Emergence

Topics in Emerging Media and Communications

A Cyborg Civilization

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How we define the technology effects of the Internet is a highly debated topic, not just its present form, but what it will look like in the future.

In order to formulate a concept of what the Internet looks like and how it effects the civil society, we must see it first as not a “thing”, an object of manipulation, or a stand-alone institution, but as a “decentralized communication system – a network of networks (Poster 261).” In Cyberdemocracy, Mark Poster goes on to say “The way to define technology effects is to build the Internet, to set in place a series of relations which constitute an electronic geography (261).” If we frame the Internet in geographic terms, it is easier to see how networks of individuals move about, connect, disconnect on top of a surface area; the surface area merely provides a space.

So now that we understand perfectly what the Internet is in relation to technology, what do we do in it?  How do we as citizens of the digital world act in a the digital world?

But we do not understand perfectly. In fact, we have a difficult time understanding it at all, especially with regards to democracy. Part of the difficulty is that the Internet allows the individual to create new identities, separate from those in real life. In fact, the Internet doesn’t just allow for morphing identities, it promotes it through the variety of communication interactions we are free to explore.

Poster likes to frame this identity morphing as a kind of cyborg identity “because the internet inscribes the new social figure of the cyborg and institutes a communicative practice of self-constitution, the political as we have known it is reconfigured” 269.” We are cyborgs because we maintain our individual selves in the physical space, but in the Internet space we have the ability to take that identity and construct a new identity depending on the interactions we have with others within the digital space; half man, half machine.

The problem with defining individuals as cyborgs in our shiny, newly defined Internet space is that we then have to ask the question of authority. In Gary Hall’s article “Hypercyberdemocracy”, he poses the question, not of who controls, but rather “is control a good term to use in relation to digital culture?” This is mind-blowing, in the sense that the Internet space allows us to reformat our collective wiring on the role of democracy. Is it necessary, is it good, is it even possible?  And if it is not good, what takes it’s place?

Both Poster and Hall intentionally leaves the question unanswered, pointing out the need to look at democracy and politics from a post-modern perspective; democracy will be shaped by what comes after the Internet explosion, but by what came before as well. This goes back to our primary question of how do we cyborgs participate in the digital space?

One answer is to look to the past, specifically focusing on civil societies with a high degree of citizen participation. Modern political theorists often assume that if participation of the average citizen within a democratic system is active, than the democracy will be ultimately healthy and productive, reaching out to all its members and reflecting their voice.

In “The Dubious Link” by Ariel Armony, this assumption is questioned, and proven false by providing examples of Weimar Germany and race politics in the U.S. Southern States. “I argue that civil society may or may not lead to democracy because what matters is the context in which people associate, not because association is inherently or universally positive for democracy (Armory 2).” The two examples Armory provides demonstrates how the social networking of individuals can lead to oppression, conflict, and the crumbling of a society, just as easily as it can support a utopian democracy. Associations and a high degree of social capital can be weapons to use for good or evil, a scary thought when we attempt to look into the future.

The internet provides us unlimited space for networking and communicating with others who have similar interests and concerns. We are now continuously connected cyborgs, operating in the Internet, where the possibilities for redefining our civil society and creation of social capital are vast, but what kind of communication is happening?

Understanding historical context, that this can be both beneficial in defining a new age of politics and detrimental to the very foundations of society is critical. We may not be able to control what happens in the digital civil society, but we must continue to ask the questions and be vigilant in observing communication and connections happening all around us.

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Written by HiuHiMedia

February 16, 2011 at 7:23 am

Posted in Politics

Tagged with , , ,

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