Cyborgs and Avatars

 Last year, I wrote a paper to address (primarily) one question: How, metaphysically, can we describe or explain our connection to and presence in cyberspace? (e.g., When I play an MMO, where am I? Is my social network profile me, or part of me, or a representation of me? When I act online while sitting at a desk, where does my action take place? If I am in one place while my actions are in another place, who is really performing the action?) I offered two possible explanations: the first found roots in structuralism and semantics, understanding the issue as one of representation through symbols. Here, “network” became an appropriate term for understanding the metaphysics of the internet. The second option I offered was analogized by hand puppets, and held that when people act online, they do so through avatars of some sort. While they are distinct from their avatars, they animate and control them, and so act through them.

I briefly mentioned other, related ideas but did not develop them. One such idea was cyborgism. I wasn’t sure (and I still am not) how to develop this idea, but I think it works by turning the problem inside out: rather than explain how we exist in machines, we have to explain how machines exist in us. Perhaps by explaining how we are affected by smartphones, motion-sensor videogames, robots, Facebook and Twitter feeds, and the like, we can understand the questions of cyberspace from a new angle. Perhaps this is not so different from the “puppet” view, except that the hand does not merely occupy the puppet, but merges with it. This might make sense if we agree that we shape our media (and technology) and then our media shapes us. On this view, it may not make sense to talk about the human as above and distinct from the media.

I don’t yet have a good grasp on this fledgling idea, but I always like the idea of questioning the question.


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