With Bluetooth headsets attached, iPods blocking out the world and tiny netbooks stashed near to hand — some of us are choosing to augment our bodies with wearable computers, becoming other-than-human. These technologies are touted as beneficial (or at least benign) and promise to expand the powers of our bodies and allow us to surpass the physical limitations of being organic. Now people can gossip on the phone without using their hands, distract themselves with ear shattering music while in a silent library and share pictures of being on a beach while on the beach. No longer only human, the cyborgs among us have hooked up their nervous systems to machines, unknowingly laying the groundwork for a coming clash of civilizations.
If we take only one lesson from the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, it should be that technology is not a tool but a way of revealing the world. Heidegger believed that the danger of technology was not in its uses but instead in its ability to create a frame through which the world appears flattened, altering the way we know and think. In other words, if the only technology you have is a hammer then you will only see nails. That is why, watching cyborgs in the park, eyes glued to mini-screens as they text and walk, earbuds plugged in, I wonder whether the pixilated world they are experiencing is not radically antagonistic to the one I inhabit.
As increasing numbers of humans choose to supplement themselves with machines, it is possible that the primary clash of civilizations in the years to come will not be between East and West, but between Human and Cyborg. Those who have become addicted to the constant buzz of being connected will always face opponents who still believe that the world experienced through a screen is in some way deficient; lacking in the sublime splendor of undesigned reality.
These two perspectives, the human and the machine-human, cannot peacefully co-exist for long because the frame through which the cyborg sees the world is one in which the mystery of existence has been programatically obscured. Cyborgs are like the novice gardener who rips up seldom blooming flowers thinking them to be merely weeds: unable to value the richness of a technologically minimal world, machine augmented humans unconsciously trample what they cannot appreciate.
The challenge is how to embrace being fully-human not out of a nostalgic desire to go backward but instead a fervent will to move forward – to embrace again the dream of a enlightened humanity who reaches toward wisdom and spiritual fulfillment not through repeated consumption of silicon chips but instead through simple, meditative living.
Micah White is a Contributing Editor at Adbusters and an independent activist. He is writing a book on the future of activism. www.micahmwhite.com or micah (at) adbusters.org