,” but the transient idea is what I wish to explore. How would an outside visitor view the scape of planet Earth? Are humans represented as the dominant lifeform? Are what we might consider everyday things better considered as mechanical augmentations of the human body? Are we already cyborgs?
I think the questions asked here are too big for a blog post. Instead, what I write here I posit as more of a “notes towards” some future project. Hayles already touches on these questions in her book, anyway. But I wonder of some of the limitations of her examination. Though Hayles connects human augmentation to flow of information, e.g. “if a blind man’s cane is part of the man,” what of augmentations for the sake of convenience, such as cars as cursory legs (84). Technology augments the capabilities of the human body. Indeed, technology extends the limitations of what a body is capable of. We can travel at great distances, or, alternatively, reduce the need for travel entirely (as seen during the COVID crisis). Where does the tool stop and where does the cyborg begin? Are tools cybernetic?
Both N. Katherine Hayles and Donna Haraway reckon with the conceptual limitations of this very question. Haraway writes of “the potential of the cyborg to disrupt traditional categories” (84). I wonder, though, how does one draw the line. Or, were we cyborgs all along? While both of these authors write about my questions, I feel like something is missing. To return to the car, we must enter the space of the car. Observationally, the car consumes us as we enter its body. The car, the presumed dominant lifeform, can easily kill any one of us humans. Operating a car is also muscle memory: a foot instinctively presses on the break and the gas and is driven by this muscle memory to prevent an accident when something unexpected crosses the field of view. There is no boundary in using a car. The eye feeds information to the feet which, in conjunction with the hands, pilots the vehicle. Then, I wonder, does “muscle memory” compound the definition or limitations of “cyborg”?
That my examination felt like a stretch, at least as I was typing it, stresses the importance of some sort of conceptual limitation on cybernetics. Does it start and begin with surgery, then? Direct, and indeed invasive, augmentation of the body? But when entering a car, are we not invading the body? Is the fact that piloting an automobile reliant on muscle memory already suggesting a deep, neurological connection between car, body, and mind? My problem with this example is that, when I apply to argument to anything else, or even the car itself, it just feels silly. When I play violin, I’m relying on muscle memory to play the right notes. The argument still stands, but somehow feels weaker. I think I would need to learn more about the conceptual limitation of cyborg, and thus where to draw the line between cyborg and tool, in order to make more sense of my other questions.