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Tag: transhumanism (page 2 of 2)

This website was archived on July 20, 2019. It is frozen in time on that date.
Exolymph creator Sonya Mann's active website is Sonya, Supposedly.

Technical Difficulties In The Twenty-First Century

Photo by Luka Ivanovic.

Photo by Luka Ivanovic.

My laptop functions as an extension of my brain. I use it to store memories, to explore the environment that matters to myself and my peer group, and to express my will. Both my work and large parts of my social life live online. When I don’t have access to a reliable computer, I’m cut off from participating in the spheres that I care about. Sure, I can still read Twitter and Instapaper and text my boyfriend from my phone, but a laptop is so much more powerful. Unlike a phone, it’s a robust creative tool. I’m much more text-based than visual, so without a proper keyboard and word processor, I feel stymied. The Notes app is just not the same.

Currently I’m hurting for lack of a machine that will do my bidding. I don’t want to complain about my IT troubles too much, but it’s striking how drastically my life is affected by a slow and glitchy computer. This old Lenovo ThinkPad has been degrading gradually for a while — since I first got it four years ago, if we want to be precise — but over the past couple of days the situation has dramatically worsened. I can still do things, but not consistently, and I have to restart whenever I want to open or close a new program. Downloading images is basically out of the question. (Yes, a factory reset is on my schedule, and a Chromebook is winging its way to me from an Amazon warehouse.)

There’s a parallel between my computer and my antidepressant meds. Every day I take 225 milligrams of venlafaxine, the generic form of Effexor. It’s a drug that I’m incredibly grateful for, because it enables me to feel happy and energetic. But venlafaxine has hardcore side effects if I miss a dose — the colloquial term for what happens is “brain zaps”. You know that feeling when you drink too much caffeine, so you’re shaking and buzzing with anxiety? It’s like that, but also static electricity shocks me behind the eyes periodically. It’s not painful, but it’s not pleasant.

The frustration caused by trying to get my broken computer to just fucking do things is like trying to navigate the world when my brain is missing the right levels of serotonin and dopamine or whatever chemicals are affected. It’s not as bad as being depressed or being stuck with paper notebooks — but I am still filled with enough rage to want to cry.

Identity Velocity

Today’s dispatch was contributed by Way Spurr-Chen, a developer who curates the Glitchet newsletter (“weekly futuristic news and glitch aesthetic webzine”), hangs out on Twitter, and has myriad other projects.

We’ve always changed ourselves with some form of magic or another. Incantations, self-hypnosis, drugs. A finely pressed suit and $400 handbag. The dire imaginations of children, actors, pretenders. We wear masks and we play games — we are changers. The cessation of an atom’s vibration is a deep freeze: to stay still is to die. That’s probably why you’re reading this. You can smell which way the wind blows, and “forward” is a funny smell worth paying attention to.

Still, that wind blows fast. I’ve been reading about people controlling robotic limbs with their minds, a surgeon who implanted himself to see if he could digitize his thoughts, companies injecting their employees with RFID chips, and people putting LEDs under their skin. And those are just the biohackers! The internet allows us to get lost in increasingly specific subcultures and ideas. Our connectivity splinters us like lightning as our lives course through endless information. Years don’t feel like years anymore; I feel like I’m being blended into months and I’m counting my days in weeks. I wonder when I’ll know that I’ve been left behind, but that’s the trick: I’m already behind. We all are. You can’t be “on it” anymore — you can only tune into the infinite noise and pick out a signal. Wherever you find people, you’ll find a community thriving and moving faster than you can keep up.

What does that do to our play? We’re learning the power of permanence online while realizing the importance of having anonymous options. As the amount of information we put online increases, encased in silicon boxes, so does our ability to modulate, flex, and bend that signal through the future. (May our audiences be as forgiving of our pasts as we are.) It becomes simultaneously easier to transform yourself and to be pinned to an old version of yourself. Yet we will always shove forward bravely to new identities; we can’t stop.

Magical glitch artwork by Mário João.

Artwork by Mário João.

That’s just the internet. Old news already. Our ability to change ourselves, though, our bodies — that’s fast. When I saw those armless kids with modular LEGO prosthetics they could build on, I wanted one. I bet there will be a point where it’s a reasonable exchange to swap a flesh arm for a robot arm, even if your robot arm’s USB 3.0 extensions will probably be obsolete by 2020. (I hope you got the universal RFC shoulder socket adapter. Sometimes you gotta lose a little more flesh, but that’s just the tradeoff for longevity. Make sure you do your research: you wouldn’t want to buy from a startup that’s hoping to get acquired by Microsoft. Google might be OK.)

Of course, those are just functional, almost decorative. The thing I wonder most is how I would feel, knowing that I’m part machine, or part internet, or different, enhanced. Even if I can control the rate of my own transformation, would I feel pressured by the options available? What about aesthetics? When we can change ourselves so quickly, and we see the degree at which others might change, would we be compelled to enter an arms race (no pun intended) to become the most stylish, the most hip, the most specific? How fast can self-perception change? Does it lead or does it follow the things that we find ourselves becoming?

Certainly, perspective and identity are constantly in flux and the self rarely sees its reflection. But I hope the things I can hold onto are my habits. These give me stability. These define me. Even if I did get a robot arm, or an RFID chip, or a vibrating penis (I wouldn’t — I mean, maybe — no — let me think about it), I would still like whiskey and ginger beers, lasagna, dark clothes, the smell of a bonfire on the beach. I have these things to hold onto, regardless of what else about myself I change. I can take solace in the idea that I still haven’t changed. Not really. I can hold onto the rest of my humanity that is slow and almost static.

But the future always brings us new questions: what happens when you augment that? Your mind? Would you erase your memories? Would you program yourself to like something that the love of your life likes? Does it matter? Identity may not need to seem discrete, concrete. After all, can you step into the same river twice? Maybe you just have to tune into the signal in the noise wherever you find it. Mask-wearers, pretenders, changers that we are — maybe that’s already what we do. We’ll just get faster.

If you like Exolymph, you will definitely like Glitchet, so I recommend that you go sign up!

Grinder Seeks Philanthropist

Contextualizing disclaimer: This dispatch is about someone who is not a “public person” in the typical sense. He solicited attention for his crowdfunding project in an open Facebook group, so I feel okay about directing attention his way. I tried to be respectful without being dishonest about my reactions.

Yesterday I mentioned grinding (also called biohacking). Today I encountered someone whose ambitions rise beyond self-modification — he wants to advance transhumanist medical possibilities on behalf of the entire human race. Voltage Muriel set up a GoFundMe campaign called Robotic Body Designs. The claimed goal is “No more health issues, longer lives, upgrades to yourself”. To be kind, that’s extremely optimistic — to be harsh, it’s grandiose to the point of delusion. “No more health issues” — at all? Really?

A grinder's workstation. Photo by Voltage Muriel.

A grinder’s workstation. Photo by Voltage Muriel.

Muriel explains his situation and intentions like this:

“Currently finishing my bachelor of science degree in electronic engineering, so I may gain the knowledge I need in order to help design an invention for all of humanity. As a dedication, I ask for donations to help with the supplies I need to design my ideas. Eventually I will successfully restore my own body using robotic technology. There will be a way to make this at no cost to all patients. I promise your donation will be used for helping the world become a better home for everyone.”

In case the GoFundMe page gets taken down, here’s a Wayback Machine link.

The way Muriel describes Robotic Body Designs is particularly interesting — his language borders on religious. “As a dedication” … “restore my own body” — these phrases echo Christian lore. I’m not sure whether English is Muriel’s first language, but if we assume that he fully understands the word “restore”, it’s an odd choice. “Restore” implies that the body’s current state is different from its original one; Muriel seems to be saying that he’ll return himself to the start. What might that be?

I asked Muriel to comment; he did not respond by press time.

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