Facebook as Prosthesis

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Facebook as Prosthesis by Ruth Noakes 

(snippet from from my dissertation when I was a student in London)
Facebook, the social networking website, was launched in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg, Chris Hughes and Dustin Moskovitz from their dormitory room at Harvard, and within just two years it had twelve million users, which increased exponentially in 2008 with sixty-seven million users, and over fourteen million photos are uploaded daily[i]. Social networks can be seen to give people some control over projecting perceptions of themselves, and affirming current ideas of what the self consists of; ‘online social networks free us, in some sense, from the requirements of “real world” circumstances and permit us to try out various self conceptions to find ones that fit with what we would like to be’[ii]. Concedingly, Waters claims that ‘for the posthuman, there is no autonomous self that is given, because the self can only be made’[iii]

As a result of my research methodologies I was able to gather up to date, and currently relevant information to aid my case study. Therefore I needed a current media and technology example to illustrate my findings, and decided that the most prominent case within my research thus far was Facebook, because it remains somewhat mysterious and ever changing. I deem that Facebook acts as an interface, which enables common ground for people from a wide range of age groups and social backgrounds, and having gathered primary information from my participant observation, it seemed logical that this area deserved more focus and could aid me in answering the initial research question; to what extent can technology be seen as an extension of the human body or mind. If Facebook can be deemed a form of prosthesis to the human, then perhaps the same can be applied to other technologies.

Using the perspective gathered from having my own Facebook account, this primary research and participatory element should grant an accurate and detailed view of the current uses of Facebook, and the extent to which people allow it to represent them. However, I shall use other contemporary examples of human and machine interactivity to demonstrate how the ‘prosthetic impulse’[iv] affects modern society as a whole as well as in terms of individual identity.

From the detached yet directly involved perspective of my Facebook page, I was able to see why members of the focus groups I conducted spoke of how addictive they found it, and why going without technology was often mostly difficut because of the inability to connect with friends on Facebook. The Facebook ‘news feed’ updates automatically and perpetually, filling with status updates posted by my ‘friends’, including what their current actions are, who they are with, or where they are, this can be seen as ‘contributing to the creation of a permanent present whose intense pace knows no tomorrow’[v], and relates to Heidegger’s ‘presencing’ of what is present[vi], because the constant bringing forth of information, regardless of its purpose, holds meaning, a pre-existing need to share. Virilio is concerned with this speed, and need for constant information and entertainment, and deems that the distorted ‘time span is destroying the rhythms of a society which has become more and more debased’[vii]. If society is thus debased and flattened by technology, this seems to contradict the act of extending or adding prosthesis to the human self; rather Virilio seems to hint at the destruction of life as we know it.

Figure 1, (Permission from Ruairi Glynn) ‘Dancers 2008’ Emergencia Exhibition, Itau Cultural, Sao Paulo Brazil 2008.

The relation between biological matter and immaterial thought and meaning, which Merleau-Ponty explores, emphasises that our actions are not merely for survival, but shift to a figurative meaning that ‘manifests’ through bodies ‘a core of new significance: this is true of motor habits such as dancing’[viii]. Using Merleau-Ponty’s perspective, I deduce that dancing could be described as a secondary action, unnecessary for survival but elaborated or extended from our inner thoughts as a means of perceiving the outer world. A contemporary example that illustrates this ‘new significance’ is Ruairi Glynn’s ‘Performative Ecology’ project ‘Dancers 2008’[ix], as shown above in Figure 1. The Dancers, or robots, are built to intuitively react to human facial expressions, dancing in accordance to the emotions they detect through facial recognition software. They have the power to learn new dance routines as well as teaching other Dancers the movements they found to be most successful in inciting response from the human crowd. The Dancers are granted a significant degree of autonomy and intuition, yet remain dependent upon human attention, and reactive to human emotions that they cannot ever feel themselves. Similarly, Facebook seems to grow in its autonomy, as it is programmed to intuitively detect a user’s preferences; I discovered that whatever you type is detected by Facebook, which then proceeds to place advertisements on the home page, related to your words. Facebook encourages you to click ‘like’ on brand pages, and asks you to engage in polls determining your response to certain products. Facebook institutionalises culture to an extent; marketing ploys tell us to invite more friends, to perpetuate the Facebook brand. Facebook is about profit, but beneath the material profit lays meaning, of which Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger would encourage the exploration.

Niedzviecki states that ‘from Facebook to WebCams to blogs to Reality TV we are actively involved in trading our privacy for community, shared meaning’[x]; this was also the concession I gained during the focus group methodology. On the most part the older age groups claimed to use Facebook for business reasons or nostalgia, for example, some claimed it was to reconnect with lost friends or family, and reminisce on the past, whereas the younger age groups all emphasised the uses of Facebook as being for plan making, current updates and learning what events were happening in the future.

