Tap WaterYou are a water cyborg - you cannot hope to live without the vast hydrological network that purifies drinking water, delivers it to every tap in your house, then takes the waste water away to repeat the cycle again and again, ad infinitum. We seldom think about this aspect of our existence, despite the fact that if it were to catastrophically fail, we would all be dead in just three days. Even if you live in some remote location where you are off the grid, your clean drinking water and your waste water are handled by technological apparatus that are an intimate part of your cyborg existence.

Intimate, and unthought. Few aspects of contemporary existence have such a vast discrepancy between the extent of our dependence and our capacity for near total ignorance. The internet commands a great deal of thought, and yet is certainly not essential for life. Food is at least thought about by vegans, fans of organic food, and anyone opposed to genetically modified crops. Air is even more intimately connected with our capacity to be alive, but for all but a very few of us, needs no prosthetic intervention. Water occupies this unique situation in being the technology we are most dependent upon yet think the least about.

If I ask what the behavioural effects of our being water cyborgs might be, though, what can I say? It certainly doesn’t cultivate our gratitude towards the people who maintain these fluid networks: when a problem breaks the supply of water to our homes, we are much more likely to rage at those responsible for supplying water than to appreciate the incredible challenges they face daily. (Contrary to the way we typically think about this, it is not that our water pipes don’t leak, merely that water suppliers set a threshold for how much they are willing to lose to the inevitable and unavoidable leakage that occurs.)

A time traveller from a previous millennia who discovered the immense power and convenience we have accepted in the context of water would be in awe of the powers we possess to produce drinking water, while also being unable to appreciate the incredible blessing our plumbed-in disposal of waste water offers in terms of personal and public health. Technology is not just the name for the shiny and new, it is also the name of the invisible and omnipresent infrastructure that makes being a citizen of any so-called developed nation such a gift and a privilege. If only we were able to truly count our blessings, we would surely have to count running water as one of the greatest.

A Hundred Cyborgs, #68


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