The Cybercultural Imaginary: The Frankenstein Effect: Bodies and Machines

Technological Pessimism and Cyborgs

This week I was drawn by two different concepts within our weekly assigned readings: Cyborgs and Technological Pessimism. Technological pessimism has occupied my intellectual interest for the majority of my undergraduate studies and continues to grab my attention. It’s fascinating to consider how different cultures view the advantages and disadvantages of technological innovations. Leo Marx describes this concept as bringing emotions of anxiety and frustration to individuals when they reflect on technologies. Marx’s piece, The Idea of “Technology” and Postmodern Pessimism attributes this idea to the different technological disasters and focuses on the impact the 19th century had on the depiction of technology. Throughout the 19th century Marx believed technology endured a major transformation from ‘simple’ technology to more complex technology with the introduction of mechanical power. Postmodern pessimism originated from individuals feeling that technological innovations were becoming too domineering within their cultures (Marx).

This feeling of anxiety and frustration (technological pessimism) still exists currently within our society as we watch several technological devices replace jobs. To name a few devices that have replaced professions: before credit transactions were applied to gas pumps, individuals were paid to pump gas for people. Self-check-out lines are becoming more and more popular within grocery stores which require fewer employees to work within stores. Many retail professions have disappeared since our methods of purchasing music and movies has transformed dramatically. We no longer have to purchase either in stores, instead we purchase them online or simply rent a movie from Redbox. Many doctors’ offices now use devices similar to IPADS for patients to check in on and the device also allows them to pay for their co-pay. It is understandable why many would feel angst towards the domineering power technology withholds when it removes labor from our society.

The second topic I wanted to touch upon this week was Cyborgs. Donna Haraway defines cyborgs as “…a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction” (Haraway 291). Although Haraway describes a variety of examples of cyborgs in A Cyborg Manifesto I could not help but think about people’s identity in relation to online video games. Popular online games such as World of Warcraft and Second Life allow internet users to enter a virtual world where there social reality is surrounded by cybernetic characters. These virtual worlds allow users to reconstruct their daily life by communicating with other users via characters they create. Within this world you can choose an entirely new identity, whether you prefer to represent another gender or perhaps a creature.

Many fictional cyborgs are popular in many films such as Star Wars, The Terminator, RoboCop, The Bionic Woman, and Wolverine (Digital Sprog). This idea of humans being part machine is seen in real life throughout the technological innovations of medicine. I found a story online about a man named Jesse Sullivan who sadly lost both of his arms while working as an electrician. Doctors were able to give him bionic limbs that worked with his brain signals to move the arms when the brain send a signal down to the limb (Digital Sprog). Medical advancements that utilize these machines to help people restore their loss of limbs are a great example of a real-life cyborg. Other examples of medical advancements that place machines within the body are hearing aids and pacemakers. Below is a picture of Jessie Sullivan along with a few movies that have fictional cyborgs.
Jesse Sullivan: Modern day Cyborg

The Terminator: Ficitional Cyborg
RoboCop: Fictional Cyborg

Lastly I wanted to share a YouTube clip from the website Ted where Amber Case discusses how we are all considered cyborgs. Amber Case is a cyborg anthropologist who focuses her work on human’s interactions with digital networks. Within this video she poses the question as to whether the technologies we use to communicate will help us connect with our community or will it overcome us. During the video she brings up an interesting concept of individual's having a 'second self' within technologies, an example of this would be our Facebook Page. If everyone has a few moments, I would encourage them to watch this video.

On a quick side note I wanted to pose the question as to whether plastic surgery could be considered as a form of creating cyborgs?

Case, Amber, perf. Amber Case: We are all cyborgs now. 2011. Film. 30 Oct 2012. <>.

"Cyborgs:Fiction Turned Reality." Digital Sprog. N.p., 18 2011. Web. Web. 30 Oct. 2012. <>.

Marx, Leo, "The Idea of 'Technology' and Postmodern Pessimism," Does technology drive history?: the dilemma of technological determinism (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994).

Haraway, Donna, "Manifesto for Cyborgs" Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York; Routledge, 1991, pp.149-181.

"Robocop." Wikipedia. 2012. <>.

“Terminator” Wikipedia.2012 <>

Emily Fuerst

The Uncanny Valleys between Robots and Holograms

by Eric Cruet

In a 1970 paper in the journal Energy, robot scientist Masahiro Mori proposed that when a cyborg’s resemblance became very similar to human, it would elicit an adverse psychological reaction like the one associated with a dead or unhealthy person. Mori developed a graph relating how our degree of identification and empathy with inanimate objects relates to their appearance as it approaches our own. He entitled it the Uncanny Valley (diagram below). Visualized as a curve, theoretically, our sense of familiarity goes up as the semblance of the robot becomes more humanlike. The steep, or uncanny drop-off occurs where the point of the android’s too lifelike appearance becomes a valley against the sudden rise associated with a real human, i.e. a perfect humanoid. Robot and man-made designs that fall in the valley are victim to our deep-seated fears and insecurities as well as biological, social and cultural perceptions. Have you noticed how mannequins at dept. store displays look just human enough?

