Boundaries of Human and Machine - Where Does One End, and Another Begin?

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Maureen McHugh that "soon, perhaps, it will be impossible to tell where humans end and machines begin".

Most technological forms can only be accessed through the liminal transitional period. When a cell phone user leaves their earpiece in more than they leave it out, they exist in a constant state of potential liminality. I observed many instances of this at a business conference I attended in 2007.

The Bluetooth device is an example of a cell phone device that allows cell phone use without non-verbal cues.

What differentiates the Bluetooth user from the normal cell phone user is the reduction of the liminal state that signals the transition between face-to-face interaction and cell phone use to an almost instantaneous moment. The absence of liminality catches observers off guard, because they don't see the normal transition period that characterizes the hybridization of the human to a technosocial actor. Bluetooth users experience shorter distances between pure technology and pure 'humanness' when they accept a call.

Norwegian cell phone researcher Richard Ling (2002) used Erving Goffman’s theories of gesture to study the nonverbal cues that signaled a cell phone user's transition into technosocial conversation. Goffman points out that

"a set of significant gestures is also employed by which one or more new participants can officially join the talk, by which one or more accredited participants can officially withdraw, and by which the state of talk can be terminated" (Goffman, 1982:34).

With normal cell phone use, the actions of withdrawing and termination of the states of talking can easily be seen.

When an average cell phone user engages with the device, a change in posture signals the entrance into the liminal state. The subject must first grab the cell phone, open it or press a button to accept the call, and then press the phone to the ear. Once placed, subjects tend to turn inward, lean the head towards the cell phone, and look away from the public.

These nonverbal actions signal to the onlooker that a subject is about to begin a cell phone conversation.

The Bluetooth use does not require any of these actions in order to enter into a hybrid technosocial state. The Bluetooth device is already attached to the ear. There is no need for the user to hold anything or press any buttons. Thus, a Bluetooth user can simply speak into the device without turning away or touching anything.

This difference is what causes cell phone users to seem more introverted and take more ‘spacemaker’ poses, while Bluetooth users are more likely to be seen in ‘speakeasy’ poses, since they are able to carry hands-free conversations while walking down the street. They face forward, their shoulders and heads up. They can participate in movements unique to non-cell phone users while maintaining a conversation.

Source: [1]