Saturday, 27 February 2010

Hell is other cyborgs

I am a cyborg. You are a cyborg. We are all cyborgs. Try to stay out of the rain.

Who was it that first said that we are all cyborgs now? And when?

I have no idea. Because as I write this I'm not actually connected to the internet* – and whatever bit of me that might have known the answer was long since outsourced to Wikipedia or Google or some other bit of cyberspace. (I could check on my phone, I suppose, but that would mean getting up and finding it and then writing a whole new opening).

But it's not just my memory of who it was that said 'we are all cyborgs now' that resides online: I have countless other memories stored there (and on my phone): facts, photos, notes, pieces of writing, online identities, contact details for friends and acquaintances, even some of the conversations I've had with them. Inasmuch as I am my memories – as well as the memories others have of me – a part of me now irretrievably is the internet, is my mobile phone, is my laptop, is 'the cloud' – is perhaps now even you, if you've read this far (you didn't count on being me when you started, did you?).

At present, though, following a house move, I find myself in the nowadays disorientating state of 'being between permanent internet connections'. And since I'm prone to pointlessly overthinking simple things even at the best of times, on top of this cyborg stuff I'm going to get all existential on you. Well, as you'll see, they're perhaps not unrelated.

Broadly speaking, for those that don't already know, existentialism (or at least the phenomenology bit of it) has it that each of us exists fundamentally in three simultaneous aspects: as a discrete physical object (one's body: being-in-itself); as a consciousness conscious of itself (the mind: being-for-itself); and as an object of which others are conscious (the social side of one's self: being-for-others). Where we go from there, what we become, is very much up to us – existentialism is nothing if not big on choice, and how we define ourselves by our actions – but to realise one's full potential, to lead a full existence, perhaps entails fully embracing and integrating each of these aspects of the self. (See also: existential psychology/psychotherapy).

So what happens, then, existentially speaking, when we cyborgs become temporarily disconnected from the bits of our selves we've unthinkingly stored elsewhere?

Yes, that's right. We find that lumpy, fleshy bit that still remains asking another fully grown human being in all bloody seriousness if he has a 'dongle' – and he has to ask whether we might prefer it in pink, white or blue... Because that's his job. Whither human dignity? Whither Sid James? Whither Carry On?

Well, anyway, existentialism has the Absurd well covered.

But what I find myself still pondering (though mostly offline, to save data allowance) is: what would Sartre, Kierkegaard, Camus, et al, have had to say about the way we now so routinely outsource parts of our very selves? The way we experience, express and even store (parts of) our selves external to our own body?** About a decentralised self? About a partly-virtual self? In short: about cyborgs and being-outside-of-itself?

Yes. I know. Being-without-the-internet has left me with too much time on my hands. But doubtless I'll soon find someone who's tried to answer. That's the beauty of the internet: all human life is here...

Even cyborg Luddites. (Lucky guess, but true).

*Other links filled in later, prior to posting.

**External to our own minds too? (Are we literally going out of our minds?) Or are our minds now something bigger, more diffuse, more collective? Maybe Jung and Durkheim should be part of the discussion too?

Saturday, 13 February 2010

The Weekly Links Post: No. 2

Another entirely subjective weekly selection of 15 links, collated under the six seven broad categories you see below (I forgot music last week).

Highlights from Guardian Technology

Aleks Krotoski on the filming of the BBC's The Virtual Revolution, a must watch for anyone interested in the history and future of the internet. Plenty to see on the website, too.

Google shuts down music blogs without warning. And only issues notices to their owners after deleting them.

Google Buzz's open approach leads to stalking threat. Concerns over Google's new social widget's privacy settings.

According to research, newspapers' share of total UK ad spending fell in 2009 by exactly the same amount as the internet's share rose.

Books, Writing & Storytelling

The running order for The Story 2010, a one-day conference about stories and storytelling, has been announced - including Cory Doctorow, Tim Etchells and Aleks Krotoski. Only two tickets still available, but for those not attending on the 19th February, look out for podcasts on The Story's website.

Who is pirating books? How? And why? An excellent article on The Millions looking at the motivations of book pirates (those illegally uploading and downloading books, not Long John Silver).

