[Air-L] Calling all Cyborgs - NCA 2012 call for papers, projects, panelists, etc.

MacDougall, Robert robert_macdougall at post03.curry.edu
Mon Feb 13 09:13:46 PST 2012

Cyborg Communities: symbionts, hosts, parasites and other oddities of the digital age.

 The human, like human being, is always in the process of becoming.  It is a truism to say that the body is "plastic" or shapeable through diet and exercise.  And now the "brain plasticity" thesis has finally moved beyond the realm of theory.  With our special powers of reflexivity, we  seem uniquely fitted to be able to decide what kinds of beings we can become -- not only in terms of the way we appear, but also with respect to the way we think about and perceive the world around us.  In other words, beyond questions of content, we're finding that our media habits tend to foster certain kinds of minds.  This concerns the way we consume and process information with and through different media forms, and how we bootstrap and append our attention, awareness and perceptual systems to myriad others -- both human and machine -- to get things done. 

While there are a host of traditional media worth considering in this regard (including real-time conversation, books and audio visual media of various sorts), the advent of digital computer technology complicates our efforts to keep track of what we know and how we know it.  No doubt, the idea of the computer continues to hold the promise of streamlining and otherwise enhancing the efficiencies of time, space and information processing tasks.  Ostensibly, digital computers can free us up from many of the drudgeries associated with repetitive work, record-keeping, computation, and clerical duties of various kinds.  Today, of course, different species of digital machines function well in helping us accomplish much of this, and more.  However, the steady evaporation of "down time" is something that also seems to accompany the diffusion of digital computer technology in our culture.  We are now often left wanting, and wondering, with respect to finding the temporal and physical spaces (and places) that allow for mindfulness, reflection, imagination and rest.  Clearly, all three take time, and tend to be facilitated by cleared spaces and places, two things our digitally-enabled "attention economy" (Davenport and Beck, 2001) does not afford us with its wide-ranging "panic architecture" that itself enables a nearly incessant kind of "ambient intimacy" (Case, 2010).

The line drawn between the "biological" and the "technological" is now a tenuous line as best.  Instead of drawing rigid lines that tend to essentialize both human and machine, it may be more productive to envision an ongoing process of mutual adaptation that began when the first proto-humans began devising tools of the simplest kinds.  On this view tools, as interactive/communicative media, are environmental in their own right.    They are bio-technical and socio-cognitive ecosystems that provide a context for interaction.  Like any environment or ecology, media not only surround but also constitute and sustain the organisms "inhabiting" them.  There is even mounting evidence in the neurosciences that the tools humans fashion and employ (everything from a rough-hewn spear to a 5th gen. iPhone) become incorporated into the body-mind schema of the user.  This and other tools often reveal how individuals using such tools, and who are therefore connected to and embedded in the environments these tools represent, process and experience the world around them in particular ways.  The contributors to this panel are urged to investigate the roles various media-as-tools play in building communities of information, knowledge, action, intention, time, space, and place. We are building intentional/functional/formative communities and environments with the media we deploy and employ.  The question is, to what degree do these allow for productive and sustainable cognitive, social, political, and even natural worlds.  Some issues and topics that might be addressed in part, in whole, or in combination might include but are limited to:

-Drawing out an Eco-Logic of human/media use: articulating notions of sustainability, functionalism, and task-efficiency in human-human, human-technology, and technology-technology relationships and knowledge communities

-While some problem is often "solved" with a new technology, what new problems emerge as the new technology diffuses into a population or community?

-Sense and sense-ratios in the age of web cams, GPS, remote sensing, smartphones and DIY applications (the phenomenology of media use, embodiment, etc).

-The disambiguation and delineation of Hosts, Parasites, Symbiants and Cyborgs today.   If a lichen community is a sustainable arrangement between algae and fungi, what can we say about GPS'd pre-schoolers, iPad-clad highschoolers, WiFi'd college students, virtual soldiers, blogging politicians, Tweeting celebrities, or Blue-Toothed pedestrians and relational partners (to name a few combinations)?

In order to allow the coherent organization of one or more panels related to the questions and issues described above, please send your abstracts, papers or presentation proposals to robert_macdougall at curry.edu by March 9th for full consideration.

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