Throughout Me++, William J. Mitchell argues that we have drastically changed our lives with new technologies and with new mediums through which we communicate. Mitchell asks, what would it be like to download oneself to a computer? Have we not come close to this reality? Mitchell even goes so far as to say that we are no longer human:
But let us assume we can successfully read, decode, and copy all our brain files -- the equivalents of WORD files of memorized text, JPG files of visual memory, MP3 files of unforgettable tunes, EXE files that specify how to get things done, and so on. Let us imagine a "postbiological future" in which "we will think of ourselves as software, not hardware." What then?
It would put land use and transportation planners out of work; real estate requirements would now be measured in megabytes rather than square feet, mobility in terms of bits per second rather than miles per hour, and accessibility in terms of wireless network coverage. But the result is not disembodiment, in the sense of complete erasure of materiality. Nor is it reincarnation in humanoid avatar form. It is a more complex, spatially distributed, fluid, hybrid form of embodiment enacted with new hardware-one in which silicon, copper, and magnetic subsystems play a vastly increased role, while carbon-based subsystems play a diminished and no longer so privileged one. Mortality reappears as a server crash. (There are some work-arounds, perhaps; you could implement reincarnation as restoration from backup, and transmigration of the soul as a hardware replacement strategy.) So, why bother with the messy and problematic brain operation? By other means, anyway, we are already asymptotically approaching that networked cyborg state. Why insist on taking the carbon completely to zero?
We are at the endgame of a process that began when our distant ancestors started to clothe themselves with second skins stripped from other creatures, to extend and harden their hands with simple tools and weapons, and to record information by scratching marks on surfaces. It picked up speed when our more recent forebears began to wire up telegraph, telephone, and packet-switching networks, to place calls, to log in, and to download dematerialized information to wireless portable devices. It is repeated whenever a child learns to do these things; for the cyborg, ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. It is not that we have become posthuman in the wireless network era; since Neanderthal early-adopters first picked up sticks and stones, we have never been human." [Me++, pp. 167-68]
What is to be human for Mitchell, and why does use of tools or technology make us less human?
Is Mitchell's imagery of turning ourselves into WORD, JPG, MP3, etc., files effective?
Is it reasonable to compare the modern technology user to someone downloaded to disk and separated from a body, which Mitchell claims are approaching similarity?
Are we really at the end of the process whereby Mitchell claims we have become cyborgs, or is this just the beginning?
If it was possible to digitalize oneself, would we choose to?
Mitchell, William J. Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003.
Last modified 1 February 2005