Social Media

Paperchase is chased by Twitterers and bloggers over copyright infringement allegations. Unable to get a response or apology from Paperchase, Hidden Eloise, the artist in question, posted evidence of plagiarism on her blog (where you can see the whole story unfold). The news hit Twitter, Twitter users self-organised to help force an admission (or at least an acknowledgement and some buck-passing).

You thought we wouldn't notice: a blog dedicated to exposing instances where two things look suspiciously similar...

How to confuse a Facebook user. A post on ReadWriteWeb recently became Google's top result for 'Facebook login', cue lots of confused comments from Facebook users attempting to log in to the blog post.

Useful Apps & Downloads

Not so much an app or download as a tip for any desktop iPlayer users getting the message "programme temporarily unavailable" when trying to play already downloaded content. Basically, it's a case of deleting the contents of the 'Cache' folder in your iPlayer installation (though not the 'Cache' folder itself) - the BBC recommend reinstalling, but that means losing what you've already downloaded. Just following the instructions at the link worked fine for me.

Games & Other Distractions

"There is too much noise..." So begins the gorgeous, melancholic Small Worlds, and your quest to explore five beautifully drawn (and soundtracked) worlds - and perhaps discover what happened to everyone.

Naomi Alderman on 'art games'.


Warner retreats from free music streaming - and what does the future have in store for the likes of Spotify?


Poacher turning gamekeeper? Pirate Bay's spokesperson, Peter Sunde, starts a money sharing site aimed at rewarding artists and content creators who share their work.

Some excellent YouTube interviews with stand-up comedians - including Stewart Lee, Robin Ince, Reginald D Hunter and various others - courtesy of I'm Jack Cooper.

IN OTHER NEWS: I've recently moved house, so will be in the internet wilderness as of tomorrow, pending connection to a new provider. Unless they mess it up again.

In other words, there may or may not be a links post next week. Who knows.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

The Weekly Links Post (Revived and Slightly Revised)

An entirely subjective weekly selection of 15 links, collated under the six broad categories you see below.

Highlights from Guardian Technology

How to become an indie games developer in eight steps. Some of them are quite big steps; but you'll still find plenty of links to interesting indie games.

Gordon Brown's smile won't crash your computer. Honestly.

Small businesses are the new mass market. The first results from The Guardian's crowd-sourced research project into the latest trends in technology start-ups.

What if you got all your news from Twitter and Facebook? Some journalists spend five days with social media as their only news source.

Books, Writing & Storytelling

Mapping a parallel world and history onto our own, Kcymaerxthaere: a global work of three dimensional storytelling. Here's The Believer's article on the physical monuments, and even a museum, that have been placed around America (and the world) by the grandson of Charles and Ray Eames.

Vintage Books has started an online reading group, to discuss Vintage titles and deliver extra content (and presumably attract readers).

IndieBooks is a new online store to highlight independent publishers. Each month 50 titles are selected: 25 new ones, plus the previous month's 25 bestsellers.

Social Media

Lamebook: a collection of funny and worrying status updates and photos culled from Facebook.

A top 5 of Twitter gaffes.

Useful Apps & Downloads

After I wrote about Panda Cloud Antivirus recently, a commenter highlighted Immunet Protect, another free antivirus which draws on the processing power of the cloud. Here's a Tech Herald review. At present, though, it looks like it's best run alongside something else as additional protection (as the commenter suggested).

Games & Other Distractions

The Asylum: you are a psychiatrist at a hospital for psychologically damaged cuddly toys; you have to work out how to cure them. Dark, funny, oddly moving, wonderful cut-scenes of their repressed memories, excellent characterisation. Probably one of the best free games I've seen. [Walkthroughs here and here, if needed].

Openfilm: a new platform for discovering, distributing and watching independent films.


Are paywalls a bad idea, or has this one just been implemented badly? "Only 35 people will pay to get past Newsday's paywall." And now: the other side of that story.

Stylus magazine, the sadly defunct online music magazine, makes a slight return, to round up the best albums and singles of the last ten years: The Stylus Decade.

Having funded a story, but then had commissions fall through, a journalist attempts to get paid, by hosting and publicising the story herself and asking for micropayments.