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).