Cyborgs and real life

Andy Clark, in his book, talks about human beings being technological to the core. Hence, the term natural-born cyborg is used time and again. When I read the word cyborg, I was instantly reminded of characters from Star Trek, although I admit I never was a fan of. The word cyborg has a very technological hit to it. When one says the word, one immediately thinks of robots made of iron and steel, with heads of human beings, shiny and metallic body, some with a robotic voice and some really strong and intelligent. One might also be reminded of movies and TV shows like Robocop, Terminator and Small Wonder. The idea of humans implanted with machines and/or attacking the human race might sound frightening, and make one feel uneasy. However, it’s perfectly normal and acceptable for us to increase our intellect and abilities by using technology, take cell phones and computers for example.

 

“As our worlds become smarter, and get to know us better and better,” writes Andy Clark in Natural-Born Cyborgs, “It becomes harder and harder to say where the world stops and the person begins.” He is quite right, that I have to agree. Human beings are extremely technological in today’s world. Like Clark said he somewhat experienced brain damage and a mild stroke in the days when he spent without his computer, I have to agree that that is quite true for the rest of us as well. One cannot think to live without their laptops and computers. And those who do not own cellphones are freaks. Cellphones are like a part of our lives, a part of us. One cannot even think of leaving the house without their cellphones. We also use technology to turn disabilities into something more, for example hearing aids for the deaf and partially deaf, prosthetic limbs, etc.

 

Clark also talks about the importance and demand of the World Wide Web in today’s world, the urge to ‘smarten up’ and the many everyday objects that are techy and have populated our homes and offices. But his interest is not primarily in new technology. “Rather,” he writes, “it is to talk about us, about our sense of self, and about the nature of the human mind. The point is not to guess at what we might soon become, but to better appreciate what we already are: creatures whose minds are special precisely because they are tailor-made to mix and match neural, bodily and technological ploys.”

 

Clark relates cyborgs with humans with the argument that humans are quite like cyborgs, because humans also evolve with time and it is because of technology that has helped man to be smarter and faster than he actually is. He also stresses out the fact that technology has made human life much easier, smarter and faster and the way it helps the human race in every aspect of life. For example, we already have devices to replace our hips, knees, shoulders, wrists, elbows, jaws, teeth, arteries, veins, heart valves, arms, legs, feet, even fingers and toes. Human beings are growing more and more intimate with technology as time goes by.

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The image that I chose shows a character from the hit British TV show, Doctor Who. The metallic robot that you see is called a Cyberman. According to the show, the Cyberman is an enemy of the Doctor who is the savior or rather, the hero of the series. The background information reveals that the Cybermen were once “human beings, but gradually they replaced their weak mortal flesh with metal and  plastic. In the process they lost their compassion, along with other emotions.”

 

This is what Clark fears, I think. He thinks we, human beings, will literally become like these fictional Cybermen, allowing our human bodies to transform into steel and metal, and ultimately having our brains turned into machine, too. 

 

Despite all the arguments and the conspiracies, one cannot refuse to acknowledge the benefits human beings receive from the technology in every aspect of life be it social, educational or medical. And I think it is safe to admit that technology was created and is being developed by the human race for their own advantage. 

Hyperreality and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Jean Bauldrillard’s philosophy is defined around the heart of two main ideas: Hyperreality and Simulation. These two ideas help in forming the way our thoughts develop over time, as we plunge deep into the ever-changing techno world. Baudrillard’s philosophical background helps explain the way we understand things. For example, we know a dog is a dog but that’s not only because of our understanding that he is a dog. We know a dog is a dog because it is not a cat, and neither it is a goat nor a tree. We tend to take in our surroundings and compare objects with each other to realize their existence.

According to Bauldrillard, Simulation is the process in which representations of things come to replace the things being represented. Confused? Take it like this. We understand a dog is a dog because it is not a cat. And when we are told that a dog is not a cat, yet we have a firm understanding that it is a dog. This is because it is reality that a dog is a dog and not a fish, a snake or a cat. Take simulation’s literal meaning: imitation, replication, and recreation. Sometimes, absence of reality is masked through the portrayal or a replication of something specific. An example would be the creation of the Disney World. Things like this serve a purpose to create a simulation. We tend to believe them to be real because of the way we perceive them, but in reality they may not be real at all because they are merely man-made creations.

