Born Jacked In

Adam mazer '08, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University

Donna Haraway, in her essay "A Cyborg Manifesto," claims that all modern American women are necessarily cyborgs. Because she is writing from a feminist standpoint, she focuses much of her essay on women, but her argument expands to encompass all of humanity in such statements as " . . . my cyborg myth is about transgressed boundaries, potent fusions, and dangerous possibilities . . ." [p. 154]. Of course, even in the '80s, Haraway's ideas were not completely revolutionary; many people had long since accepted the ubiquity of the cyborg and its steady proliferation and empowerment. These people wrote science fiction.

Writers like William Gibson and Neal Stephenson, having recognized the "cyborgification" of humanity did what nearly all writers of science fiction have done since early medical science Mary Shelley inspired to create Frankenstein; they romanticized it. They took what was an essentially utilitarian technology -- cell phones, prosthetics, portable music players, and of course, computers, to name a few examples -- and brought out the inherent sexiness and danger and change of this new way of living. Gibson, Stephenson, and others realized that a story about a metallic hip replacement was, quite frankly, not all that interesting. A story about a woman with blades that extend from her fingers, though, is interesting, compelling, and perversely sexy -- Molly, in this case, is the embodiment of the seductiveness of new technology.

But Gibson, Stephenson, and others raised the stakes on Haraway. They envisioned, or perhaps recognized the rise of, other, perhaps even stranger elements of society. Of special note is the way science fiction writers incorporate a parallel, digital world into their works, from Gibson's Cyberspace to Stephenson's Metaverse. In both Neuromancer and Snow Crash, the digital world becomes almost a new appendage itself -- it functions as a metaphoric prosthetic. When Hiro needs to know extensive information about Sumerian mythology, he does not need to spend hours researching in a physical library -- he merely logs into the metaverse from the computer clipped to his belt and in minutes he knows as much about Sumerian mythology as any specialized architect from a century before. This mirrors, in may ways, the internet in modern society. Especially as wireless internet becomes increasingly prevalent, laptop computers become more like extra appendages -- always present and available as useful tools. For proof of this, all one has to do is walk around the Main Green on a warm sunny day and count the number of people working on their computers outside, wireless, at ease -- as if they were born knowing how. Gibson, Stephenson, and possibly even Haraway might point out that perhaps one day in the not so distant future, they will be.

Website OV Cyborg Literature SnowCrash

Last modified 14 April 2005