If you can't go a day without using a computer, a smartphone, or a car, you are inescapably a cyborg. But how would you tell if you were a good cyborg? Find out with The Virtuous Cyborg, out now as both a paperback and a new ebook edition.
Just a short post to say that new material is coming, but I have some fraught weeks working on the page proofs for the second edition of Game Writing and wrangling tasks for clients. I am still puttering around with blog material in the gaps of my time - there are just fewer gaps! First out of the gate is looking likely to be an ihobo serial called Game Dissonance, but a philosophical interrupt here is always a possibility too, assuming I can get my head out of the nonsense (there's a lot around at the moment). Should be posting before the end of the month, chaos willing.
Also worth saying that with #100Cyborgs completed I am open for blog-letters of all kinds, to which I always reply, one way or another! (Of course, I was never closed for these, but I am specifically inviting them over the next year.) Never written a blog-letter? It's a great time to start! No blog of your own? It's never too late to start one!
To everyone who has supported my blogging over the years, my infinite and unlimited gratitude, love and support.
The epic two year adventure that was A Hundred Cyborgs is now concluded, with just the final block of revisits concluding last week. What a great time to return to the Green Room and have a chat about our adventures together!
It's been over a decade since we last ended up in the Green Room, at the end of the Ethics Campaign that would lead more than five years later to Chaos Ethics. By long standing tradition, I talk about Only a Game as a 'non-fiction role-playing game', and so when we pursue a long-term project it's a 'campaign' (the name given to a continuous string of adventures in a tabletop RPG). #100Cyborgs feels very different from the original two campaigns (Metaphysics and Ethics), not least of all because blogs no longer maintain the regular conversations they used to. Yet on Twitter, if not here, there has been a lot of discussion around various pieces, although certainly less than half of them. Also, the 500 word structure is rather unique, and led to a very different pacing... I learned a lot from working in this form; you can fit much more into 500 words than it first seems!
I would be very grateful, if you enjoyed or were challenged by even one of these one hundred pieces, if you would leave a comment here 'in the Green Room' to let me know. I write because I have to, but it is being read that makes writing worthwhile.
The game begins anew soon.
What are the behavioural effects of technological networks? What happens if we stop thinking about technology as shiny machines and start looking at other, subtler tools? Can we design technology to have better effects upon humans? These and other questions are what this blog project, A Hundred Cyborgs, are all about. Here are the final ten posts from 91 to 100:
It was not easy to choose a final ten cyborgs... all through the serial I maintained a list of ideas for what I could talk about, and at the end there were still some forty or so that I hadn't discussed. I had avoided dealing with smartphones directly until this final block, but #91 GoogleApple puts a fair perspective on the matter, and #95 The Digital Downstairs provides a different viewpoint on our relationship with our robots, one that is worth bearing in mind. There were several pieces that I wasn't sure how controversial they'd be - #93 Drugs sank without notice, while #92 Deplatforming provoked an absolute storm of vehement objections, although nothing that swayed me from my position. #97 Lockdown and #98 Citizens go together as twin diagnoses to our current crises - the one we inflicted upon ourselves out of fear, and the one we urgently need to fix before hatred destroys us. The pacing of this final block allowed for a dramatic pause after that pairing, leading to the final two. I always wanted to end on a positive note, and I could find no better example of cybervirtue than #99 Libraries, which led perfectly into #100 Philosophy Books, allowing me to end the serial by connecting it to its reason for existence - The Virtuous Cyborg.
I am always interested in discussion, so feel free to raise comments either here (ideal for longer debates) or on Twitter (perfect for quick questions). And if you’ve enjoyed any of these pieces, please buy a copy of The Virtuous Cyborg and support my research into cybervirtue!
Enjoyed any of the pieces in #100Cyborgs? Join me in the Green Room and let me know.
Why read a book like The Virtuous Cyborg? One answer is that reading philosophy books is a way of encouraging your own virtues; your curiosity, your flexibility, your moral judgement, and your reasoning - all can be sharpened by forming a cyborg with a book that will expand your capacities - just as your smartphone expands your capacities as a cyborg, albeit by signing over part of your autonomy to GoogleApple.
