Cyborgology: There Is No Cyberspace
by PJ Rey

Equating the contemporary social Web to “cyberspace” is, however, deeply problematic because the Web is neither consensual nor a hallucination.

Not Consensual. The Web is what Donna Haraway calls “a non-optional system.” Social media is now part of the very fabric of our society. Information distributed via social media affects all of us regardless of whether we participate in it directly or not. At the individual level, the behaviors of our peers are shaped by a “documentary vision” (i.e., we make choices through the lens of the potential future documents our actions will create). At the societal level, what is trending on Twitter one day makes the news the next and affects our behavior on the following day. For example, it is difficult to imagine that the Arab Spring or the Occupy movements would have received the same level of media attention had networks not had access to countless real-time streams of information pushed out by protesters and other observers. Mass attention, of course, encouraged and, even, vindicated the protestors. The back-and-forth flow of information between online and offline has become integral to the current political moment to which we are all subjects.

Not a Hallucination. The Web is not a suspension of reality: it is not a game, and it is not a fantasy. Nor is the Web merely about reality. That would imply that the Web is only epiphenomenal (i.e., that the causal relationship between the Web is unidirectional, that the reality causes the Web but is isolated from it’s effects). Instead, the Web is part of reality; it is real. As Nathan Jurgenson recently described, we are as much a product of our online profiles as a they are a product of us. Causality is bi-directional. We are all part of the same human-computer system.


In a 2010 New York Times opinion piece, Gibson explains:

Cyberspace, not so long ago, was a specific elsewhere, one we visited periodically, peering into it from the familiar physical world. Now cyberspace has everted. Turned itself inside out. Colonized the physical. Making Google a central and evolving structural unit not only of the architecture of cyberspace, but of the world. This is the sort of thing that empires and nation-states did, before. But empires and nation-states weren’t organs of global human perception. They had their many eyes, certainly, but they didn’t constitute a single multiplex eye for the entire human species.

Cyborgology: The Real and the Loss of Cyberspace
by PJ Rey

The alternate, of course, is to simply accept the idea that the real is synthetic as theorists such as Donna Haraway council. Haraway famously voiced her opposition to the pessimistic romanticism of Baudrillard and company when she concluded: “Cyborg imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves… Though both are bound in the spiral dance, I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess.” The goddess, here, represents the romantic view of identity, where identity arises out of an opposition between binaries; on the other hand, the

cyborg is a creature of context that continually renegotiates its identity in the space between supposed opposites (most pertinent in this case, the opposition between the physical and the digital). We must learn to embrace an augmented, cyborg reality, characterized by synthetics, copies, colonization, (de-)rationalization, reflexivity, and networked interactions.


This critique of digital dualism, however, does not imply that the interchanges between the physical and the digital are “frictionless.” I am not seeking to promote a naive Utopianism. As Haraway says: “This is not some kind of blissed-out technobunny joy in information.” Antley, for example, rightly observed that elements of our synthetic identity are prone coming out of sync. This experience can be quite alarming. We all likely have stories of logging on to find uncomfortable images or other documents about us posted without our knowledge; panic ensues as we attempt restore and re-sync our online profile. Similarly, many of us have also probably found ourselves lost because reception on our phone or GPS cut out.

Cyborg Moralities
by Jenny Davis

Potential realization and self reliance

By potential realization, I refer simply to the full realization of one’s potential—to be as successful as possible. As bioethicist Carl Elliott persuasively describes, social actors in contemporary western societies view life as a project. We keep our life-projects in mind as we make decisions about how to behave, what to pursue, with whom to engage, and what to prioritize. We want our project (i.e. our lives) to be as successful (i.e. well-lived) as possible. We want, as the famous Army slogan goes, to “be all that we can be.”

This is largely an ends-based moral tenet. The goal is a successful life, the means are less important. The moral actor in contemporary western society has financial wealth, social prestige, a thriving social life, and a healthy looking, attractive body. These are signs of a life well-lived. These are moral trophies, earned by any means possible. To be poor, lonely, unattractive, or untitled, is to embody moral failure and suffer social stigma.

At the same time, we maintain a strong moral commitment to individual accomplishment and self-reliance. We revel in the idea of pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps. This is seen in the vast popularity of the rags-to-riches narrative, and our public heroization of the self-made (wo)man through film, literature, and journalism.

This is a means-based moral tenet. The moral actor makes it on hir own, rejecting all forms of external aid. This moral tenet plays the important (delusion-preserving) role of reinforcing rhetorics of equal opportunity and level playing fields.

Moral tension

The problem is that these two deeply ingrained moral tenets do not peacefully co-exist. To produce the optimal life-project is to use all available resources. To rely only on the self is to eschew all external help. This tension is exacerbated in the cyborg era. To rely upon the quickly developing technologies of the time is to breach the value of self-reliance. To choose not to utilize all available tools in the quest for greatness is to fail to realize one’s full potential, sacrificing the end product of the life project. It is within this tension that the cyborg must negotiate hir morality, and so develops an anxiety ridden, ambivalent relationship with the technologies of the time.

To demonstrate this tension, I provide 3 examples: steroid controversies, weight loss surgery, and digitally mediated social interaction.
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