New things that rock the perceptions of our humanity now are Google Glass - what will it do to us? And Angelina Jolie did get her real breast content swapped for supplemental content to reduce risk of breast cancer. What is the actual value of data that is systematically altered, changed, biased or tweaked, and that really gives us a different basis to judge on? What is the actual value of life given our human bodies are constantly altered on their insides and on their outsides? Where are the lines not to cross in order to avoid becoming social outcasts?
I would say that the deeper question - who are we, what are we made of, what do our thoughts rely on, what do our personalities sit on - hits against a transparent wall, and it hits there hard.
We currently seem to have extreme difficulties in distinguishing simulated reality and a new virtual simulation - that has no reality - as described by Jean Baudrillard as "map without planet" or Simulacra.
Cited text from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simulacrum:
Postmodernist French social theorist Jean Baudrillard argues that a simulacrum is not a copy of the real, but becomes truth in its own right: the hyperreal. Where Plato saw two steps of reproduction — faithful and intentionally distorted (simulacrum) — Baudrillard sees four: (1) basic reflection of reality, (2) perversion of reality; (3) pretence of reality (where there is no model); and (4) simulacrum, which "bears no relation to any reality whatsoever". In Baudrillard's concept, like Nietzsche's, simulacra are perceived as negative, but another modern philosopher who addressed the topic, Gilles Deleuze, takes a different view, seeing simulacra as the avenue by which accepted ideals or "privileged position" could be "challenged and overturned". Deleuze defines simulacra as "those systems in which different relates to different by means of difference itself. What is essential is that we find in these systems no prior identity, no internal resemblance".
There are a number of questions arising here.
- What is the pragmatic value of things done with Google Glass? Why is it cool to supplement ourselves with new gadgets where real life has no precedent?
- While a prosthetic hand is a copy of a real hand in terms of shape and hope and promise, why is it considered not cool to wear a tentacle or a hook? Or are the people that embrace Google Glass the same people that embrace hooks?
More importantly, how is the definition of "who" we are affected through yet another piece of embedding us and embedding others?
How to we keep up with renewed definitions of "what" can be (and "what" can not be) a personality - also given that some true-to-their-core hardliner people will treat "rationality" as essential and non-negotiable requirement for any "personality" or "person"?
The discussion of "who" we are underlies many current and not-so-current discussions.
We are born, and immediately we are tied up to the networks of social dependencies through a bunch of everyday prosthetics - including watches (to supplement and support our subjective feeling for time), glasses (to better be able to see), clothes (a replacement of hair lost over the millenia), cell phones (prosthetic talking devices to overcome distance), cars (prosthetic transporting devices to overcome distances) and so on; we have gotten used to "being" one and the same person despite loss (and sometimes replacement) of body parts (including lenses for cataracts, hip joints, blood vessel grafts for hearts, aortas or legs) all in attempts to extend quality of life and/or life.
While so far, replacements were done when there was a tangible problem that had jumped into existence in the middle of the machine room (i.e., osteoarthritis leading to joint replacement, vessel blockage causing pain or infarction), Angelina Jolie copies modern car manufacturers' "long-life" approach (oil change "before" the car is damaged) by having the content of her breasts swapped "before" she gets breast cancer - but essentially, she is not doing anything that is so different.
With that, we are already tied up in systems of social dependencies and extensions, replacements, enhancements and embodiments of all kinds, all of which undeniably alienate us from what we were when we were born and what we would have been in other times.
In all that we are massively and increasingly dependent - on other people (even though we may view other "people" as "the system" - such as seeing nurses or doctors as part of "health care", tram and bus drivers as part of "public transport" and so on), on energy (mobile phones with screwed up batteries can be such a drag), on mechanical stability (good work wear should last a few washing cycles) - and in no way are we "in-dependent".
And yet, what I find interesting, is that we may also have specific failure points.
People that define themselves they way they (and not as outlined above society by and large) see fit will deviate from that in any way thinkable. When some people face cancer surgery or they risk losing a leg because of vessel disease, they choose to kill themselves rather than adopting to the new challenges. When people risk to become dependent on daily nursing care, they believe that "now" is the moment that they become "dependent" and kill themselves. When people lose their driver's license, time to shoot themselves. Prosthetic embedding as well as lack thereof seems to be intrinsically linked to who we think we are.
So we are already living in a highly networked, inter-dependent type of social structure and culture where having or not having Google Glass and mobile technology is an already essential and increasingly important part in an assortment of items and gadgets that increasingly become staffed, illustrated and populated with Simulacra in a seemingly irrational and abrupt fashion. Some people define themselves over not wearing a prosthetic arm, some over wearing a hook, some over wearing something else. Some people identify with using 8 year old Nokia cell phones, others identify with using the latest type of smart phone. The edges between different social types are defined just by the strength and type of gadget or prosthesis adherence, acceptance, use and ability to navigate these. That is the wider context that explains why it is so interesting to learn that Angelina Jolie openly positions herself in such a way.
And as much authenticity that may get lost in our Brave New World, there is clearly room to populate the virtual world with fresh ideas. I believe, for example, that the phenomenon of Lolcats would never have achieved as much acclaim if it was not for Facebook and similar social networks - all virtual non real non authentic landscapes. But I did get the real "Like" stamp, and taking virtual realities into real realities is fun too.
Maybe one day we will wear funny hands branded Lolhands. They may look funny or act funny.
And with Google Glass one might be able to get funny dynamic world labels embedded into our environment, along the lines of what one might call Lolmaps.
Touch and see the world with my eyes. Laugh your belly off. Enjoy your day.