CNN: Total Dependence on Tech = Superhumanity

An article in CNN yesterday carries this headline: Cyborg anthropologist: We can all be superhuman.

The definition of being “superhuman,” according to the author – a “Cyborg Anthropologist” – is inextricably tied to dependence on tech. Tech, she says, makes us all superhuman. However, she then goes on to describe a world of human cyborgs where humans are totally dependent on tech to know how they feel, what and when to eat, when to sleep, when to change jobs and how to generally move forward with every minute detail of their lives.

Human Cyborg

This guy is PSYCHED on being a human cyborg. Are you?

Consider the following quote: “Taking data from across many different silos is where the opportunity is. If I knew my mood, hunger level, and location at a given time of the day, I could figure out if my mood caused me to want to eat, or if I was unhappy at work and needed a different job.”

Explain to me why you need machines to tell you your mood, hunger level and whether or not you like your job? Isn’t that what your biological functions and thinking brain are for? Is there something wrong with you? Do you have a sensory disorder? Instead of being  self-aware, considerate, mindful humans, you advocate everyone having some little piece of tech that tells them when to eat, sleep and change jobs at the “ideal” times.

You are not a superhuman at all, and you are not promoting “super” humanity–You are promoting a dependent, weak, uncreative and disconnected humanity. I know “cyborg” and “superhuman” sound cooler. But you sound to me like an eager volunteer for technological slavery which, by extension, also equates to a kind of surrender to the corporations that are developing and selling the tech. How can outsourcing basic human functions and considerations to technology constitute anything but an anti-human viewpoint? A cynical viewpoint that we’re all just too damned dumb to figure out how to manage even the most basic, human aspects of ourselves? You are perhaps a “Cyborg Anthropologist,” but your article suggests this title merely makes you one of many giddy ribbon-cutters for a technologically-enabled, utterly dependent generation of dweeby Corporate Techno-Zombies.

“Superhuman Cyborgs,” if you will…beings that, when left without their gadgets and the corporations that produce them, become lost, confused and entirely useless.

I’ll risk being “left behind” in the tech revolution (which, even according to this article, has more to do with tracking us and everything we’re doing than anything else,) and keep using the brain God gave me. Lately it’s been quite effective at telling me when to eat, when to sleep and when my job totally sucks…But only if I listen to it. With all the data that would be collected on where we go and how we eat, sleep, and work, apps may tell us how to do things better but ultimately we are only taking instructions from the corporations behind the tech, and telling them how to sell us more stuff that we can hardly afford and that we hardly need.

Sleep App registers trouble sleeping? Try this pill. Nutrition app says we’re Vitamin C deficient? Flash an ad for Sunkist oranges. Stress Levels app says we’re too frazzled? Brookstone recommends this massage chair; especially effective when combined with a bar of Xanax from your friends in Big Pharma. They’re all watching and listening, through your tech, with bated breath. The reason that so much new tech impedes on privacy, and the reason we’re told it’s a good thing, is because privacy is a terrible nuisance to figuring out ways to market and sell more crap to people.

Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but in my view all the most advanced apps in the world can never replace the poetic efficiency of biology or the human spirit itself. In fact at some critical point in our future, with the line between technological innovation and dependence becoming increasingly fragile, they may only help to crush it.

Additional Reading:
Verizon Patent Application: TV set-top boxes featuring “at least one of a depth sensor, an image sensor, an audio sensor, and a thermal sensor” that can see if you’re cuddling, fighting, eating, sleeping, exercising, singing, playing music, etc., and using the information to provide moment-to-moment relevant advertising.

4 comments

  1. I see where you’re heading with this, and you’re partially correct. The integration of tech & biology enables tracking and a scary ability to target advertising messages when consumers may be least able to refuse them. Unfortunately, the question of this integration is not an “if,” it’s a “when.”

    From the moment we started carrying tech with us… as simple as a pocket calculator or even a watch, we assigned a portion of what was previously a crucial ability to something else, which in turn diminishes the brain’s need (and capacity) to execute the assigned function. That, in turn, allows our brains to focus on other things (which I’ll get back to later). Portable tech has developed into the smartphones of today, so nobody needs to memorize Shakespearean verses anymore or memorize driving directions. Soon, computing power will surpass human cognitive ability, and will be small enough to be implanted in the skin. You already have pointed out the negatives. Positives include better tracking of finances (no need for cash, so people on a budget can receive warnings when they over-spend), faster emergency response (calls to EMS/Fire/Police could be instant, triggered by physiological response), and the benefit of having tech remind you that you haven’t eaten in 10 hours and that’s why you’re cranky, a problem which we already face (see Snicker’s “you’re not you when you’re hungry” ad).

    Since this integration is inevitable and/or has already happened (depending on your perspective), the question becomes what we do with our spare cognitive ability. That’s up to the individual, and it will separate those who will use the tech to supplement their abilities from those who use it to replace them.

    1. Eric T. Raue · · Reply

      Hi Steve,

      Wonderful, well-thought out response! Most certainly it’s a matter of “when,” and also a spectrum, so as you point out we’ve already “merged” with tech to a great extent. So the question is how far each individual wants to take it, how they deal with it and how it affects the larger society. Sometimes when I write this stuff, particularly with tech, I might come off as a bit of bitter bastard, only going into the negatives and not acknowledging the positives. My reason for that is I think the average person is much more aware the positives, and they’re much more widely covered than the possible unintended consequences. So I see my role as taking a step back and looking at those. I also love studying the relationship between culture and marketing/corporate influence. As in, are we giving tech the role it has because the consumers are demanding it, or because the desire for it is being manufactured by clever marketing and as an effect of cultural engineering? Fashion is an interesting example. Fashion forecasters predict what will be “In” years in advance, and then it starts to actually happen. So where does the forecasting end and the reality begin? I don’t know, but I love asking the question.

      I’m also a bit of a science fiction nerd who may have read too many dystopian futuristic novels and seen too many movies as a kid. This is likely.

      Thanks again for the well-spoken, intelligent reply!

  2. Thanks Eric. I agree that consumers tend to be exposed to the easily-grasped advantages, rather than the uglier, complex disadvantages, of new technology. That can also be an indictment of the larger news organizations, who seem more interested in ratings than providing an unbiased service. The chicken-vs-egg marketing question is provocative, though when the product is wrong, not even the biggest marketing budget can force it down consumers’ throats (New Coke, Crystal Pepsi).

  3. This doesn’t get your taste buds jacked up??

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