A GoogleApple cyborg is a cybernetic organism consisting of a human coupled with either an Android smartphone or an iPhone. The human feels like it is the most significant part of this network, which is odd considering that GoogleApple adds in thousands of robots and humans in order to make this cyborg work. In fact, even though the humans forming GoogleApple cyborgs are by far more numerous than the humans working directly or indirectly for Google or Apple, they are still less numerous than GoogleApple’s robots - there’s at least one of their smartphones per human, plus the rest of their cybernetic network behind them. In other words, as GoogleApple cyborgs, we are a minority component in a vast cybernetic network.
We tend to focus on the choice - do I buy an iPhone or an Android smartphone? - and thus miss the more salient point that it makes very little difference what we choose in this regard. Either way we’re becoming a GoogleApple cyborg, a being that can in seconds transact with the internet and will indeed do so frequently. The smartphone permits us instantaneous escape - and impels us to do so recurrently. The GoogleApple cyborg is thus one of the most distracted creatures that ever lived, although exceeded in this regard by various other combinations of beings and things, such as the heroin needle cyborg.
It is not fashionable to talk of ‘duties’ these days yet it is extremely fashionable to assert random wished for concepts as rights. But rights come from agreements, not emotional whims, and rights are inherently duties. To have a right is to say that everyone has a duty. But in the context of a smartphone you have no rights and consequently GoogleApple has no duties towards you - even if you die because you were distracted by your smartphone, legal responsibility for your death largely falls to you. That’s because you have moral duties towards yourself that are not rights because they do not spring from agreements.
Both Aristotle and Kant suggested that one of our duties towards ourselves is to pursue our own excellences. A smartphone can help with this - I write almost all my philosophy on my pocket robot, runners use theirs to monitor their performance, and dieters track calories to bring their eating under control. But to GoogleApple, activities that pursue your excellences are entirely interchangeable with those that squander your time and intelligence. Algorithms that curate suggestions ‘for you’ are more fairly described as curating ‘for them’ - propagating the money-making apps, the distracting apps.
I don’t imagine we’re heading into a future world without smartphones, but I do fantasise about escaping life as a GoogleApple cyborg. I dream of a cybervirtuous smartphone, a robot that brings out the best in those that partner with it. But I am sceptical that such a thing could come from GoogleApple. I have to wonder: would every cybernetic network that might replace this one fall inevitably into the same traps...?
A Hundred Cyborgs, #91