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Posts Tagged ‘tool use’

I am a cyborg. Don’t look so shocked—you’re probably one too.

I have the following technological enhancements:

  • a removable device for improving visual acuity
  • an assortment of removable artificial skins for temperature control and decoration
  • a prosthetic time sense, significantly better than any natural ability
  • a prosthetic memory that not only allows me to store large amounts of information far more accurately than my natural memory, but allows me to access—and add to—other people’s similarly stored memories

Psychologists and philosophers suggest that humans are natural cyborgs. We are hard-wired not only to create and use tools, but to make them a part of ourselves. Your brain, for example, represents the space around you in different ways depending on what is and isn’t in arm’s reach. That makes sense, because you can directly affect things in arm’s reach—the more distant world, you can merely observe. If you pick up a stick, or get in the driver’s seat of a car, your representation of “arm’s reach” expands along with your influence. I leave it to your imagination what that representation does when you log into Twitter.

Tools change us, but we can’t function without them. Tool use, of course, is not limited to humans. Octopuses use coconut shells for camouflage, crows bend wires into hooks, and chimpanzees make spears. But we make more complex tools, and use them more easily, than any other species. And they’re absolutely necessary for our survival—we have little in the way of truly natural protection or food-gathering ability.

We’ve been worrying about the dangers of new technological enhancements for as long as we’ve been making them. Plato believed that writing would lead to forgetfulness (he was right), and cause people to “entertain the delusion that they have wide knowledge, while they are, in fact, for the most part incapable of real judgment.” Meanwhile, in the 21st century, Malcolm Gladwell believes that social media will undermine revolutionary activism—or at least, he believed it last October. Those who look ahead worry about the dehumanizing effects of nanotechnology and bioengineering. There are certainly many dangerous potential uses for these new technologies. But they can’t “dehumanize” us. Tools are one of the things that make us human.

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