Note: This blog was originally written as part of my MA coursework (Saturday, 19 May 2012 4:36:12 PM EST). It is the final of three that I am posting here in order to have the writing on my own space rather than a university archive.
Cyborgs are as much based upon information. They indicate a culture in which information has got under our skin.
— Murphie and Potts, 2003, p. 128
Amber Case begins her 2010 TED talk with the statement: “You are all actually cyborgs.” She goes on to explain that tools have always been an extension of the physical self and now digital tools are extending the cognitive self. This is not a new claim, but rather one that has been espoused in various ways by McLuhan, Haraway, Deleuze, and other theorists. But in thinking about how tools extend us while reading Murphie and Potts’ “Cyborgs: the Body, Information and Technology”, I thought not about social networking enabling communication and connection, as Case does, but instead about a piece of equipment called BodyBugg. While there are numerous positive examples of how technology makes us cyborgs, this is one that shows the negative affects on both the physical and cognitive aspects of our selves.
The BodyBugg is a digital calorie management tool that the user wears in order to monitor their daily activity and calories. The device is generally worn on the upper arm, and is strapped in place. The longer a person wears the device, the more customized it becomes, all in an effort to increase the accuracy of the data output. The armband device can also be synchronized with your mobile and computer.
I first learned about the BodyBugg from a friend who had purchased it in hopes of losing the last, stubborn 10 pounds that prevented her from reaching her goal weight. She is an active person and at the time was a vegan, and thus highly conscious of her activity and diet already. It wasn’t long after she strapped on the armband that she became obsessed with the data it spewed out. We would meet for coffee and she would make her purchase based on how many calories the device said were left in her daily amount. She would report on whether or not the day was more or less active than the day before, again according to the device. She wore it 24/7 except for when she showered, and she began to say things like how she was tired and it must be because she had had such active dreams. How did she know? The BodyBugg showed an increase in activity while she was sleeping.
The device became more than just a tool for her. It became a part of her, affecting her physically and mentally. She consulted the device to determine how good or bad she was feeling, to decide what she could or couldn’t eat, to find out if she needed to extend her usual workout that day. She grew obsessed with the data and didn’t seem to notice that the device was creating a permanent indent on her skin because she wore it so tightly. This was the effect of the information on her body. As Murphie and Potts write: “Information is no longer about something else that it refers to. It is the thing or process in itself. Information seems more and more to take the place of the ‘soul’, the ‘mind’, or anything else once considered to be at the core of our existence” (p. 120). Software had turned her activities into “mindless ‘rituals’ whose steps are ‘encoded in the logic of web pages'” (Carr, 2010, p. 218-219). She was going through the motions rather than acting on her own.
What had started as a way to lose a bit of weight became a way of life, and she eventually realized that it wasn’t a healthy way of living. It wasn’t enough for her to simply take off the BodyBugg. She had to disable it, delete all the records, and give it away in order to break the connection. She was a cyborg who had let the machine control her, shape her body, and program her mind. And while the effects that the device had on her while she was wearing it were apparent, the long-lasting effects are not. Even though the armband is now on someone else’s arm, her mind is still linked to the data and the actions that were necessary to produce it.
Carr, N. (2010). The Shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains. New York & London: W.W. Norton & Company.
Case, A. (2010). “We are all cyborgs now”. TED. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/amber_case_we_are_all_cyborgs_now.html
Murphie, A., & Potts, J. (2003). Culture and technology. Basingstoke: Palgrave.