By Foteini Vergidou.
Everyday we are integrating exponentially with technology and as we do, we find new ways to allow technology to augment us. We often find ourselves in a continuum between the real, as we know it, and the virtual, as a utopic promise.
The world is changing rapidly, allowing more advanced technology to be accessible to everyone and available at all times. Our need to keep up with this digital age causes a form of collective trauma, due to its evolutional speed and complexity. According to neuroscientists and psychiatrists, when we experience trauma in the digital age, the increase of speed and complexity of data can lead to extreme effects in our health, such as intense stress levels, depression and disconnection.
The agony we face to stay relatable in a fast complex and demanding world, where the coordinates become indistinguishable, augments the feeling of reality numbness and disconnection from our own experiences. Although we have created in some sense, through the World Wide Web, an external manifestation of our inner architecture, we need to develop a new perspective towards our physical body and our place in the digital world.
Some new age historians support that the next revolution in history will not be in economics, politics or societal gaps. It will be in humanity itself. With the notion of Internet of Things (IOT) and the Cloud, the next revolution will come from the field of biotechnology and is expected to happen in our bodies, our brains and minds, changing what it means to be human, when products of the future will be artificial body parts connected to the Internet.
Today, devices like smartwatches, Google Glasses and smart jewelry like the sold-out Ringly already demonstrate what we can measure about our bodies, how we can track things and how to get as much information and functionality as possible.
The problem is that soon we will run out of space on our body. All of these devices will compete not just for our attention, but also for a space on us.
Artists have been embedding devices in their bodies for quite some time now, challenging the lines between what is natural and what is not. In 2013 Anthony Antonellis implanted a tiny electronic chip in his hand, dedicated to store digital art, transfer digital artworks and curate new media exhibitions.
Going deeper to transhumanism, artists defend their right to self-design and develop new senses at will. Avant-garde choreographer and cyborg activist Moon Ribas, has implanted an online seismic sensor in her elbow to feel earthquakes through vibrations. Her dance pieces are based on the interaction between the movements of Earth and her self.
Artist and Composer Neil Harbisson is best known for his implanted antenna that allows him to feel and hear notes and vibrations based on the color saturation of people around him. In his Sound Portraits, Harbisson represents the audio composition of a human face by 5 notes: two eyes, skin, lips and hair.
Neil Harbisson - Sound Portraits (2010) / Courtesy of the artist
Moon Ribas and Neil Harbisson are the co-founders of the awarded Cyborg Foundation that promotes the development of new senses and abilities by augmenting the body with cybernetic extensions.
The ideas of the modified human body, how a body performs in the world and what it means to stay human in the digital age are investigated in Stelarc’s most controversial project “The extra ear” (2006 – utd). Although the Australian based Cypriot artist has been performing with exoskeleton designs for over 30 years, this project is about constructing an organ that will be Internet enabled, challenging the notion of topology, the private and the personal.
As the artist has manifested, this extra ear will allow people to remotely access and listen to what it will be hearing regardless the distance between the artist and his audience.
However, with the struggle to remain relatable in a fast-paced tech era, one interesting question is what is going to happen to ethics, the moral code we share. Is it an extended self or an embodied intelligence a good thing or a bad thing?
Ethical issues arise depending on how far the body hacking race will go. As prosthetics become more advanced and more stylist, chances are they will not only spark the feeling of envy to those who have not been augmented yet, but most importantly they will be far more ahead in the competitive job market.
1. Yang Guang-Zhong, Riener Robert and Dario Paolo: “To integrate and to empower: Robots for rehabilitation and assistance” / Published on Science Robotics, 31 May 2017, Vol. 2, Issue #6
2. Harari Yuval Noah: “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” (2018) / Publication: Spiegel & Grau, New York