One hundred cyborgs in five hundred words, a cybervirtue project.
What kind of being do we become when we use our smartphones, our laptops, our high-tech cars, or the ever-growing array of other robots on offer today? If a cyborg is the fusion between technology and organic life, then we are already cyborgs. Indeed, as Donna Harraway suggested, we have always been cyborgs. What’s more, we are now surrounded by an increasingly wide variety of robots, by which I mean machines that can act autonomously – everything from computerised calendars to something comparatively simple like a jukebox. The kind of humans that we are and the qualities of the technology we are living with collectively determine the kind of cyborgs we become.
In my new book, The Virtuous Cyborg, I explore the idea of cybervirtue. A virtue is a positive quality we ascribe to a person – she’s resilient, he’s compassionate, they’re fearless. Any given human-robot cyborg situation is cybervirtuous if that combination of humanity and technology encourages virtues in its human. A calendar app used to provide reminders for its human can help that person act in a more punctual manner, so we can call the human-calendar cyborg cyber-punctual or cyber-reliable. A FitBit can encourage its wearer to to exercise and thus could be called cyber-athletic, or cyber-healthy. Any positive quality we can talk about has its associated cybervirtue if there is some human-technology combination that can encourage it.
Often, our relationship with technology is less than virtuous. I call the negative behavioural consequences of living with technology cyber-debility. When a videogame combines addictive play with predatory monetisation we can call it cyber-compulsive or cyber-impoverishing. When internet sites encourage us to rely upon them for information instead of our own learning, they are cyber-stultifying or even cyber-stupefying. When a social network encourages abusive behaviour in its users, it is cyber-cruel. Often, the kinds of cyborgs we have become entail both cybervirtue and cyber-debility, and more besides.
This serial, A Hundred Cyborgs, looks at one hundred different cyborgs – a hundred interactions between humans and technology – in five hundred words or less, starting twice a week and switching to weekly near the end of the Summer. The purpose of the serial is to think about whether there are cybervirtuous possibilities in each situation considered, and to explore the cyber-debilities each technology implies. There is nothing definitive in what I will say (every form of cyborg life is open to interpretation and debate) but I hope by opening up our technological relationships to discussion in this way it will foster debate about the kind of cyborgs we are, and the kind of cyborgs we want to become.
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