Constructing the self

I’m reading Judith Butler on how the self is constructed out of normative gender. It reminds me of a Channel 4 TV series for older teens that I saw when I was a younger teen – I don’t remember the name of the series or any details like character names, all I remember is this one scene. Nevertheless, I appreciate this scene as an example of our intuitive understanding that gender categories are closely tied up with the stability of the self. The scene somehow makes more sense because of the portrayal of the character as outside of hegemonic norms of embodied gender presentation.

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Representation is chunky and clunky

Science fiction shows used to make the surface appearance of future technologies extra clunky, chunky and cumbersome in order to make them look at once more familiar to the viewer and at the same time more technical and unfriendly. A complex surface appearance is a placeholding sign for the imagined internal physical contents of fictional technological objects. By making an object look easier to deconstruct with a screwdriver, attention is drawn away from the fact that if you were to take these objects apart you’d find nothing inside. It’s funny now to watch Star Trek because the laptop computers and datapads they use are far bulkier and fussier in appearance than the ones we use today, but I don’t think this is just an act of foolishness and shortsightedness on the part of the set designers. Continue reading

Wooden computers

One day, when I’m no longer flat broke, I’m going to replace my 2006 MacBook with a mini desktop (like a Mac mini), a mobile projector and some low-profile alternative to a keyboard – I say an Arduino LilyPad-based homebrew dataglove, but I’m told that the technology for webcam image recognition is so advanced now that visual gesture recognition is much more efficient than conductive fabric and an accelerometer. We shall see. In the meantime, I’m going to fantasise about a mini desktop that is light, portable, and actually looks like something you want to pick up and touch and take to bed at night for an evening of Battlestar Galactica on the ceiling. Enter the glorious google search for wooden computer enclosures. Not all of the examples I found below are small enough for my liking, and none of them are affordable – some aren’t for sale – but oh my, imagine the warmth schnuggliness of a living room with one of these as its media center.

The original show and tell for this DIY modern danish computer enclosure is now long gone, but isn’t it pretty? It’s far bigger than what I’m looking for, but if you’re going to have a massive computer tower it really better had be an item of furniture in its own right.

This mod, entitled level eleven, is pretty much exactly the size and style I’ve been dreaming of. The only thing I would change is get rid of the speed stripe, and make the overall shape a bit more curvy, as at the moment it looks like something that should be sat on a desk whereas I want something that looks grabbable and maybe even cuddle-able.

This beast is far too large, but so beautifully ornate and art-deco that it makes me want to charge around shouting, ‘I’m a time-lord, biyatch’ – something Doctor Who will, admittedly, probably never say.

And finally, yes oh my god yes that really is a computer. But they only made 10 of them. No, it doesn’t look grabbable or small. But if I had one I would bow down before it every morning and bestow upon it fragrant oils, precious jewels and sprinkle gold powders. Just imagine the patina.

I had a dream last night about men

I had a dream last night about men breaking my best teacup. One by one they came into my kitchen and each did a little bit more damage until it was completely broken. I woke up really worried about my teacup, kind of wanted to give it a cuddle. I guess Freud would have a field day with that one. Why is my subconscious so Butler-esque and whiny?

Pictured: not my cup, but one in the V&A collection – see here

Shiny cyborgs

I really like to daydream about cyborgs. I plot out stories about them, imagining what will happen if cybernetic modification is taken on by a whole community, as a preposterous but stylish solution to the challenges that face developed economies and postmodern societies. I love to try and to figure out what my imaginary cyborgs should look like.

Obviously, cyborgs would kick ass, and few imaginary future societies kick as much ass as the Borg. However, the Borg are problematic. Firstly, they are basically communists. Secondly, they are evil outsiders with whom the imagined viewer of Star Trek is not supposed to have any sympathy. My cyborgs are individualistic, libertarian capitalists with an entrepreneurial streak, and as the protagonists of the plot I’m imagining, are not evil so much as foolish but well-intentioned, and kind of afraid of dying. Not really Borg-like at all.

Also, the Borg look unfinished – many wires and circuits are left exposed. This is probably because they don’t have to use product design to communicate with people, because all they do is assimilate and destroy. In a market-driven world, cyborgs have to look friendly. For example, let’s say it’s the future, and you want stronger legs, because you’re now 80 years old and you’re not as fit as you used to be, or because you’re one of the few people left in the world who is under 60 and your job is to carry 90-year olds around a care home. Maybe you’d want your mechanical leg-enhancers to look like this:

This product already exists. As reported by the Economist, the designer, Yoshiyuki Sankai, is having trouble getting his government to accept its use in hospitals, because they are still unsure about its safety.

White is the colour of the future, the colour of wishes and possibilities, the colour of new frontiers. Which is all very nice, but new frontiers are risky. They might be full of aliens who want to kill you, or assimilate you into their murderous hive. New technologies such as stronger legs are safer in that they protect you from occupational hazards. But like a cutting-edge, unsinkable ship crashing into an iceberg, an unexpected obstacle could be disastrous when you’re carrying pensioners.

So I haven’t settled on an answer yet to the question, ‘what do cyborgs look like?’ How do you make modifications to the human body look safe? Apparently not by making them shiny and white.