A Study of Posthumanism in Society Today

Categories: Humanism

Most significantly, the term “posthumanism” is adopted in a wide array of modern theoretical underpinnings developed by scholars and researchers with different disciplinary backgrounds in science, technology, and science studies, as well as communication studies(Hayles, 2012). For these groups of researchers, posthumanism entitles a series of breaks with grounded assumptions of contemporary Western culture: in specific, a new means of understanding a human subject in respect to the natural sphere. It is important to understand that posthumanist theory is designed to describe a novel epistemology that is non-anthropocentric and thus, not based on Cartesian dualism – which claims that the material body and the immaterial mind causally interact, despite being ontologically different substances – and it is common in most of non-European philosophies.

In contemporary world, the indications of technological posthumanism have increasingly become so ubiquitous that people seem not noticing it. Many posthumanists have contended that new technologies, cyborg, and other elements of contemporary society have radically morph human capabilities and qualities and become new posthuman species.

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Some of prominent scholars of posthumanism include N. Katherine Hayles. What many posthumanists have in common is the sense that computers are prosthetics, much like amputees uses prosthetic devices to give them the capabilities that they lacked before. The purpose of this essay is to define and describe the term “posthumanism” and its significance in the study of contemporary media technologies and digital culture. In this discussion, the analysis of the issues of the posthuman in respect to post-anthropocentricism is in different order, away from post-humanism.

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For one aspect. Whereas the latter is derived from disciplines, such as history, philosophy, and cultural studies, post-enthropocentrism is derived from the science and technology studies, a new digital culture and media, as well as science fiction.

Before defining the term posthumanism, it is important to understand the term “Humanism” because it precedes the former. Humanism can be defined as a progressive lifestance, devoid of supernational beliefs or theism, which affirms the ability and responsibility of human beings to lead ethical and meaningful lives that add value to humanity(Hayles, 2012). For humanisms, technology is opposite of natural phenomenon. On the other hand, posthumanism extends humanist ideals of progress, self-improvement, and rationality. In this paper, the focus is placed on those posthumanisms that conspicuously integrate humanist ideals and values with post-industrial technologies. There is no doubt that posthumanism is such a body of knowledge that treat human life as things that should be optimized through the use of technologies – and more specifically, contemporary digital culture and media innovations(Roden, 2014). Critically, posthumanism challenges the assumptions and values on which to base humanism – and there are several examples of posthumanism that are of importance to this discussion: Afrofuturism, cyborg feminism, gothic post humanism, cyberpunk,and among others(Clarke, & Rossini, 2016). Although these examples are all different practices and theories, they share a common argument that humanism is a restricting factor and always an oppressive ideology that necessitate critiquing. For instance, AfroFuturism argues that the slave trade literally converted black slaves into “wetware” robots. Instead of perceiving alien or robot identity as hindrance, AfroFuturism contends that even as aliens and robots, Afrodiasporic slaves or subjects resisted the supremacy of white colonialists and developed a vibrant and unique culture. Posthumanism has a significant meaning for “digital people”(Luppicini, 2014). Most notably, posthuman means that most prevalent critiques of technology are fundamentally of humanist dimension. In this case, Posthumanism do not consider alienation as a challenge, as opposed to humanism, and for this reason, posthumans are not concerned with the transformation of the real communication into a computer-assisted communication(Khosrowpour, 2000). It can only be problematic if technological advanced is as a result of unethical labor practices.

The digital technology has a set of connecting principles, which are associated with its popularity – speed, mobility, interaction, communication, and immediacy(Hayles, 2012). These principles are the center of digital culture. The term digital started as a machine language of zeros and ones or binary structure – Booleans: 0 and 1. These values were compiled to produce, manipulate, and store information in computers, as well as sharing it across networks. Digitization is defined as the transformation of communication in terms of images, words, sounds, and motion pictures into a common language. Digital technologies have transformed the way that companies, people, and governments manage communications and handle information – and this is where posthumanism interjects. Digital technologies are expanding human ability to do research, communicate, gather information, and share it(Gronlund, 2016).The interfaces linking people to their technical environment have become more transparent, while networks are more ubiquitous. Thus, digital technologies have become interwoven into everyday life, creating a neat separation between human beings and inanimate things.

The relationship between technology and culture cannot be perceived as a burden of technology onto internet users, but rather as a convergence of real and imagined effects taking place in multiple cultural and social sphere (Bush &Gentic,2015). In this case, convergence is not just a technological event, but one that happens within the brain of individual users and through social interactions with others. The participatory culture of digital media platforms generates a culture of sharing that does not assume a new platforms liberate people from traditional constraints(Jenkins,2006). In this contextualized arguments of user sharing and mobile/flexible communities, is extending beyond the bounds of the region and statewide and constantly shifting into networks of globalized and imagined users’ subjectivity(Gronlund, 2016).These flexible communities split from a convergence of affective, corporate, and felt subjectivity with shared public fantasy of a data-based, posthuman networked subject that has appeared to be derived from recent technological advancements. In further complicating the relationship between technology and labor in the digital age, affect is significant because it focuses on human element of the networked subject and indicates the lack of such a notion in the imagined concept of networked subjectivity often circulated in Western studies of media and digital culture under the realm of posthumanism(Simanowski,2016).

