Mommy, can I be a robot please? Am I a cyborg? The otherness of humanoids

Posted: 03/10/2010 in ARIN6903 Exploring Digital Cultures, Uncategorized

When I was a little kid, I was fascinated with sci-fi stories, specially because they related to the idea (now I realise this) of the “other”, of those beings who are different yet oh so similar to us. I was, I am the other. When I was a kid and I would go to the video rental place for my weekly VHS, my favourite movies were Lynch’s The Elephant Man, Petersen’s Enemy Mine and Cronenberg’s The Fly, which deal with characters that do not quite fit in the world and whose journey consists in perpetually swimming in a sea of otherness. Anyway, I was also fascinated with robots and with the idea of humans being able to construct and replicate that “otherness”.  For me, robots were also cooler than the elephant man because you could construct them, manipulate them and program them to be your friends.

You could also build your own robot costume. I loved watching sci-fi movies with robots in them. I loved The Jetsons and their robot friends, and whenever I went to a costume party, I wanted to be an android. When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I told them that I wanted to be either a priest (oh, that Catholic guilt!) or study robotics in Japan. I wanted to play God, to construct “the other! “Otherness” reconfigured through technology!

True story: that was my younger geeky self. Robots were  a type of otherness that transcended physical imperfection, that was pure logic and mathematical preciseness. I used to tear up old remote controls and attach them to my arms with tape: I wanted to have a robotic arm, to be a revamped version of the elephant man, to jump farther, run faster, be stronger. In my mind, the only way to achieve it was to have electronic parts attached to my body. I wanted to be a cyborg, to construct an identity for myself that implied physical otherness and scientific betterment. I also watched Robocop over and over again: for me, his overdeveloped cop abilities were what we all should aspire. If I was an elementary school student, I should be able to read faster, learn better. Needless to say, I don’t think that anymore.

Anyway, I didn’t study robotics and I don’t construct cyborgs. I am far from being studentcop. But I study them now, in a way. Today, I question myself to what extent my childhood dream was fulfilled, if in fact any of my physical existence in this world depends on machines, if in fact I run faster and see farther thanks to the marriage of my body and man-made devices. Right now, I sense the keyboard, but the keyboard also senses me. And…

  • My teeth are straighter because they had metal squares (they look like chips or processors!) attached to them for years.
  • I can see because the information that enters my eyes is processed by a pair of glasses, that information is filtered for my eyes and my eyes only. My visual memory is constructed by an object.
  • My bodily functions, the consumption and processing of materials (food, water, sun) is defined by time, by the dial in my cellphone and my computer.
  • I travel the world thanks to a small elliptical device that is attached to my right hand almost 24/7.
  • I plug myself to a machine that tells me how fast to run, for how long and how much of my organic battery is being consumed.
  • ..: etc ::..

Am I a cyborg? At least a bit of a cyborg? Is my childhood dream fulfilled?

Have I become “the other”?

I can single out two movies which more clearly exemplify, through the magnifying glass of science fiction, the nature of the cyborg, of my childhood dream, of what we are becoming in an almost imperceptible process.

First, Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop, an ultra-conservative, Reaganite view on uses that the State can make of cyborgs.

In a epic battle scene of  a recent film, Neil Blomkamp’s District 9, the main character is turning into an alien pretty much like the main character in The Fly, into “the other” (the film is an indictment of the prevailing racist practices in post-apartheid South Africa) , and in turn controls an antropomorphic military vehicle. He becomes a matrushka of otherness!

For ARIN6903, Exploring Digital Cultures, The University of Sydney (Master in Digital Communication and Culture).

Did these implants make me a cyborg? Was I finally “the other”?

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