Figure 2, Dancers 2008, courtesy of Ruairi Glynn.

What if technology has created a secondary or tertiary impulse, which I term as one that is not primary to survival, and has thus subverted our nature? During my participatory observation I noticed that mobile phones, such as the iPhone, encourage the use of Facebook through an application that is just one button click away, and introduced a new feature whereby you can ‘check-in’ to locations. Firsthand I observed, on the news feed, a person check-in at location tagged as their home, and also tagged was the person’s girlfriend. I was shocked that someone would go to the extent of revealing their home’s location on the Internet, but also including a link to the Facebook page of their girlfriend, and publicising such a seemingly private or intimate occasion. This would indeed support the notion of extending our sense of sharing, the Internet representing an interface where sharing too much matters less than it would if it were done face-to-face, and is exemplary of Niedzviecki’s term ‘overshare’. His book ‘The Peep Diaries’, describes our recently evolved ‘Peep Culture’, where we often interact more through machines than directly, essentially spy on others, and allow ourselves to be spied upon by ‘oversharing’ personal information via networking websites; ‘Apple released the iPhone 3G, and global capitalism teetered…yet that single ungainly word, overshare, may prove to be more significant’ for we ‘ushered in a new era: the Era of Peep Culture’[xi].

But perhaps the impulse to over-share is not one of prosthesis, and instead needs a new metaphor more befitting to its context. In ‘The Prosthetic Impulse’, Sobchack recognises Kurzman’s concern regarding the use of prosthesis as a metaphor in modern anthropology[xii]. Kurzman, who is an amputee deems that theorists situate an issue, then retroactively define it using prosthesis and artificial limbs in an attempt to expand ethnographic material, and emphasises that actually it is a reductive term when thus removed from context[xiii]. I am not entirely in agreement with this, because I think a word can be reconceptualised, granted new meaning or context, without having to change the word itself. Facebook certainly extends awareness in terms of current occurrences; as a participant observer I began to learn things about my ‘friends’ which I would not otherwise have known, or would ever before have had the desire to know. Perhaps Facebook is exemplary of the desire to transcend corporeality[xiv] in the paradoxical fashion Grosz demonstrated, and is powered by our desire to share and escape into voyeuristic digital interface. From a posthuman understanding, and the admission of dependency, and interactivity on the part of my focus group members, it seems likely that Facebook acts as a form of prosthesis, in that it offers functions the body could not attain alone.

References and Sources below:
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iPad for study and play

 

Behold the iPad in All Its Glory

Image via Wikipedia

 

Not sure if I mentioned, my lovely boyfriend bought me a 64GB iPad for my birthday. I was in shock, as I’m not really an expensive gift person, in buying or receiving. But I was delighted, once I got over my sense of disbelief. I had been wanting one for ages but just couldn’t justify blowing my whole month’s pay on one…Until I went back for my final year at Goldsmiths, and realised that actually it would benefit my study so much, not just leisure/play.

– It’s so fast to type on using the on-screen keyboard, the layout is simple, and in just seconds I can email my lecture notes to the main Mac in my room, so the people moaning about lack of USB or disk drive should just do that (or use the Pendrive free app, or Dropbox, etc)

– The book store is excellent, in terms of variety. And the reader functions perfectly, where you can actually turn the pages.

– I use the Sketchbook Pro app for my Motion Graphics module, which is great for drawing with regardless of what stylus you use.

– Granimator allows you to create your own wallpapers and backgrounds (as seen above)

– VNC Mocha – this remote desktop viewer is awesome, it costs on the iPad, but is free on the iPhone, and somehow I tricked my iPad into transferring it free as it confused the versions. Free iPad VNC viewer is never a bad thing. I can control my main Mac from anywhere in the house, essentially turning the iPad into a mini version of my main base.

There are so many benefits I could talk about, but for me the main functions are: writing, reading, drawing, playing, storing, organising (e.g sync calendars with iPhone and Mac), and experiencing the web, videos and books in a whole new way. The iPad is not for everybody, but for someone like me who really makes use of every function, it’s worth having.

London isn’t New York! iPhone isn’t iPad!

owussaustralasia.org/.../Yellow%20taxi.jpg

Why do all average drivers in London seem to think they’re a glorified yellow New York cab? And that is excluding the obvious mention of London mental black cabs! On my way to work (in quite a rush I might add) I innocently waited my turn for the traffic lights to change as blocks of cars gushed past. The lights went green, which cars on each side could see very clearly on their approach, but no, the obviously not-so-bright lady in the grey car just HAD to park ACROSS the area intended for us struggling pedestrians…it wasn’t even a case of the lights changing too fast for cars to be aware, no, not at all.