Hyperreality, according to Bauldrillard, exploits simulation to create a world that has not even one ounce of reality. This has been made possible through media. For example, movies like the Matrix, X-Men, Alice in Wonderland, Avatar and the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter franchise have led us to believe that such worlds do exist, even only if we are imagining them. When we imagine, we automatically believe and I’m not just talking with my experience. Another good example would be the Disney movies as they create a world of their own. However, the above-mentioned films create a world that is not entirely true, or real in life.

Hyperreality can also be used to represent the way society shapes our opinions to buy products that we don’t necessarily need or things we will hardly benefit from. Take advertisements for example. Like the Pakistani Fair and Lovely ads that are, sadly, quite a popular trend in the country.

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Such advertisements show an unnaturally beautiful girl with unnatural skin as white as snow, and gaining success in every point of her life from getting the best grades, landing the perfect job, and bagging the best marriage proposal as opposed to the girl with unnaturally dark and dull skin. Also, celebrity endorsements by women who are born with fair skin are also hyperreal. These type of advertisements use excessive Photoshop, no doubt about that, and mislead their consumers into thinking they have to buy the product, or else fail in life. They force young girls into loathing the way they look like, the way God made them, and try wanting to become more like the stereotype our society has in mind.

However, aside from all that, what I think can define the true phenomenon of hyperreality is the Harry Potter franchise.

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When the books first came out, there was no cult trailing the novels. They were simply stories. Brilliant, yes, but they were just alive on paper. However, as they became popular and more popular, the books were made into films, merchandise and videogames. As if that wasn’t enough, which it isn’t, the cult culture went a step further into creating a hyperreal amusement park where Potterheads like me can experience the Wizarding World firsthand.

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“The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” opened in 2010 within Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. Just like Disney World, but much better in my opinion, it creates a feeling of simulation but we don’t stop two minutes to think about it. We believe them to be real because we want to see them as to be. Although I’ve never been to the Wizarding World yet, even I have to admit that just the mere photographs and videos provided me the feelings of such excitement and contentment that I don’t think I’ve ever felt before.  You can go inside the huge, yet exact replica of Hogwarts castle and visit Hogsmeade, the tiny Wizarding village. You can look into Hagrid’s hut beside the Forbidden Forest and order glasses of Butterbeer, a Wizarding drink, at the Three Broomsticks, which is a local pub at the Wizarding village.

Another example of hyperreality in the Harry Potter craze is seen at King’s Cross Station in London, where parts of the films were shot.

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A sign has been created on the wall, indicating Platform 9 and three quarters, between platform 9 and 10. If you don’t know what that means, it is the hidden entrance witches and wizards use to get to the Hogwarts Express that will take them to the school, and the reason it’s concealed is to keep off Muggles, er, non-Wizarding people, I mean. Also, very noticeable, is the trolley halfway wedged into the wall, which gives tourists and fans a chance to take photos if they are passing by.

This amusement park is hyperreal because it promises something impossible, yet delivers something that seems slightly possible. When we walk through the evidently fake streets of Hogwarts and Hogsmeade at the Wizarding World, we let the fake become more real than the real. This, for me, is the very definition of hyperreality. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter fulfills every Potterhead’s wish that the Harry Potter universe could be real and that fans could be a part of it.

Walter Benjamin’s theory? Agree or disagree?

In his essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, Walter Benjamin discusses the growing technology’s affect on art, the change in perception and its affects on photography and film in the 20th century. He argues that technology is changing art, just like it’s changing our perception of viewing art.

Benjamin goes on to highlight something specific about the Age of Mechanical Reproduction and that is of the affects of modernity on art in particular. He links film and photography to this belief. He further states that mechanical reproduction of art is devaluing art itself, because it has no character, or ‘aura’ as he puts it. Aura, for Benjamin, signifies the originality and the authenticity of a work of art that has not been reproduced. For example, a painting has an aura, while a photograph does not. This is because the photograph is an image of an image, whereas the painting remains completely original.

