Diana McCarty on Mon, 24 Aug 1998 20:47:40 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> We're all becoming cyborgs--or not? Rushkoff interviewed by Ferenc Komlodi

We are all becoming cyborgs - or maybe not?
Douglas Rushkoff interviewed by Ferenc Komlodi

Ferenc Komlodi: How do you see now, in 1998, the evolution of the cyborg?
Are we really becoming cybernetic organisms?

Douglas Rushkoff: I do not think we are individually becoming cyborgs.
But the idea of individually becoming cyborg is interesting because it
would be individuals extending their nervous systems and their
consciousness through technology. Not necessarily becoming more robotic,
but becoming more extended. Tools will be more organic and more sensitive
to our command, to our will. In 1998, we are more or less borgs in the Star
Trek sense.  We cannot any longer deny that the economy is a technology,
and this technology is right now dominating other technologies with its
agenda which is to circulate more and more rapidly until accumulating in
certain peoples' accounts. We are absolutely transforming into an
interconnected and technologized, monolithic society organized not by
neurons or electrons but  by dollars. And this is frightening. We began by
building extensions of our will and we will actually become receptors
plugged into an economic network. So, the Internet, which changed from a
tool of self-expression into a tool of marketing and broadcast, is
indicative of the overall trend in technology which we now neither
consciously or unconsciously implement in order to participate more fully
in corporate capitalism. So yes, there is a cyborg developing.

FK: But the cyborg is not a negative category. It should be a positive
symbiosis between human beings and technology.

DR: Originally, I absolutely agreed. The first step of my cyborg vision was
an extension of human emotion, human love, human will just using technology
in a way to reach more people, to experience telepresence, empathy and
compassion for people in very faraway places. To function as neurons in a
global brain rather than individuals in a competition in a war of
interspecies or subspecies. But I no longer see the current direction of
our cyborgian development as empowering the individuals, the culture or our
organic, higher nature, but rather empowering the faceless monolith of an
economic engine.

FK: Anyway, the cyborg is less emblematic in the '90s than it was in the
'80s. The '90s are mostly about the nanotechnology which is far beyond the
cyborgian solution.

DR: Nanotechnology brings us to a different cosmology of designer reality.
Interestingly, the Internet and the communication technologies brought us
up one cosmic level towards something. Rather than thinking of the
individual we will begin to talk about the whole civilization as this
creature. We are going to build it and participate in it. So, human beings
are going to be the cells of this thing which is going to obviously happen
when we reach the next level of our biological and cultural organization.
Nanotechnology goes down one fractal level to our molecular organization
and then poses, perhaps interesting, questions about the dimensionality and
our relationship to it. It is microcosmic in its theoretical approach, but
ends up being macrocosmic in its reach. Within our lifetime we will see the
first nanotech-knowbots. For example, in a Parisian lab a scientist is
producing a nano-molecular something which will turn everything gray. He
turns gray, the whole lab turns gray, Paris turns gray... Once we get
towards a level of nanotechnology, artificial intelligence and genetic
engineering, we will step into a land of automation which was impossible
before. It is sort of  what we can taste now with intelligent agents or
computer viruses which we launch with human intention, but they run along
without us. So, the main thing we are going to see with developing these
technologies is that we are going to move into less of a cause and effect
world, less of "I do this and see the reactions" and more of "I am setting
something which is alive, which is in motion". We will have to develop more
system-approach or we will rapidly destroy ourselves.

FK: In Cyberia you have written about Sarah Drew as a cyborg. How do you
see the role of women in a cyborg society, and especially the importance of
the so-called cyber-feminism?

