Interview with German Business Magazine
Nikolaus Roettger interviewed me for a German Business Magazine. Below is a translation of the article into English.
What is a cyborg anthropologist?
Traditional anthropologists visit foreign nations, and observe how people live there, what tools they use. As a cyborg anthropologist I see how technology is changing our society and makes us all into cyborgs.
The idea that we are all cyborgs sounds pretty crazy at first.
Sure, if you think the word "cyborg" in Robocop or Terminator. But according to the simple definition of the cyborg concept is already one of, if you wear a heart pacemaker or an astronaut using a space suit floating through space. A cyborg is a person who enters into a non-human object is a symbiotic relationship. An organism that adapts to using technology to new situations.
But not everyone is wearing a pacemaker.
But almost everyone in our society use smart phones and the Internet. Since the Industrial Revolution had everything that mankind has developed, one goal: to improve ourselves physically. Inventions like the car, the elevator or a lift truck can people be faster or stronger. Now we have the first time with mobile phones and computing devices that allow us to be mentally stronger and faster. Smartphones are an extension of our brain. Sounds still very strange. But you really seem to believe it. In their emails read: "Sent from my Prosthetics device" sent from my prosthetic device.
This is of course to the extreme.
But yes: A cell phone is basically something like a brain prosthesis. A kind of "Exobrain," an additional, outsourced part of our brain. If you would print out all we have in our phones, to get loose to 500 kilograms per phone. Do you know Mary Poppins?
This is the nurse in the children's film.
Then they probably know the Mary-Poppins bag?
Mary Poppins gets from her bag: a wardrobe, a mirror, flowers. Although the bag is actually empty, as a look in the children.
And she says to the children, looks good never the things according to how they. Cell phones are just small things that we carry in our pockets with us. But in truth they are the case of Mary Poppins very similar: We have a lot of stuff stored there indefinitely, photos, videos, addresses. With the proliferation of mobile Internet, the mass of data we can access, even greater.
Because everything is stored on servers that we can access all the time?
Yes, earlier we have written notepad and address book updated. Today, everything is stored on the web. Our memories go back to our Facebook account or Twitter, in your email inbox or Google Documents. We live in a symbiotic relationship with Internet and cell phone. Mobile phones behave even almost like a part of our body.
You need to explain that.
We must take care of our telephone as to our bodies. We go to sleep, to recover us, we need to charge the phone so that it continues to function. When we wake up, we stretch ourselves first, and the phone starts up. If it is not broke, you have to bring it to the hospital, so the computer shop. If it is old, it dies. And it makes noise all the time like a little child who wants attention. If the battery is empty, we get feelings of loss, we are not superhuman and cut off from our second identity.
Our second identity?
Each of us, whether he likes it or not, has become an alter ego, to which he must take care of itself: its online presence. On Facebook, on Twitter. Other people I interact with this second, even if you are not online. This second I be cared for. We all just learning how to handle it. What is the end that people will grow in the future twice. Once a human being. And once with their online identity. It's quite a challenge to go through this Internet puberty. For it is a big difference to the real self.
And that is?
Who meets in real life a man who does not see the past. On the Internet it is different. The Web does not forget its own history is by and large always comprehensible, photos online from the past. The interesting thing is that if you're not online, you think the online-self invisible. Here you have it here with his smartphone all the time.
How did you actually come up with this whole idea of cyborg?
I've always been obsessed with mathematics and science. What has certainly been affected by my family. My grandfather worked on computer networks, father of artificial intelligence. Once my father asked me - since I was a child - what is the shortest distance between two points. I replied: "The direct connection from A to B" - and held me for very smart. But my father said "no."
He took a piece of paper, painted on the left side of point A to point B right, folded the paper and put together the two points. This is the shortest distance, he said. I asked to go like that? He said: You have to bend time and space. Since then, I knew I will do just that: created the first man to a worm hole. When I finally wrote my thesis at the University in anthropology about the use of cell phones, I finally realized: each of us has long been a small worm hole in your pocket.
That sounds pretty wicked again.
Of course, we can not beam our bodies from A to B. But we can communicate with our cell phones from anywhere in the world with any other point in the world. Twitter via SMS or text messages via Skype with video calling, via Facebook with image. Cell phones create something like virtual wormholes. This modified and expanded our social environment. And our behavior is also changing. Distance does not matter. Los Angeles is not far away from Berlin.
Do you think this Cyborg development is good? Or is it dangerous?
I believe that technology is neutral first, it depends on what you make of it. People who are easily distracted anyway, would be distracted without internet and phone. And above all we must not forget one: That is all technology, but it does end up getting about human connections. Progress is an organic process.
Take a look at times to highways at night. You will look like veins, like a blood circulation, brought by means of which people in the city, which in turn contributes to the fact that this works at all. It looks very organic.
And what the idea has to do with the Internet?
If you click on a photo of Earth shows all digital connections that surround our planet, it looks almost suddenly from biologically. Such inclusion is strongly reminiscent of images of microorganisms. Or images of the universe with all its planets compounds. One can interpret the Internet connections almost as new neural pathways.