Okay, I’ll admit I’d never heard the term transhumanism until today, but, as a fan of cyberpunk, I got it as soon as it was explained to me by Matt Hayler, a teaching fellow at Exeter University. (Seriously, follow the link and check out his Twitter icon. Way cool!)
Okay, so what is transhumanism for those of you, who like me, had never heard the term? According to Hayler’s blog, he subscribes to this definition:
“a general term designating a set of approaches that hold an optimistic view of technology as having the potential to assist humans in building more equitable and happier societies mainly by modifying individual physical characteristics.” (Sky Marsen, “Playing by the Rules – or Not? Constructions of Identity in a Posthuman Future).
See why the cyberpunk reader in me went, “Yeah, I know what that is!”
I started down a highly pleasurable rabbit hole when Hayler sent me his TedxExeter talk, which you can also watch on YouTube.
In his talk, he discusses technological objects and how they can’t reach their true potential until they become just a bit boring. Makes sense. Most of us don’t hesitate to dog ear our books, but do you think the monks who spent days illuminating manuscripts casually turned down pages? Probably not. Hayler thinks that eReaders, tablets and smartphones have just about reached that point, and I agree with him. Look at all the ways people love to personalize their eReaders, with Gel Skins, cases, covers, stickers and probably more things I haven’t thought of. He says that a characteristic of being human is making things more than things. He believes eReading devices have reached that point.
True. Do you hang out on KBoards at all? Have you seen the way people name their Kindles? Heck, I named my new Paperwhite after my beloved and recently deceased cat. It doesn’t get much more personal than that.
When I was in school, kids decorated their textbooks, whether it was allowed or not. Now they decorate their laptops. In his talk, he discusses how young people will experiment, and he challenges us to allow it and encourage it.
Even more fascinating to me than his talk was his article on transhumanism and eReading. Hayler talks about the “Death of Books” argument that has been around since the first Kindles (and even earlier as those of us who discovered ebooks pre-Kindle can attest to). I loved this:
There’s a kind of folk-phenomenology at work in reports like this, an intuitive sense that something profound changes when we undertake effectively the same task, but with a new bodily pose, a new engagement, or a new apparatus.
He’s right. While reading a paper book or an eBook does involve consuming words, the two media are different, perhaps even in fundamental ways. For some, reading isn’t reading without the tactile sensation of paper. For me reading isn’t reading if I can’t adjust the size of the text throughout the day as the fatigue of my eyes ebbs and flows. That’s a profound change. I know of people who can read, with their eyes again, because of eReaders.
Listen to his talk. Read his blog post. (Any post which uses Sherlock Holmes and Iron Man as illustration are awesome in my book. And no, he doesn’t refer to the Downey Jr. Holmes either.) He made me think. What about you?