Not every book written by a philosopher is a ‘philosophy book’ in the sense I mean, and some books written by journalists, scientists, and theologians are also philosophy books in the relevant sense. Many novels are too. They are so if they put your mind and the world it lives within into contact with another mind and world in a way that opens you up to new ways of thinking. That capacity - to think anew - is what makes philosophy such a unique set of practices. Alas, the vogue for an academia of specialisms is anathema to philosophy books, since in such a system there are only problems to solve and no people to meet.
Through my cyborg encounters with philosophy books I have talked with Descartes, Aristotle, and Chuang Tzu, but not alas with Hypatia, whose books have not survived. I have encountered people like Mary Midgley who I went on to correspond with, and Immanuel Kant or Mary Wollstonecraft, who I could not. And each encounter has expanded the range of ways I can think about myself and my world, and clarified the connectivity between our thinking today and two millennia of written works, many of which have bequeathed to us our tools for thinking, held so unconsciously we might almost mistake them as the only possible way of thinking.
Yet philosophy books are endangered. Professional philosophers aren’t expected to learn how to share minds as a human-book cyborg, as universities are expunged of the practices of philology and so-called ‘continental’ philosophy, both of which make this cyborg possible. Books too are endangered, although ebooks provide a surrogate if you do not mind your reading habits being fed to advertising robots. The smartphone-human cyborg encourages bite-sized thinking, watching over reading, monotone over monographs. The book is an anchor to an older way of thinking - indeed, to every older way of thinking that survives in books. That’s why libraries are so vital - they are a kind of time machine that is not purely imaginary!
Why read a philosophy book? To experiment in thinking with somebody else, to share in the experience of human thought in ways that are new to you. It is not something that everyone can do with ease - but if you can, you owe it to yourself to provoke your own thought. Philosophy books can do that. But you have to be prepared to commit to something more than utility; to find value in discourse and disagreement. Are you up to that challenge?
A Hundred Cyborgs, #100
Throughout A Hundred Cyborgs, I’ve tried to find at least a few examples of technology that encourages virtue - and I can find no greater exemplar than libraries. These astonishing cybernetic networks consist of one or more humans curating dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of books and other publications, arranged within some system to aid recovering specific texts. Not a single aspect of the technology involved is remarkable - there is nothing of the chrome-tinted goggles at work inside any library building - it is solely that the cyborg we form with a library is encouraged to develop their virtues in so many different ways, and those who facilitate this near-miraculous arrangement also cultivate the distinctive excellences of the librarian in the process.
Through the agreement to remain silent, the library cyborg learns respect for others and an awareness of personal space; through the signage upon shelves, the breadth and depth of human knowledge and experience is foreshadowed, and curiosity fostered; the time limit upon lending teaches both responsibility and time-keeping. And all this is without beginning to delve into the cybervirtue of the books themselves, which can teach concentration, imagination, empathy, patience, commitment and so much more besides.
Yet none of this matters in the eyes of most humans, since the internet is far more convenient and endlessly entertaining. Have a question? The internet robots will get you an answer instantly, while obfuscating your ability to know how that answer was constructed, or what commercial forces distorted your enquiry. Want to while away some time? An infinite river of shallow amusements awaits at scores of websites, offering chewing gum fun in a variety of vacuous flavours. Who would want to learn from books when a video will show you exactly how to do something, and with none of the time-consuming reading or thinking to get in the way? We call it the World Wide Web, and aptly so, for it is indeed a subtle, sticky trap that once you enter you can never leave. Convenience is a value that conditions us to impatience - why discover and master your own excellences when the robots of the digital downstairs are standing by to service your every whim...?
As long as we judge solely by the shallow ethical calculus of the twentieth century, libraries seem inferior to the internet. That’s because utility is a disastrous value to build civilisation upon - it fools us into thinking we ought to make everything, because technology is ‘neutral’, so we should stockpile as much of it as possible. But technology is never neutral. It ranges from the calamitous to the beneficent - and the library is a sterling example of cybernetic networks that not only foster human flourishing, they have been able to incorporate computers into their practices without jeopardising their own distinctive excellences. An advanced civilisation is not the one with the most toys, but the one that cultivates civility. Understood in the way, libraries are the apex of human civilisation.
A Hundred Cyborgs, #99