Week 3, in which Anthropology helps out.

[as part of a course in Social Informatics, I have to write some journal entries of what we ahve been thinking about during the week, as provoked by the course material.  I’ll post any that I’ve put enough thought into that it would be sad for me to let languish in the LMS]

After doing a few courses in Medical Anthropology, this week was much more familiar ground. Machines for thinking, cyborgs, embodiment of technology: all of which felt familiar and real, as much as the concepts themselves could be seen as alienating.

Seeing my Mum in ICU, hooked up to as many machines as could be, with a single huge co-ordinated display at her head convinced me that our cyborg nature is not only very real, but an absolutely essential part of our further evolution as a species. I’m not going to live to be 100 without some help! The second fact that a paper downloaded from PubMed saved my Mother’s life in that instance after a very rare drug interaction had put her in ICU was the impetus to study to become a librarian. The kind of librarian that facilitates that kind of instant knowledge retrieval. The job is for that information to become ‘ambient’, as I think the current sexy slang is. Its just there, you only need to glance for the details to become apparent, freeing up you imagination to make connections that a cluttered attention simply could not.

I’ve always enjoyed looking at the edge-cases, at deviancy and under-dogs, and for me that is a really interesting tool by which to think about identity. I can’t help but look at the odd thing out and turn it 180 degrees to consider what that means about us. Combine that with the kind of necessary solipsism required to actually differentiate self from others and the idea of our own identity being forged by our inter-relationships kinda just pops out.

The history of our online selves makes for a telling document. If we feel that it is somehow separate from ourselves, I think that it is not a second-self that we can distance ourselves from. I hate the phrase ‘virtual’, though I think Rheingold’s definition is better than the common perception of it. Our online personas and biographies are not virtual in being not not-real. They challenge us much the same way any near-objective description of ourselves would challenge us. Maybe psychotherapy had that right. If we see an online biography that we don’t recognise its not because its not us, just a part of us we are unwilling to recognise.

Virtual communities are not not-real either: they hum and vibrate with our interactions as deeply as any other. I remember having an argument with a workmate about this, and my point was that simply being geographically diverse would make the Catholic Church a virtual community. Of course, in our social world poisoned by the profit motive, exploitation of our psychological (and dare I say spiritual) wants and needs is rife. If a community could be said to be not not-real, it might be those described as astroturf: but even in those the human need to connect still resonates, almost despite itself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *