war & peace
This page points to writing about bodies, identity, communication
and robots in digital environments.
It covers -
and communication - virtuality, disembodiment and computer-mediated
confession and confusion - claims about 'net addiction',
'cyber dependency', cyberchondria and other disorders
body as data
- organ trading and other issues
and the posthuman - extropians, posthumans and transhumans
of the nerds - migrating your consciousness to the
grim reaper - medical technology,
quality of life, cryonics and other questions
perfectible body - questions
about cosmetic surgery, body modification and genetic
choice in the digital environment
As preceding pages of this guide note, technologies and
markets in the digital environment have been characterised
as involving new
of the body, ranging from digital CAT scans and biometrics
to claims that we can defeat (or merely indefinitely
of social relations, including chat rooms and dating
for making money, whether through identifying and treating
psychological disorders or through trading body parts
of that characterisation is problematic, given the evolutionary
nature of most technology and its social context. Few
aspects of the internet are truly revolutionary, with
concerns about virtuality, mutability or telepresence
for example being a feature of past 'new media'.
corporeality and communication
That heading is, we hope, our last genuflection to
the arid end of the sociology of the web, so if you have
got this far don't despair.
A famous New Yorker cartoon explains that 'on
the web no one knows that you're a dog', although in practice
it either does not matter or you can suss out the essential
characteristics of who is on the other end of the network.
My Tiny Life: Crime & Passion In A Virtual World
(London: 4th Estate 1999) by Julian Dibbell is a somewhat
self-indulgent account of name calling and role playing
among the MUD and MOO aficionados.
We were tempted to suggest that the participants turned
off their machines, spurned the double decaf soy macchiato
and got a life - or merely stopped reading Catherine MacKinnon
- but part of the charm of the net is its opportunities
for cultural diversity. Laura Gurak's Privacy &
Persuasion in Cyberspace (New Haven: Yale Uni Press
1997) offers another perspective on that world and also
reproduces the cartoon.
We have noted Patricia Wallace's The Psychology of
the Internet (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 1999)
and Connections (Cambridge: MIT Press 1992)
by Lee Sproull & Sara Kiesler. The essays in
Intermedia: Interpersonal Communication in a Media
World (New York: Oxford Uni Press 1986) edited by
Gary Gumpert & Robert Cathcart are also of interest.
Network & Netplay: Virtual Groups On The Internet
(Cambridge: MIT Press 1998) is a valuable collection of
essays edited by Fay Sudweeks. Lynn Cherny's Conversation
& Community: Chat in A Virtual World (Cambridge:
Cambridge Uni Press 1999) is a major sociological study.
Rob Shields edited Cultures of Internet: Virtual Spaces,
Real Histories, Living Bodies (London: SAGE 1996),
more postgrad seminar fodder.
CTheory, an online journal edited by Arthur Kroker,
will beam you up to the high end of postmodern communication
theory. Remember to take your own oxygen supply before
you go: the air up there is thin and stuffy on occasion.
Jayne Gackenbach edited the comprehensive Psychology
& the Internet: Intrapersonal, Interpersonal &
Transpersonal Implications (San Diego: Academic Press
1999), a major primer for behavioural scientists. No
Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social
Behaviour (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 1986) by Joshua
Meyrowitz is a more general study.
addiction, confession and confusion
Therapists, the media and consumers discovered what has
variously been characterised as internet addiction (IA),
pathological internet use (PIU), cyberaddiction, 'cyberwidows'
and 'cybersexual addition' or 'web dependency' during
the late 1990s.
Although there is little agreement about the shape or
basis of the addiction it has thrived what appears to
be a thriving therapy industry that has spread from the
US to other countries. Therapists and journalists have
offered lurid depictions of
of lives that were shattered by an overwhelming compulsion
to surf the Net, play MUD games, or chat with distant
and invisible neighbors in the timeless limbo of Cyberspace
and of the 'internet junkie' who
the tell-tale signs of his addiction: his skin is pallid
and covered in spots, he sits nervously hunched, peering
to correct his blighted vision and he has trouble communicating
with friends and family.
At just 16 he is emotionally fragile, physically ill
and his future has been compromised by the addiction
which has him in its grip. But when the lights are switched
off he gets online, he could not care less about the
problems it brings. His drug is the Internet ...
label has proved useful in justifying early release from
military conscription in Finland, restrictions on cybercafes
In a detailed note elsewhere
on this site we suggest that most studies of cyberaddiction
are deeply problematical because they
on small (sometimes ludicrously small) and often self-selected
no independent oversight
based on problematical data collection mechanisms (eg
leading questions and poorly structured survey)
serious uncertainties about the interpretation of figures
The seriousness and prevalence of 'net addiction' is unclear.
Its uniqueness is also uncertain, given the long - and
in retrospect often amusing - history of claims for addiction
to new media or media-related disorders. They include
religious and medical jeremiads about addiction to television
and to the telephone addiction, explored in that note.
Perhaps more positively, the net has spawned confession
sites such as Dailyconfession.com ("the only place
in the world that you can go to truly confess your sin
(or sins), your transgressions, your humanity, in complete
anonymity") and Grouphug
("the idea is for anyone to anonymously confess to
anything. it actually feels kind of good to know that
someone will read it").
Why unload on your local pastor, when you are too lazy
to blog and can publish
gems such as
I do not love my boyfriend, I care, but I dont love
him. He is so dependent, I've been trying to dump him
for a month, but he's just starting his new job, his
b-day is next saturday and i planned a surprise party....
Besides that... I met someone else, he is not the reason
for dumping my boyfriend, but well i sure like him a
I wasted 100 bucks on games including doom 3 and half-life
and I hardly play. Now I'm saving 500 for and Xbox and
a PS2 and some games to go along with it. I doubt I'll
ever play them
poster to PostSecret
characterised confessions on that site as -
is a silent prayer of hope, love, fear, joy, pain, sorrow,
guilt, happiness, hatred, confidence, strength, weakness
and a million other things that we all share as human
beings... there is no fakeness here
is unclear whether supposed web addiction is associated
with the 'computer
rage' profiled by Kent Norman or the 'computer anxiety'
in this guide. Does it result in cybersuicide
and exacerbate cyberchondria?
Christopher Bates, commended by one of the gurus, suggests
that 'cyberaddiction' is caused by "low blood volume",
presumably an advance on past explanations such as witches
the body as data
Notions of the body as data have taken three forms
and other mapping technologies - looking beyond the
visible body in an extension of more traditional x-ray
and eeg pictures
- leveraging fingerprints, retina patterns or DNA as
as destiny - with claims that genetic information is
an accurate predictor of behaviour or health
The third form has been reflected in questions about the
privacy of medical records, insurance and liability policies,
and family planning. It is also evident in debate about
data ownership. Do you own your genetic code? Can a researcher
commoditise code from your body, eg patent cells extracted
during cancer treatment?
of anonymity, identity and representation are explored
in the privacy, censorship,
politics and security
guides on this site.
The past 40 years have seen a revolution in how we conceptualise
the body, driven by the harvesting of tissue and the blurring
of traditional boundaries about bodily integrity and commoditisation.
Until last century most commoditisation of bodies was
concerned with labour, whether through slavery (buying,
selling and using the 'human motor'), as employees in
free markets or as indentured workers. Collection and
trade in body parts was largely confined to teeth - recycled
for dentures - and hair (useful for wigs, stuffing matresses
or pillows, and even some textiles).
Recent technologies have involved an expansion of the
trade in full/part blood, extending to kidneys, corneas,
hearts, livers, meninges and other parts for scientific
research or for reuse in a human recipient. Those parts
are sourced from live/dead donors, sold by the indigent,
taken from executed criminals or even stolen from bodies
Legislation such as the UK Human Tissue Act 1990
and Transplantation of Human Organs Act 1993
(reflected in restrictions at eBay
and other fora) appears to have driven the commercial
body trade offshore from major Western countries rather
than eliminated it. That is unsurprising, given reports
that selling organs from live patients may bring US$4,500
for a cornea or US$25,000 for a kidney and that a 'pre-loved'
spine may fetch US$3,500.
Point of entry into the literature on markets, ethics
and technologies are Stephen Wilkinson's Bodies for
Sale: Ethics & Exploitation in the Human Body Trade
(London: Routledge 2003), Body Shopping: The Economy
Fuelled by Flesh and Blood (Oxford: One World 2008)
by Donna Dickenson, the 1998 Human Tissue Transplantation
by Elizabeth King & Russell Smith of the Australian
Institute of Criminology, Nancy Scheper-Hughes' 2000 Global
Traffic in Human Organs lecture,
Organ transplantation: Meanings & Realities (Madison:
Uni of Wisconsin Press 1996) edited by Stuart Younger,
Renée Fox & Laurence O'Connell, Kidney
for Sale by Owner: Human Organs, Transplantation and the
Market (Washington: Georgetown Uni Press 2005) by
Mark Cherry, Body Parts: Property Rights and the Ownership
of Human Biological Materials (Washington: Georgetown
Uni Press 1996) by E Richard Gold, Property in the
Human Body & its Parts: Reflections on Self-Determination
in Liberal Society (Florence: European University
Institute 2001) by Alexandra George and Black Markets:
The Supply and Demand of Body Parts (Cambridge: Cambridge
Uni Press 2006) by Michelle Goodwin.
cyborgs and the posthuman
Having shed gender or identity as a Gutenberg artefact,
why not get rid of your body?
Katherine Hayles' How We Became Posthuman: Virtual
Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature & Informatics
(Chicago: Uni of Chicago Press 1999) explores
hypotheses about the total transformation of the human
body that occurs through its interpolation in the nascent
information networks. At successive moments in their
development, digital media have contributed to the destabilization
of an established sense of "reality." But,
at the same time, these new media are used to simulate
signifying objects, the bodies and the worlds they are
rendering obsolete ... an epistemic shift toward pattern/randomness
from presence/absence. This shift affects human and
textual bodies on two levels at once, as a change in
the body (the material substrate) and as a change in
the message (the codes of representation).
of Donna Haraway's cyberfeminist Simians, Cyborgs &
Women: The Reinvention of Nature (London: Routledge
1991) and Chris Gray's
Cyborg Citizen: Politics in the Posthuman Age (London:
Routledge 2001), Ramez Naam's More Than Human: Embracing
the Promise of Biological Enhancement (New York:
Broadway 2005), Love and Sex with Robots (New
York: Harper 2007) by David Levy and The Cyborg Experiments:
The Extensions of the Body in the Media Age (London:
Continuum 2001) edited by Joanna Zylinska strike us as
merely silly. There are pointers to similar studies on
the site of the US Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies
There is more bite in Claudia Springer's Electronic
Eros, Bodies & Desire in the Postindustrial Age
(Austin: Uni of Texas Press 1996), Enhancing Evolution:
The Ethical Case for Making Better People (Princeton:
Princeton Uni Press 2007) by John Harris and Digital
People: From Bionic Humans to Androids (Washington:
National Academies Press 2004) by Sidney Perkowitz, also
The Cyborg Handbook (London: Routledge 1996) is
a weighty collection of theorizing and fiction edited
by Chris Gray, Heidi Figueroa-Sarriera & Steven Mentor.
Just the thing to read while you wait at the cryogenics
facility after pondering Gray's 1997 paper
on The Ethics and Politics of Cyborg Embodiment: Citizenship
as a Hypervalue ... or Stelarc: The Monograph
(Cambridge: MIT Press 2005) edited by Marquard Smith,
a work that for us echoes fin-de-siecle fascination with
ontological instability of cyborgs warrants the use
of political technologies such as manifestos and written
constitutions in order to ameliorate the potential of
cyborgization to fatally undermine political self-determination
and the very idea of citizenship.
Please: Culture and Politics in the Age of Digital Machines (Durham:
Duke Uni Press 2006) by Mark Poster is more modest.
rapture of the nerds
If you are interested in "Posthumanism in the Age
of Pancapitalism" - the cyborg and downloaded virtual
consciousness - you can explore the Extropy
Institute, replete with statements such as
is a temporary stage along the evolutionary pathway.
We are not the zenith of nature's development. It is
time for us to consciously take charge of ourselves
and to accelerate our transhuman progress. No more gods,
no more faith, no more timid holding back. Let us blast
out of our old forms, our ignorance, our weakness, and
our mortality. The future belongs to posthumanity.
Transhumanist Association founder David Pearce's
The Hedonistic Imperative more modestly claimed
engineering and nanotechnology will abolish suffering
in all sentient life. The abolitionist project is hugely
ambitious but technically feasible.
more majestically beautiful, music more deeply soul-stirring,
sex more exquisitely erotic, mystical epiphanies more
awe-inspiring, and love more profoundly intense than
anything we can now properly comprehend.
less reverent response to posthumanism and transhumanism
is evident in a Wilson Quarterly article
that somewhat cruelly characterised transhumanists as
a lot of young, pasty, lanky, awkward ... white males
talking futuristic bullshit, terribly worried that we
will take their toys away.
have dismissed visions of uploading consciousness to cyberspace
as "rapture of the nerds". UK philosopher Nicj
Bostrom more provocatively asked
whether we are already living (if living is the word)
in a computer simulation, commenting "My gut feeling,
and it's nothing more than that, is that there's a 20
percent chance we're living in a computer simulation".
A 2001 response
by Robin Hanson, useful for people who fret that the designer
of the Matrix will decided that for them it is 'game over',
was to try to be as interesting as possible.
Fans of Derrida - love that "carno-phallogocentrism"
- may enjoy Cary Wolfe's Animal Rites: American Culture,
the Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory
(Chicago: Uni of Chicago Press 2003). A slightly less
reverent view appears in Ed Regis's Great Mambo Chicken
and the Transhuman Condition (Reading: Addison-Wesley
Our short note on the history of the robot in popular
culture, with key landmarks and critical studies, is here.
the grim reaper
One rationale for post/transhumanism (apart from those
claims of "mystical epiphanies more awe-inspiring
... love more profoundly intense") has been the desire
to defer or even omit the final meeting with the grim
Historians and medical specialists have been underwhelmed
by hype during the past century about miracle diets, implanted
goat gonads, vasectomy, coffee enemas, immortality through
nanotechnology or cryonics. In recent years we have not
seen lifestyle changes, pharmaceuticals, surgical procedures
or genetic re-engineering developments that would justify
claims that the average life expectancy in advanced economies
is far below the biological 'ceiling' and that the next
generation can expect to reach an age of 150 or 225 years.
Ray Kurzweil's Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough
to Live Forever (New York: Rodale 2004) forsees infinite
life spans, achievable within twenty or so years through
innovations such as millions of nanobots repairing bones,
muscles, arteries and even brain cells, along with improvements
to our genetic coding downloaded via the net. Unfortunately,
since at least the 1880s there have been recurrent forecasts
that immortality is just twenty years away (so treat your
body well until the technology rides to the rescue) ...
people are still waiting.
In the US life expectancy at birth rose by 21 years during
1900 to 1950 (from 47 to 68 years), climbing another nine
years from 1950 to 2002 (up to 77 years). In 2004 the
federal government forecast a six year extension of the
lifespan by 2075, questioning "the capacity to repeat
the gains in life expectancy that were achieved in the
20th century." Many of those gains were attributable
to improved nutrition, reduced workplace accident rates
and factors such as readier access to potable water and
Concentration on the date for checking out from the Darwin
Hotel has tended to obscure more serious questioning about
the quality of life - gaining an extra seven years of
bedsores and incontinence pads may not be so desirable,
particularly if you are still stuck with Seinfeld
reruns - and the economic or social impact of extended
longevity. Some states, such as Japan, are now below the
replacement rate and face problems as the workforce
shrinks. Concern about the cost of a rapidly aging population
is leading Chinese policymakers to question maintenance
of the current one-child policy.
Some enthusiasts have decided that deferral is the answer.
Institute thus proclaims that
and if future medical technology allows, our member
patients hope to be healed and revived, and awaken to
extended life in youthful good health
practice they are parking bits of wetware - typically
the head - in a freezer, in the hope that future technologies
will somehow solve hitherto insuperable problems with
freezing and subsequent defrosting.
Practice post-mortem has not been subject of a digital
revolution: most people are cremated or buried, despite
forecasts in works such as Soylent Green that
they would be eaten by humans rather than microorganisms
and the fabled worms.
The only 'innovations' have been -
the dear departed's ashes into a rocket that is then
launched skywards, supposedly joining the stars in emulation
of Timothy Leary
and Gene Roddenberry
video gravestones -
with a monitor that displays pre-recorded messages for
grieving families or allows them to express outrage
when a court rejects a video will.
that the gravestones might feature an internet connection
and - shades of Waugh's The Loved One - they
might be coin-operated or swiped with a credit card, with
cemetery operators charging fees to rent headsets.