On my approach to squeezing past the grey car, I gestured in annoyance by raising my arms like Al Pacino, “the fuck’s your problem, eh?”, with a faux smile, to which the woman shrugged guiltily, pursing her lips and knowing she was in the wrong. I clicked off in my heels until, luckily, my espresso and I got into work on time.

It was nice to see my friend Gemma today, on the early train. We spoke of old times…like where our mutual friend Kelsey’s hands swelled up to twice their normal size from groping poison Ivy, and Gemma drinking copious amounts of Vodka thinking the Vittel bottle was full of water. Too many tales, most of which too illegal or confusing to include in a blog, so there are the innocent snippets.

I suppose this post was relatively pointless, typical of me to write about the micro to avoid the macro of the mind, but…I tried out an iPad today, after tracking down the Apple store nearest my workplace, good old Regent Street. I’m still very mixed in my views on them, of course I see the downsides, but if they went down in price I won’t lie and say I wouldn’t go for it in a heartbeat. New tech makes me drool…could use it as a graphics tablet, have digital versions of all my favourite books on it (and films and music), and have already looked into many of the useful free apps. I wasn’t prepared for just how amazingly lightweight and sleek they are, despite having watched many videos about them. The useability, interactivity and overall feel of the iPad is totally different to the iPhone, despite similarities, it offers extra dimensions, which I will review in detail once I get my mucky hands on one (once I get paid).

Forgive this haphazard post! End of a long day

Interview with a pioneer of cybernetics, Dr Warwick

Note: This was November 2009 I think…was doing journalism for a few months back then.

If anyone could gain approval to insert an electronic chip into the main nerves of their wrist, link their own nervous system to the Internet, and control a robot hand from over 3,000 miles away, with the potential risk of nerve damage, it is Professor Warwick. He’s been there, done that, got the T-Shirt, but it is not all fun and games: ‘If anyone had known the IP address, which was my nervous system, then they could have sent repetitive electronic signals which could have harmed me,’ he admits. Clearly the Professor is a man who is not afraid to put himself at risk for the sake of his experiments.

So, if you want to know what the future holds, avoid dishing out money on Tarot or palm reading, and avert your eyes from the dregs of tea leaves at the bottom of your cup, because the oracles probably have less answers than Professor Kevin Warwick. The acclaimed Pioneer of Cybernetics, who devotes his present to the future, also happens to be the world’s first cyborg.

However, when asked what he would describe as his main achievement, his response does not detail this, instead he muses playfully: ‘In an academic sense I guess you mean’. If one were expecting the Professor of Cybernetics at Reading University to be full of stiff pomposity, then they would be severely disappointed. His main achievement was in fact the last implant he had with his wife, when they were connected to one another’s nervous systems. A romantic at heart?

‘It’s going to lead to brain-to-brain communication,’ he states simply, with something deeper than ambition in his voice. It seems a mere tête-à-tête will someday cease to transpire without taking on the quality of an Isaac Asimov novella.

‘Communication has been important to me ever since my childhood,’ he explains, which was probably why he took up a position with British Telecoms at the tender age of sixteen. But it becomes clear, as he mentions the falling numbers of those going into fields of science and technology, that his immediate goal is ‘to excite a few people about the subject area.’

Never one to waste time, Professor Warwick even has robots to teach other robots. ‘There was one robot learning in the U.K., teaching a robot in the U.S., which is quite an achievement’. And as for his stance on being a ‘mere human’, it is doubtful he has patience in evolution’s ability to eventually enhance our senses sufficiently; ‘Technically we each only sense about 5% of what is going on around us’, he claims, ‘But there is technology, even existing today, which can change that.’

This is, of course, referral to his own experimentation within Project Cyborg, and other such projects, which involve using devices that have granted temporary ‘biomechanical enhancements’, such as ultrasonic ability. ‘Just like a bat, I could sense where objects were, even when blindfolded. But it is an ability that you have to learn to use; our brains aren’t automatically set up to receive those signals.’

Aside from the challenge of adapting to the technology, there is another significant hurdle; ‘The implants I had, bringing them about wasn’t straightforward; there were surgeons involved and getting that ethical approval’. It involves a lot of form filling and ‘sucking up to Ethics Committees’ he smiles wryly.

Is this why some have described him as ‘a mad professor’? Well, the way he sees it; ‘There’s a lot of people now into body art, shoving things under their skin, I mean, to me they’re quite weird, but there’s a lot of people is the point. Maybe I’m just old, but the procedures we’re looking at here [sensory enhancement] are actually far less invasive. There’s an enormous commercial possibility.’