Mori, who is 85 years old, will be the first to admit that his theory has not been rigorously tested. After declining an invitation to speak about his landmark paper to the Android Science Center at Indiana University, the task fell to its director, Dr. Karl MacDorman. Proposing a wide-reaching theory is one thing, but applying any sort of academic rigor to vague notions of familiarity, repulsion and even humanity has shattered the theory into countless smaller ones. "It turns out that there may be more than one uncanny valley," MacDorman posits. "It's not the overall degree of human likeness that makes [a robot or animated character] uncanny. It's more a matter of a mismatch. If you have an extremely realistic skin texture, but at the same time cartoonish eyes, or realistic eyes and an unrealistic skin texture, that's very uncanny."


Speaking about animated characters, although this theory was constructed around robots, how does the uncanny valley apply to human holograms? At the late Hatsune Miku concert last November in Singapore, 3,000 screaming fans waited in line to see their virtual idol, a holographic star. She is created from software, but has human parts. Her fans don't know, don't care, and think of her as a “post-human pop star” according to a fan site. The panel members are all real people playing real instruments, but Miku is projected onto the stage, singing, preprogrammed 1,000 miles away, and months in advance. Using Yamaha's Vocaloid 2 technology, and Crypton’s code, they have concocted the uber-superstar, 16 years old, 5’2”, 92 pounds, with pigtailed blue locks that reach almost to the ground.

To wrap up, one possible clue to our wide range of perception and reaction to robots and holograms as they become more lifelike may be hidden in the mode of transmission or the media itself. The use of light could be more subtle a display of features and less intimidating than the physical characteristics exhibited by an android. If true, this should focus the scope of holographics where human contact is critical for settings such as healthcare and customer service.

MacDorman, K. F. (2006, July). Subjective ratings of robot video clips for human likeness, familiarity, and eeriness: An exploration of the uncanny valley. In ICCS/CogSci-2006 long symposium: Toward social mechanisms of android science (pp. 26-29).
Marx, L. (2000). The machine in the garden: Technology and the pastoral ideal in America. Oxford University Press, USA.
Mori, M. (1970). The uncanny valley. Energy, 7(4), 33-35.

Marx's Pastoral Ideals, Sound Boxes and Suburbia
Kassie Barroquillo

In Sleep Hollow, Leo Marx speaks of the utopian pastoral ideal in relationship to the “American experience.” Marx makes a distinction between urban, pastoral and nature (primitive). Put simply, nature is the wild, a state of chaos; urban is equated to tension, conflict and anxiety and pastoral is equated to calmness, harmony and peace: the pastoral ideal is the perfect combination of nature and urban settings.20120818_164337.jpg

Marx approaches the pastoral ideal using literature and great American writers as his source of examples. He quotes a piece of Hawthorne’s writing where a train interrupts a completely serene moment where he is describing a pastoral scene. Marx then goes on to give further examples of a train disturbing the serene, not only interrupting dream-like whimsy, but also bringing with it a “noisy world.” The train is a symbol which is used as a literary device to destroy tranquility; it is rather phallic in a way. Marx says of the paradigmatic use of trains in literature, “But the disturbing shriek of the locomotive changes the texture of the entire passage. Now tension replaces repose: the noise arouses a sense of dislocation, conflict, and anxiety.”

As Marx confronted the use of industry in literature, one must remember there are many other art forms which could be considered. In Sun Boxes: A Symphony of Light and Sound, Riane Menardi describes an art exhibit in which Craig Colorusso creates solar powered boxes which emit a prerecorded guitar cord. The boxes are generally featured in areas which are considered pastoral.

This is an interesting contrast to Marx’s trains. As the sight and sound of trains destroyed the tranquility of many literary scenes, the lull of the sound boxes almost adds to the tranquility. Clearly the boxes seem out of place in the field, but they are not near as disruptive as the train. There is so much technology involved in the sound boxes: solar panels, speakers, computer technology, etc. Do these sound boxes then represent the same kind of urban interruption the trains represent? One could claim society is making an attempt to better blend urban and pastoral societies.

In a way, the entire concept of suburbia is societies attempt to combine urban and pastoral ideals. In no way is this attempt to blend the ideals entirely successful, but it clearly has some form of enticement. Marx says, “This ideal pasture has two vulnerable borders: one separates it from Rome, the other from the encroaching marshland.” If done correctly, suburban living would fulfill this ideal pasture. Alas, in suburban living, there is no border. There is always the connection between the almost-pasture and the industrialized urban land. There will always be vast road systems, public transportation and even air travel to destroy the pastoral façade.

Marx closes by saying, “The Sleepy Hollow episode prefigures the emergence, after 1844, of a new distinctively American, post-romantic, industrial version of the pastoral design. And the feelings aroused by this later design will have the effect of widening the gap, already great, between the pastoralism of sentiment and the pastoralism of mind.” Has our relatively new use of technology – computers, internet, networking, etc. – changed this widening gap? Is this gap shrinking or has it just brought this technology, which generally is attributed as the destroyer of pastoral scenes, into the pasture, forever marking it?

Marx, Leo. "Sleepy Hollow." The Machine in the Garden. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. 1-33. Web. 30 Oct. 2012. <>.
Menardi, Riane. "Sun Boxes: A Symphony of Light and Sound." N.p., 25 Mar. 2011. Web. 30 Oct. 2012. <>.