Skin bags, holes and dialogic gaps

‘Why not reengineer humans to fit the stars?’ (p.13). This, as Clark (2003)* explains, was Clynes and Kline’s proposal in their paper (1960) which introduced the term ‘cyborg’ to the world. Since then, our understanding of what constitutes a ‘true’ cyborg has been informed by science-fiction concepts of deep human-machine merging, of complex bio-mechanicimages (1)al integration. From The Six Million Dollar Man to Inspector Gadget to Neo, fictional cyborgs offer a vision of embedded biotechnical coalition. As Clark states, ‘as the bioelectronic interface grows in complexity and moves inward, deeper into the brain and farther from the periphery of skin, bone, and sense organs, we become correlatively less and less resistant to the idea that we are trading in genuine cyborg technology’ (p.22).

But, he questions, ‘just why do we feel that depth matters…?’ (p.22). Clark claims that what is really important is the “fluidity of the human-machine integration and the
resulting transformation of our capacities, projects, and lifestyles” (p.24). As I read this, I became suddenly aware of my own ‘transparent technologies’. This is how I was reading Clark:


I was annotating Clark’s essay on my iPad using an Adonit Jot Pro stylus. My list of MSc tasks and readings was displayed in OneNote on my laptop.As I became conscious of my technology, I decided to take a photo of it using my iPhone. And all the time I was in bed.

Without these technologies, these ‘nonpenetrative modes of personal augmentation’ (p.24), my tasks as a student, as a reader and as a writer would be much more difficult. They transform my ‘capacities, projects and lifestyle’ (p.24). I am, it transpires, a ‘natural-born cyborg’ (p.26). My identity, ‘on that account, may be as much informed by the specific sociotechnological matrix in which the biological organism (me!) exists as by those various conscious and unconscious neural events that happen to occur inside the good old biological skin-bag’ (p.23).

‘The Man in the Hole’ series of tweets evidences the impact of this ‘sociotechnical’ matrix Captureon the self. Rather than call for help, he tweeted and the internet responded. He extended and augmented his capacity for solutioneering by going to his followers, to the social brain. And this social brain is one of the real benefits of online learning. In a classroom, exchanges can be transient and lost; online, we have a record of contributions, references, links and ideas. We are developing a learning text, a multi-modal, multi-authored sociotechnological educational space across a multitude of online places.

Wegerif’s definition of the dialogic mode of education offered by the internet is borne out by our experience as learners on the course thus far. We are, as Wegerif (2013)** notes, engaged in ‘dialogue with the Infinite Other’ (p.3) Our mode of learning is ‘intrinsically participatory’ and not singular in meaning or outcome: ‘meaning is never singular but always emerges in the play of different voices in dialogue together…a certain kind of infinity or unbounded potential is opened onto by dialogic…'(p.3). Further, the ‘dialogic gap’, whereby ‘at least two perspectives (are) held together in creative tension’ (p.4) is a space in which deep learning happens, where meaning is created. We inhabit shared dialogic spaces that we have generated. But where am ‘I’ in these spaces…?


*Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the future of Human Intelligence” Chap. 1 pp. 13-34 “Cyborgs Unplugged”
**Wegerif, R. (2013) Dialogic: education for the internet age. London: Routledge chapter 1. ‘The Challenge’, pp. 10-21 (ebook).

2 Replies to “Skin bags, holes and dialogic gaps”

  1. Hello Helen,

    What a thoughtful post! The “where am ‘I'” question is a fascinating one. We somehow need to find a way to reconcile the ways in which we are reconstructed ever anew in our interactions with the social and material worlds with our sense of a relatively stable and somewhat bounded self. Personally I’m quite comfortable with the idea that we to some extent have a stable core which is associated with a particular physical body and I don’t think that’s incompatible with that core being developed through social and material relations and expressed anew in new situations. What do you think?



  2. Hello Velda,

    I think there is a cultural belief that our ‘self’ and our projections of/creations of our ‘selves’ have been transformed by digital technologies, by social networking. We can transform and mutate and send a different version of ‘us’ into the ‘virtual’ world. The Shakespearean metaphor of the ‘roles’ that we play throughout life and within different contexts has been extended and intensified; we are countless different ‘mes’, creating and reshaping ourselves through more interactions than we had some decades ago.

    However, like you, I have a sense of the ‘me-ness’ of ‘me’ which, however illusory, persists*; I think your idea of a ‘core’ which is being developed and expressed anew is useful nuancing of the concept of identity.

    And also, we have always played with the gap between the physical presence and the disembodied message. From Cyrano de Bergerac to my Mum’s – still wonderful – ‘telephone voice’, we find gaps between the sign and the symbol within which to wriggle. I’m not sure, therefore, that I agree with Ong’s assertion that ‘writing intensifies the sense of self’ (1982, 179). I think that writing allows you to play, to beguile and to delude.

    What is interesting about this course is it’s the first time my ‘academic core’, my sense of myself as a learner, has been expressed within and affected by a purely online environment. I feel that it’s much more (positively) challenging than face to face learning. Blanchette’s statement that ‘interaction in this on-line context (is) more intellectually demanding than that found in face-to-face’ (2001:48) definitely holds true. I’m having to reflect on myself as a learner in a much more rigorous and complex way than I’ve had to in the past.

    *’There is no one alive who is youer than you – Dr Seuss



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