Machine Head: Cyborg Redundancy

So we are all cyborgs now. Our lives interface with technology at almost every level. We use technology to augment everything from memory to motor skills. 

The rise of technological innovation has enlarged human capacity to a previously unimagined degree. We are able to outsource the more mundane calculations and processes to our devices, while we get on with the important stuff, like wondering what’s for dinner. This has been amazing so far. The rise of the computer allowed scientists to move forward at speeds they could only have dreamed of. Automation is a wonderful, labour-saving thing.

But it has its downsides. Where we used to rely on our own brains in many instances, we now rely on our gadgets. Take the GPS, for instance. Previously, you consulted a map, storing route information in your brain. This caused many to clutch their sweaty steering wheels, while frantically scanning the sidewalk for signs (a futile endeavour in Johannesburg). The arrival of the GPS changed that. Now your palms could be as dry as British humour while you make your way to that meeting in the city center.

That is, until your GPS fails you. Then, it seems, you’re screwed. We’ve gotten so used to extend our faculties with this technology that we shut them down completely whenever it is involved. So now, when our GPS fails (which it inevitably will) we are left on roads we’ve traveled dozens of times, with no idea where we are. Any change at all to your route throws you off completely. We have lost our ability to adapt.

Our brains are remarkable tools. They’ve been through millions of years of high-stress testing, probably the most rigorous R&D we’ve encountered. Not only are they insanely powerful, but they’re quite dependable and adaptable.

When we switch them off in favour of technology, though, we are curtailing their growth. We are relying on tools with a much higher failure rate and simultaneously blunting the sharpest knife at our disposal. It is through stimulation that our brains are able to process what we need. The more we switch off our brains, the less they’ll be able to do.

When you’ve got better uses for your mental capacity, by all means switch off the unnecessary bits. Use the tech. But don’t become so dependent on it that, should it fail, you’d be stuck. Use your GPS, but check the map beforehand anyway. Focus on where you are. Remember important places. You don’t need to know the entire route by heart, just enough to get you there with a bit of driving around.

As our technological interfaces become more and more intimate, this is an important facet of progress to keep in mind. As our technology increasingly becomes part of us, we should know it doesn’t only go one way. We must always keep in mind how much we, in turn, become our technology.


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