Who wouldn’t want sensory enhancement? ‘Just a small electrode and you can start communicating in a much richer form,’ he says with all the persuasive device of a salesman, and a casual shrug. One must reflect upon times where social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook did not even exist, and people were not posting their every thought or enlistment of their bowel movements on Twitter. The latter is of course, and hopefully, an exaggeration, but the point is; an idea always seems ridiculous before it is introduced. ‘There may well be a bit of resistance from people at first, that’s natural, but that is where commercial enterprises come in, they make it look natural and like everyone’s going to have it soon. It’s partly a fashion thing.’

He talks of the potential future exploration of Infrared and X-Ray vision ability, admitting ‘Maybe they would be useless, but maybe not.’ This triggers the image in one’s mind of walking through Airport metal detectors, with additional staff hired to scan your person with suspicious all-seeing eyes.

‘With changing technology, a lot of people initially say “hmm I don’t want to do that”, but when the tide goes that way, people usually go along with it. I mean, my wife in the 60’s had said she would never wear a mini skirt, but within a few months she was wearing it. As for thought communication, people are going to go for that, big time, when it’s further down the stream.’

Creating these sensory devices is not all about general enhancement of the functional human body though; Professor Warwick places strong focus on the technologies’ ability to aid those with various disabilities. ‘That’s about five questions,’ he laughs as he deduces how best to explain benefits of his work to people with Alzheimer’s, epilepsy and Parkinson’s. ‘This is where my rat-brain experiment is going, I had a philosophical discussion recently as to whether the brain cells are conscious, and all those issues. We’ve got a brain that we’ve grown, and it’s driving the robot around. So we can put the robot into positions and see how this robot memorizes the positions and figures out what to do.’

In trying to get to the basis of how memories are formed, the Professor seeks a better understanding of conditions such as Alzheimer’s. ‘With Alzheimer’s we need to work out exactly what is going on, is the person losing their memories? Or is it the passageways; the connections, that are dying off.’

With epilepsy and Parkinson’s he explains ‘Our aim is to read the electrical brain signals and stop the tremors or seizures before they happen.’ His technology already offers potential aid to those suffering with paralysis, whom could benefit from an implant that would sense brain activity, and respond accordingly: ‘for example being used to turn lights on and off’.

However, some people are paranoid about these chip implants. ‘Just a few weeks ago I had a teacher of young children come across from Holland, and I would say she’s completely crazy, yet she’s teaching children, but she believes strongly that she’s got this implant that has come from somewhere and is controlling her actions. To me it’s quite weird.’ He laughs, but not cruelly, and even goes on to grant credibility to certain levels of caution; ‘There are future possibilities though, so we do have to watch out. There may well be misuse for it, the same as anything else.’

Having explained his experimentation’s aims, he says simply; ‘Well here it is, now argue about it yourself’, with a level of humour that one becomes appreciatively familiarized with.

Red Dead Redemption

Read Dead Redemption.

Rockstar have done it again. They brought us Grand Theft Auto, which rocked my world, and taught me how to stab prostitutes whilst running from a million cops, (and multiple other things).

I admit I haven’t been able to play LOADS yet, but from what I’ve seen I’d say the graphics have improved dramatically, and the plot/dialogue is richer with even more freedom of choice than GTA. Even flowing a little dog slowly through the village, for no reason, turned into a scene where the dog found crime and you had to fight it.

You choose whether to be a famous hero of sorts, or an outlaw with a price on your head. Ideally, complete the game as one role, then replay as the other, that way you can gain the best of both worlds.

The sound is awesome, if you’re riding your horse near someone, you hear what they are saying, but the further you move away the fainter it gets. Everything looks so real that it’s the ultimate form of escapism. Maybe I’m biased because I’ve always been drawn to the Cowboy/Cowgirl stylie stuff, as I grew up watching old Westerns and I even called myself Annie Oakley, with my childhood friend being Calamity Jane (she tried to switch with me one time, and it resulted in a big primary school fight).

The controls are cool; they’re aiming for realism; so controlling a horse is tricky but satisfying. I’ll write a more extensive review soon, this is just a snippet to show my first impressions.

Prices

Limited edition from Simply Games= £54.85 (Both Xbox and PS3) Click the link for features.

Play.com does the special edition a bit cheaper Xbox = £52.54  and  £49.99 = PS3

Standard edition at Play.com: Xbox 360 & PS3 both = £36.99.

Also, remember Play.com deliveries are free.

Tesco Entertainment: £39.70 = Xbox & £39.99 = PS3  BUT enter FTSL15-1 at checkout for 15% discount (meaning this is currently the cheapest)

Amazon: Xbox = £39.70  but PS3 = £54.99

Argos: Xbox = £34.99

I’ve heard that you can get the prices to drop by trading in a couple of games.

What do you think of the iPad?