Many scholars see aliens, monsters, mutants, and cyborgs as kinds of posthuman existence (Toffoletti, 2007). These hybrid types are increasingly infiltrating into contemporary media technologies since they are no longer viewed as utopian myths, futuristic ideals or nightmarish imaginaries. However, these imaginaries are now circulating as processes, potentialities and possibilities that shatter traditional divide between fact and fiction or reality and fantasies. One example that lies perfectly and is audiovisual in nature is the Terminator films (Nayar,2013). In this films, the threat does not come from a ruthless machine in its intent, but from the condition that the machine can transform into anything it wants to be, at any time. In this respect, the terminator is not in its radical difference from human form or body that horror lies, but similarities to the human. In posthuman, science fiction worlds, humans and machines, humans and intelligent robots, all resemble one another(Wheale, 2001).

Elaine L. Graham explored representations of posthuman by looking at aliens and monsters in popular culture(Graham,2002). Graham explored the meaning of human by assessing the role of the “other” in myth, pop culture, and myth. The “other” represented Frankenstein monster or cyborg character played by Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator. Although these are fictitious characters, they are a representation of human identity in both biotechnology and digital world of 21st Century. Through this analysis, Graham helped in understanding how such a myth may become a reality by evaluating the relationships between this form of representing humanity from Western culture and technology. Graham avoided discussing political issues, but resorted into addressing spiritual and feminine issues by explaining the concept of technophilia and technophobia themes pervasive in the world of science fiction(Kerr, 2006).

Contemporary scientists are concentrating on the potential risks and benefits of converging advanced technology and human nature. The ethical and social aspects of imminent technological change of the human body have instigated scientific debate (Thompson, 2017). The matter of cyborg development, the substitution of body parts with advanced analogues, most of which are derived from robust IT, and the creation of bioengineered technologies have attracted scientific researchers. The importance of literature is directed to issues of society’s “cyborganization” is manifested in media culture. Cyborg emerged as an influence by the evolution of media culture and scientific developments. It is also important to understand that modern media culture depicts contradicting perspectives of the cyborg.

In the works of N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman 1999, she analyses the theoretical development that occurred within philosophical and cultural thought in order that the idea of the posthuman emerge: which is an assortment of abstractions through which the actual facts were blurred for the purpose of fitting into an overarching theory(Hayles, 2012). It is important to note that Hayles conceives the world as an interplay between material objects and informational patterns, the idea that she borrowed from the Second World War, more so in cybernetics. Significant to her insight is the outset of information as immaterial patterns or a facet of cybernetics that has been proven beyond what can be possibly measured. In this case, criminals are no longer identified through eyewitnesses, but through DNA patterns through computers(Gronlund, 2016). Hayles also quotes Claude Shannon who contributed to the evolution of the computing technologies – early digital formulation. Through his development, information became a way of communicating meaning instead of meaning itself which could be input by machines and humans alike. Hayles also argued that digital technology and computer have established the conditions pertinent to new conceptions of subjectivity and identity that demarcate the posthumanity. Furthermore, Hayles describes posthumanism as a situation where in “there no a priori way to identify a self-will that can be clearly distinguished from an other-will” Lavigne, 2013: p. 76). She hinted various possible interpretation of a posthuman future; implying that a future is conflating humankind, information, and technology. Through her views, Hayles argues that humanity has reached a crucial juncture in the creation of a post human age or a historical point where interventions might be made to keep disembodiment from being rewritten in the underlying concepts of subjectivity. These early researchers contributed to the notion of posthumanism in the context of cyborg, as presented in the Terminator film. In this case, if both robots and humans can interpret the same message in the same way through information patterns, then there is no difference between the two.

The reality that the doctrines of the posthuman and of immateriality get at the center of Cartesian dualism offers one clue as to reason for the illusion of immateriality appears so tenacious, in spite of being so often debunked(Hayles, 2012). The discourse of absence and presence is related to not only to the premise of the modern Western cultural norm but also to the condition of the liberal humanist subject. Cybernetics substitute feedback and chance-driven intelligence with autonomous thinking(Casten, 2012). It is significant to understand that removing the separation between body and mind, people are compelled to view a thought not as transcendental but rather as embedded in bodily behavior. On the other hand, by conceiving body as separate to the mind, the desire to seen the internet as an extension of immateriality, suggesting a desire to expand the power of thought, which is a radical reinforcement of the belief of humanist subject in his omniscience(Gronlund, 2016). Physical-effacing gestures bring real-world impacts closer to simplified mental causation. The potential of the internet is not just having the ability to be informed of the weather forecast, but the vast expansion of mental thought, which is different from hassling or messy realities of embodied existence. For instance, in the virtual reality games, where people control avatars with extensive imagined levels of capacity with low physical engagement, this posthumanism is made even more explicit.