Benjamin also discusses his theories on how film is an invasion of reality with mechanical equipment and ultimately destroys the aura of art. I will have to disagree here. Benjamin lived in a time when the world was on the brink of changing, and the mere thought of him not living long enough to experience the change might have scared him into writing this piece and trying to brainwash us into hating technology. Yes, I agree that paintings and other traditional works of art are original and yes, they have their own perfect and distinct aura. But one cannot refuse to acknowledge that even film has its own aura. In today’s world it’s called the ‘cinematic experience.’ I’m sure Benjamin did not think of it in that sense, considering this piece was written in the year 1935 when the films business was just about to bloom.

Benjamin supports his argument with an example. He says that by filming and photographing the mountains, one cannot experience it firsthand as he is looking at the reproduction of, and not the original, mountains. That, according to his argument, is fake and utterly wrong.  I agree that the films and photographs of the mountains are not the real mountains, because it is indeed a replica. However, Benjamin is wrong in saying that the films and photographs don’t have their own aura. I believe they do.

Benjamin also goes on to talk about the value of the function of art. He says there are two: cult value, where art is meant to be magical and hidden from the outside world and exhibition value, where modern art forces it to be on public display as means of profit and economy. This is ironic, as this might as well apply to the poets and writers, too. If this were to happen, Benjamin, then there wouldn’t be a single book being sold in the bookstores. Writing is also an art, and if we were to hang on to the cult value of the art forever, then books wouldn’t be in the market. And as far as this goes, Walter Benjamin himself wrote pieces that went on to public display, for the whole world to see, and I believe that when he was published he even received profit from all the hard work and sweat he put into his writing.

Anyway, let’s just stick to his theory on films. Benjamin says that films are mechanical reproductions and they radically separate art from the cult by turning it into an exhibition, which changes the quality of art. I have to disagree here. I don’t think films lack an aura, or that they change the quality of art. I believe they add to the growth and manufacture of art instead of devaluing it.

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The image that I chose to back my argument is a movie poster from one of the bestselling movies of all time, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone. Even though this was an installment of the book, one cannot forget the experience the film provided them. The book was thrilling, yes, but the movie made the characters come out of the pages and into the screen. The feeling and aura of the film was magical and one cannot refuse to see it. This is called the ‘cinematic experience’ in its full form.

Films are designed and produced to provide the viewer the ‘cinematic experience’ that can be delivered through 3D effects and surround sound. They do, in fact have their own distinct feeling, character and aura. The Harry Potter movies do the same. One is instantly drawn into the film from the first minute till the last. The whole experience was magical, and will be remembered forever, even when the film has ended and people have gone home. Very few films have the power to do that. Another thing that I don’t agree with Benjamin is when he says that filmmakers, people who operate video camera in the film industry, are nothing like the original painters, termed magicians by Benjamin, who illustrated their world through raw talent.

And also, when he states that the film actor does not possess the aura when acting, as it is an imitation, a forgery. This is also not true when applied to films this day. The makers and actors of the film strive to convey through their film something called ‘screen presence’ which is, in fact, their aura.

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Take for example, Daniel Day Lewis who won this year’s Oscar for Best Actor, for his outstanding role of Abraham Lincoln in the film Lincoln. He certainly had an aura around him, when he stood up, dressed as the great Abe Lincoln, with the tall black hat and the beard, and acted out the scenes like Abe would have done. To make the aura possible, there was a lot of work done in makeup and costume design. And this concludes why the film actor’s aura cannot be fake, as Benjamin puts it.

All in all, I believe Walter Benjamin’s theories might have proven to be correct in 1935 when he wrote this essay, but does it prove correct in today’s world? Not so much. And that is because technology has been growing by such huge leaps and bounds, that it is hard to make assumptions about it for so long. Was Benjamin correct, after all? Maybe. Maybe not. It depends on you to decide, but I think we all know for sure now that it’s useless to measure the progress and growth of technology as it proves to change and evolve every single day.