On Progress and Disembodiment, Part 3

This is part 3 of a 4 part series.

The main way we choose to separate ourselves from our bodies is by using technology. There do exist some really excellent applications for this. For example, there is a team of researchers studying the use of virtual reality software to treat burn victims. It allows them to leave their bodies, in a way, to experience their lives somewhere besides where they really are, which helps to ease their inescapable pain.

Since the dawn of industrialization, we’ve attempted to outsource our bodies as much as possible. First it was manufacturing–instead of having women sit at spinning wheels and work, a machine could do that. So we outsourced our bodies’ capacity for primary productive work. Then we worked on machines that did the work, and the pathway of the past few centuries has been to outsource more and more work.

We had people working in the factories taking care of the machines, then we had machines to fix machines, and the people started working at desks, writing. Then we outsourced the writing to machines, and now we sit and type letters instead of writing words.

Then we outsourced our entertainment. Instead of playing cards or talking, we could watch movies or tvs. The machines could entertain us.

Then we outsourced our home lives—machines (microwaves) can cook our dinners, roombas can clean our rooms, all so we can keep outsourcing our social lives to the internet.

And now, we are even outsourcing our memories to the internet, so that in a way, the mind is even becoming separate from the brain. We don’t have to pull our memories out of our minds, we can look at them on facebook. We don’t have to memorize facts or spelling, we can google them.

There was a Sprint ad for iPhone recently that got me thinking about the extent to which we have outsourced our identities and memories. Here is a transcription of that commercial:

“The miraculous is everywhere. In our homes, our minds. We can share every second in data dressed as pixels. A billion roaming photojournalists uploading the human experience, and it is spectacular. So why would you cap that? My iphone 5 can see every point of view, every panorama, the entire gallery of humanity. I need to upload all of me. I need, no I have the right, to be unlimited.”

If we can upload the entire human experience, all of ourselves, then what is the body for? Notice the narrator does not say he wants to download each of his experiences, or all of his interests. He needs to upload all of him, his entire identity. Since bodies are not uploadable, he clearly considers that his body is not a part of himself or his identity. Pixels have become clothing that require no wearer. His body as photographic subject matter becomes an object to entertain others, the product of a machine, right alongside other technological photographs and tweets and status updates. Our bodies have become the art in a culture that doesn’t value art.

If we are our minds, and our minds are uploadable, then we are packets of data, and our bodies, perhaps, have become the pale green pants with nobody inside them.

We are supposedly at the endpoint of progress, where people are hoping for artificial intelligence so that we can outsource the last shred of our humanity, where movies like Surrogates offer a picture of a world where our lives can be as separated from our bodies as we already are from the production of our food. Where our bodies are disgusting, where they are to be hidden away behind a machine, unless it’s a really nice picture you want to share on Facebook.

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