My semester at Harvard GSD is winding down; I’ll be sharing some new work in the coming break. In January I’ll be taking a course at the Adaptive Design Association in New York and interning with Artists in Context here in Cambridge. And I’m looking forward to a residency at UC Irvine next June, part of the Critical Disability Studies group that’s funded by the University of California’s Humanities Research Institute.
The new issue of Organs Everywhere is out, and I have a piece in it—it’s built from ideas I started working on with the prosthetics porn series some months ago. There are also great contributions from Liam Young, Tim Maly, the editor Simone Ferracina himself, and more. Images here are from his Digital Surgeon project; the excerpt is from my essay, “Toward An Ethics of Estrangement,” which includes work by Ekso Bionics, Klara Jirkova, Takehito Etani, Superflux, and the GAIA collective.
There’s a trump card in all conversations about cyborgs that goes like this: You find yourself equally fascinated and troubled by the latest prospects for distributing your intelligence among ever-more-refined machines. You remark that you can no longer tell the difference between your hand and your phone, and you mumble some words about “authenticity” and “mediated emotions” and vaguely wonder aloud about what human and humane experiences you’re losing.
But your conversation partner with that trump card will tell you what Donna Haraway told us so long ago: We have always been cyborgs, and the distinction between the natural and artificial is so blurred throughout history as to be meaningless—and drawing the distinction tends to be an instrument of domination anyway. Ever since we picked up sticks to aid us in catching food or otherwise manipulating our environments, we have been seamlessly extended by our tools. And this is ultimately a good thing.
Further, your conversation partner may announce that you are likely blinkered by the present moment, overvaluing the drama of the changes we are witnessing: All our current hype and fear about our relationships to technology mirror the scale and tone of the rhetoric that accompanied, say, the advent of cars, or telephones, or some other historical change.
But this line of thinking is most often a conversation stopper, isn’t it? I think even a purist would agree that there are network-enhanced, extensive tools we are using now that outpace even a provisional, context-specific ethics or grounded understanding about how to use them and about their ripple effects. The stakes at hand include human agency and passivity… [more in Organs Everywhere].
…I want to see more critical devices and designs that leave open questions about the liberations and limitations of our extended machine-body-selves, that indicate still-invisible conditions of ability and disability, dependence and strength, that disrupt our easy notions of technical efficiency and utility. I’d like to see more of what you might call tools for estrangement.
[more in Organs Everywhere].