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From My Graduate School Blog

Digital Literacy/Digital Rhetorics

“I saw posthumanism future and its name is humanism.”*
What if posthumanism turning human is within our reach?

In her book, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Information, N. Katherine Hayles discusses her views of how the body and consciousness have become more and more separated in an increasingly technological age. As technology and networking have evolved, they have taken on lives of their own where information seems to be prized over human intelligence. Through all the many modes of communication available, this emphasis on "information transmission and storage" looms large over the material human. It bleeds through to all areas in the social and hard sciences.


Though Hayles was already describing a 'brave new world', it now would seem, in a posthuman sense, has so much more is in store for us. Hayles described a reality of physical human disconnectedness, but little did she know that the situation would become even more multifaceted since she wrote the book in 1999. The interconnectedness of body and machine is on the precipice of becoming even more inextricable, but in a good, more human way. 


In the last 20 years, we find that "text can be manipulated in ways that would be impossible if it existed as a material object rather than a visual display."(26) However, manipulating texts, photographs, art and videos has morphed into a situation where we can now manipulate objects.  And, we can do it in critical, life changing ways. Today, though code may not be able to create a person, it certainly can help alter him. 


Consider this cutting-edge medical hologram technology.


This technology takes points of life and constructs them in mid-air to the degree that the user, in this case the surgeon, is able to manipulate the 3D image and move it around to get a better look at the organ he is operating on. The benefits to pre-surgical planning as well as on site in the operating room is incalculable. In this way, the operating room exists in time and space almost as much as it does in the real world. 


This is the ultimate of taking a post humanist mode of communication can circling it back directly into the human and breathing new life into his material being. Until now, "the human body (was) understood in molecular biology simultaneously as an expression of genetic information and as a physical structure." (29) Now it is absolutely BOTH.  We can use non-material technology to impact life's ultimate materiality. It becomes reality.  


Hayles quotes Kenneth P. Oakley's 1949 Man the Tool-Maker to say that man needs tools and the tools man uses can at once be posthuman and human. "Employment of tools appears to be [man's] chief biological characteristic, for considered functionally they are detachable extensions of the forelimb." (34) She goes on to say that “(t)he kind of tool he envisioned was mechanical rather than informational; it goes with the hand, not on the head.” (34) Man desires physical rather than intangible tools. She further states, “he imagined the tool to be at once "detachable" and an "extension," separate from yet partaking of the hand." (34)  In this way, he is both posthuman and human at once.  Holograms is a pure representation of this desire and this technological development.  In fact, it gives a whole new spin on Marshall McLuhan's conception of "technological prostheses". (34) This technology harnesses the nature of man, uses an intangible digital technology operating in an abstract network to change the actual corporeality of man.  


In terms of humanism, biology is all too powerful and must always win out.  According to Hayles, "Information, like humanity, cannot exist apart from the embodiment that brings it into being as a material entity in the world." (49)  I think we can all look forward with enthusiasm to an intersection of posthumanist cyberspace circling back to affect the material world and physical body thus lending a whole new level of power to cyberspace and the networks that operate within.  

*(Based on the famous quote by Jon Landau, manager for Bruce Springsteen, “I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”)




Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics. Chapter 2, Virtual Bodies and Flickering Signifiers. pages 25-49. 


"Interactive Live Holography - From Science Fiction to Science Fact." Online Video Clip. YouTube. 24 Oct. 2013. Mon. 8 Feb. 2016.


Lifton, Dave.  “‘I Saw Rock And Roll Future': The History of Bruce Springsteen and Jon Landau .”  9 May 2014. Mon. 8 Feb. 2016.

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