Concerns about cybersuicide
are discussed in a supplementary note.
the perfectible body
Body modification - through cicatrisation, circumcision,
footbinding, infibulation and tattooing - is as old as
civilisation. What is new about the digital environment
access in advanced economies to implanted prostheses,
including artificial joints and pacemakers
to and - as significantly - acceptance of aesthetic
adoption of physical ideals that extend beyond traditional
use of clothing, cosmetics and hair styling to cosmetic
to achieve the 'perfect body' through diet, exercise
and surgery or - alas - through eugenics
Gilman thus commented that
the year 2020, no one will ask you whether you've had
aesthetic surgery, they will ask you why you didn't
have aesthetic surgery. Today it's acceptable to live
in a world where you can change your looks but choose
not to. But in 20 years or so in certain societies -
Brazil, Argentina, more and more the UK, South Korea,
Japan - the question will be 'Why didn't you take advantage?
Why are you walking around bald?'
guru Richard Scoble went emo about "human augmentation"
in 2008, asking
why couldn't I have a little glass behind my eye that
tells me your Facebook page and tells me a little bit
about you on Wikipedia while I am looking at you?
I would imagine in 15 years we are going to have something
like that; some sort of visualisation lens or some way
to jack into your optic nerve to put imagery on what
you are actually seeing and augment your human experience.
But that might be 30 years away... I don't want to sign
up for the beta test of that one in case they get it
30 years time we won't have flying cars or proton pills
or the other geek fetishes highlighted here.
For background see in particular Virginia Blum's Flesh
Wounds: The Culture of Cosmetic Surgery (Berkely:
Uni of California Press 2003), Sander Gilman's Making
the Body Beautiful: A Cultural History of Aesthetic Surgery
(Princeton: Princeton Uni Press 1999) and Creating
Beauty to Cure the Soul: Race and Psychology in the Shaping
of Aesthetic Surgery (Durham: Duke Uni Press 1998),
Elizabeth Haiken's Venus Envy: A History of Cosmetic
Surgery (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Uni Press 1997)
and Cosmetic Surgery, Gender and Culture (New
York: Palgrave 2003) by Suzanne Fraser.
Questions about gender and autonomy are explored in Debra
Gimlin's Body Work: Beauty and Self-Image in American
Culture (Berkeley: Uni of California Press 2002),
Susan Bordo's Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western
Culture, and the Body (Berkeley: Uni of California
Press 2004), Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth; How Images
of Beauty Are Used Against Women (1991), Kathy Davis'
Dubious Equalities and Embodied Differences: Cultural
Studies on Cosmetic Surgery (Lanham: Rowman &
Littlefield 2003) and Kenneth Dutton's The Perfectible
Body: The Western Ideal of Physical Development (London:
Cassell 1995). An upbeat view of biotech appears in Pete
Shanks' Human Genetic Engineering: A Guide for Activists,
Skeptics, and the Very Perplexed (New York: Nation
John Passmore's classic The Perfectibility of Man
(London: Duckworth 1970) offers a more sobering view of
the history of aspirations and expectations.
Among the vast literature on genetic engineering see John
Harris' Enhancing Evolution: The Ethical Case for
Making Better People (Princeton: Princeton Uni Press
2007), Babies by Design: The Ethics of Genetic Choice
(New Haven: Yale Uni Press 2007) by Ronald Green, Stem
Cell Century: Law and Policy for a Breakthrough Technology
(New Haven: Yale Uni Press 2007) by Russell Korobkin &
Stephen Munzer and Fundamentals of the Stem Cell Debate:
The Scientific, Religious, Ethical and Political Issues
(Berkeley: Uni of California Press 2007) edited by Kristen
Renwick Monroe, Ronald Miller & Jerome Tobis.
The Australian Law Reform Commission's 2003 Essentially
Yours: The Protection of Human Genetic Information
OECD report on the Creation & Governance of Human
Genetic Research Databases (PDF)
and Graeme Laurie's Genetic Privacy: A Challenge to
Medico-legal Norms (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press
2002) are also of particular value.
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