In the fancy of digital culture, the posthuman is this figure who has been enhanced by technology and his or her abilities exceeding that of natural human (Gronlund, 2016). For instance, imagining the man wearing glasses that enable him to recognize the names and architect of buildings he passes in the street or wearing a monitor that restarts his heart should it stop, is a point of immortality. Despite contemporary digital culture’s real integration into posthumanity, it has remained an illusion and it has been treated as such(Toffoletti, 2007). The manifestoes indicating the evolution of the posthuman understand it a dystopia or utopia concept, and it functions as fiction. Some scholars such as Haraway termed cyborg as “myth”, as no one would genuinely regard people with heart monitors as cyborgs or those wearing Google Glass eyewear as omnipotent(Du Preez, 2009). Digital culture splits thinking into two separate paths. One of the paths is that of immersion within platforms providing incredible access to social connections, knowledge, and cultural forms. The second path involves a critique of the social and political environment in which those platforms are based upon. Critiques of the internet are usually disclosed through the same internet.

The digital image is a new technique that can radically change the relationship between technology and humans. Friendrich Kittler is a media scholar who suggested that the digital image is introducing a novel posthuman era where people are no longer necessary (Weaver, 2009). For example, films are rapidly transforming to the point where human actors are continuously getting replaced, except for their voice, as convincing human-like images that computers are generating will take over. By arguing this, Kittler does go beyond what is possible in his argument on the posthuman age. Hasen’s theory revolving around the digital image requires interacting, interpreting and acting human to create a meaning to the digital image. In this case, without human embodiment, there is no need for digital image. In this view, the digital image act as a continued reminder of a new period of popular culture, which is helping in constructing reality in all dimensions of life.

Talking about the malleability and fluidity of identity in particular areas of digital culture, it is often counterbalanced with two realities(Forman,2014). First of all, it is a daunting thought to discard identities created by deep processes of socialization and history. In this case, even digital natives are influenced by offline forces more so the effect of the people who raise them and the internet as a whole. The second reality is that identities are always variable, performative and collective. An effect on identity online can branch from the formulaic packages that constitute Web genres. The digital presence of Silicon Valley and developers of virtual reality, exemplifies that users are exposed to dangers of becoming “gadgets” if they will not become aware of the means through which design decisions and other technical operations hidden in the Web.

In conclusion, wise thinkers and reasearcherson the increasingly cyborg natures, and different ways in which people are becoming posthuman, have many things to bring into spotlight in relation to digital culture. Throughout the analysis, there is not questions that digital technologies are continuing and will keep on deepening human interaction with machines. In summarizing the examples presented in this elaborate synthesis, digital games have involved greater levels of cyborgization though things such as dance mats, Kinect, and wii remotes that are mimicking and utilizing more body parts as an integral part of interaction. Virtual reality devices, which can deepen the sense of dislocation are poised to contribute to economic forms. Google Glasses are example of wearable computers that are already in use and are making intimate connections between the user and the surrounding – informing the user of everything in the street. It has been revealed that posthumanism avoids claims that the relationship between human and computer is a completely unexpected experience. Posthumanist go beyond a particular confined boundaries of what constitutes humanness. The meaning of human essence appears to be deeply biased towards restricting Western concept of the self that has imposed itself in all corners of the world. Cyborg theorists described in the text are challenging people on how to think on the intimate relationship with digital technologies. Disembodiment is another significance of posthumanism on the contemporary media technologies and digital culture – and this may refer to view of indifference between human, cyborgs, and robots. The Terminator film, cyborg or the Terminator behaves as a human with a heart monitor and digital brain, which brought sense of immortality – as if posthuman sounds as posthumous, the state of being dead. It has remained as though it were a science fiction, but the digital culture has transformed and human subjects will no longer be needed as demonstrated in the Terminator film, where digital images are convincingly behaving as though they were real. Posthumanism sees no difference between human beings and technology, as though the two are inseparable and this has increased interaction between human beings and digital media. Digital games are example where the user can play characters with human characteristics with minimal engagement. It can also be concluded that posthumanism has concentrated on communication and knowledge as informational and this is important in contemporary media technologies. Digital technologies have transformed the way that companies, people, and governments manage communications and handle information – and this is where posthumanism interjects. The identities of the digital consumers is important part in which posthumanism plays in creating a digital culture, which participatory in nature. It such conclusions that places posthumanism as a body of knowledge that defines human body as “mechanical” or “technology” just like a digital device, where the heart and brain depend on electricity and DNA is a form of programming. In this regard, Critical posthumanism seems to imply that the technology itself is neither bad nor good, hurtful nor helpful, but it is its context in which it is utilized that makes it a negative or positive thing.


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A Study of Posthumanism in Society Today. (2021, Oct 11). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/a-study-of-posthumanism-in-society-today-essay

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