DR: She is a cyborg. In some ways, it is silly I think, with respect to
individuated gender studies which are rendered useless by the communication
and network-technologies. But, the cyberspace itself in
the traditional view is feminine. It is a space and inhabited by little
individuals. A space that boys created to move into the womb. If you go to
the MIT Media Labs it will look  like toys created for little boys. I see
women so superior and they do not need these technologies the same way as
men do. They undercut their own power... For de-sexualized western boys
cyberspace is a useful exercise.  I experienced it. It is fine for going to
the right people for the right amount of time, which these guys cannot do
in a real-space parliamentary system, but electronic media is definitely
not a place to work out our social and sexual deficiencies.
The phenomenon which originally interested me was that women react and
interact with machines in a different way. They show when machines are
actually taking us over and also that we are in an S/M relationship with
our technology. They teach us when we get lost and start to fetishize the
machinery. Otherwise, probably Sandy Stone or Genesis P-Orridge have the
most exciting thoughts about feminism, gender and sexuality...

FK: You use quite often the term "creative virus". The films of David
Cronenberg are obvious at this point.

DR: The main issues technology poses are different now. When he made
Videodrome we were dealing with pacemakers.

FK: Yes, but Crash is about our time.

DR: Crash is old, but striving for this orgasmic moment of self-destruction
through metal is really indicative. That sort of cyborg evolution would be
the child with his video-games creating the best game, the highest level.
But it is not the real crash, it is the virtual crash which is very
different. It does not involve the destruction of the flesh. And how they
are desexualized in this cold and horrible world... they are quantifying
everything. For example, the level of the orgasm, always heighten it: a
bigger boom, a bigger boom, a bigger boom... I do not think that is the
cultural agenda anymore. The cultural agenda now is moving towards an
increased level of intimacy and increasing the surface area between people.

FK: Is the Darwinian evolution going to its end? Or is the idea that we are
becoming immortal through nanotechnology a dream or reality?

DR: The Darwinian evolution is not as much out of fashion as many of its
interpretation. The Libertarian capitalists use the concept of evolution or
rather the bastardization of evolution as a way of rationalizing the
competitive marketplace as the ideal - the natural environment for the
growth of civilization. The reason they are wrong is because evolution is
quite often a team-sport as much as it is competitive. If there is a flock
or a group of mosquitoes and one of them bites you, a little bit infects
you, it makes you itchy. When you start scratching and get nervous other
mosquitoes can smell it. So, one mosquito deals with something and the
others benefit from it. This is rather collective. The idea that the most
natural development of the species is competition between the members is
wrong, and it is not even what Darwin would say. He understood that
diversity was actually what promoted the survival of species. The real
enemy is the bastardization of Darwinism which promotes corporate
capitalism. The other problem people have with it is that evolution has a
direction. The direction is complexity, the direction is consciousness.
Something like immortality or at least to live much more longer than we are
living now is possible. But we might die on the next level. We are already
immortal as far as we do not identify ourselves as individuals but as parts
of civilization, humanity. Humanity goes on, individual cells die. If you
are conscious, if you become emphatic or aware of the greatness of being,
you do not die. I am arguing with scientists who say that they approve that
evolution does not have focused direction. I believe it is a conscious
grouping towards complexity. Atoms become molecules, molecules become
cells, which become organisms, and organisms will become a meta-organism.
And that is the direction... A larger, higher level of fractal and we
recapitulate the smaller, and even if it is not the same, it is similar. To
ignore these patterns because they are not perfect is the scientists'
failure. The next stage is going to come when not only the whole of
humanity, but the entire Gaian biosphere, will achieve consciousness.

Thank you very much for the interview.

This interview was made in Budapest in July 98 during while Douglas
Rushkoff was in town for CyberConf8 (www.datanet.hu/hirisk)

Komlodi Ferenc (technodr@mail.matav.hu) (38) was born in Szekesfehervar
(Hungary) and lives in Budapest. He graduated from the Faculty of Letters
of the ELTE University (Budapest), and studied film at the EFC (Ebeltoft,
Denmark). Komlodi directed some experimental videos, and in the last couple
of years has written for different revues (Filmvilag, Filmkultura, Freee
Magazin, Z Magazin, Open - in Hungarian, Coda, Courier International). He
writes about cinema, electronic dance music, and cyberculture. His book
about the US silent cinema will be published by
the Hungarian Film Institute this year. Komlodi is currently working on a
book about the digital counter-culture.
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