In ME++ William J. Mitchell's personification of technology merges it with humans, so the two become one and the same. He points out that technology can be equally used for good as it can be used as evil. In this context, technology is a very plastic medium, which extends us as humans and does our bidding whatever that may be. He argues that the physical and digital worlds have essentially merged, and are not only dependent on one another, but are essentially the same. Through the networks of technology that have emerged, a human can perform feats that would under any other circumstances be totally impossible. Most of these feats amplify a human's influence whether it be physical, in the sense of a crane or in surgery, or mental in the case of information gathering. A mind and body relationship can be established to this network, as Mitchell demonstrates with both the current and ancient ideas of technology.
Through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, by a process of exuberant invention, mechanization increasingly took command. Today as a privileged postmodern urbanite, I can take advantage of the resulting vast accumulation of mechanical devices to precisely apply machine power wherever and whenever I may need it, with instruments ranging in size from microscopic actuators to hand tools, appliances, vehicles, elevators and escalators, cranes, and conveyor belts, to huge industrial plants. If I operate a telerobot over the Internet, I can extend my grasp and manipulative capacity by thousands of miles. If I have the skills, I can perform telerobotic surgery on a patient on the far side of an ocean. I can even tend a distant garden electronically.
Where a sword might once have lengthened and hardened my hand as a weapon, I could now (as every competent terrorist knows) remotely detonate a bomb simply by attaching a cellphone to it. But that is just the informal violence sector's ad hoc alternative to putting flesh directly on the line. The vast weapon systems of twenty-first-century military organizations are fiendishly extended, multiplied, and strengthened versions of the ancient soldier's legs (which have become military vehicles and delivery systems), sword hand for offense, shield hand for defense, and eyes and ears for intelligence gathering. Since wireless remote control replaced the direct grip of the hand on the weapon, and since cybernetic mechanisms were introduced to control weapon systems more precisely, electronics, software, and robotic mechanisms have increasingly taken over the action. If I serve as an up-to-date military functionary, I am simply (in Norbert Wiener's prescient words) "coupled into the fire-control system and acting as an essential part of it." I become a squishy control node in an extensive and highly integrated machine network. And this condition is generalizing from fire control to choreography of the machines that pervade our daily life. [Mitchell 21]
1. In order to extend to (or into) the human body, to what extent could the internet and other networks of technology grow further than they already have?
2. What are the benefits or detriments of performing long distance acts, such as surgery, or, on a smaller scale, communication in general?
3. The notion of a "squishy control node in an extensive and highly integrated machine network" seems to imply that not only are machines becoming more integrated into people's lifestyles but that people themselves are becoming machines. To what extent is this notion true?
4. How might someone from the age before global technology networks react to the technological advancement and dependency of our current society?
5. What connections can be drawn between the possible desensitization of people in the military due to remote weapons and the notion of being a node in a machine? Can this apply to other large groups of people such as corporations, or the community as a whole?
Mitchell, William J. Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003.
Last modified 15 September 2006