Always something I have been uncomfortable stating – that I am a sociologist. But now that I am stepping towards convocation again, after 5 years of reading, writing and studying in one field I think I can say it proudly.
I have been working with digital culture and technology as a research focus, and have often read books about cyborg theory (Gray, Harraway, and Niedzviecki) which talk about the fusion of humans and technology. A friend of mine has been walking a slightly different path, looking at non-human agency in digital technology, and we have had many conversations about the possibility of identity and culture without humans. I have not read the literature she has, but my argument always comes back to the “but humans made the AI in the first place” argument, while her retort has often been “but moving past the human.. once it exists, there can be agency without the human”. I do not disagree with her, I just have not been wholly convinced yet.
Maybe its the anthropomorphic-centrism instilled in me by modernity, or maybe I’m just being difficult – either way, I stumbled upon an interesting passage last night while reading Hans Christian von Baeyer’s Information: The new language of science. Although my personal research interest lays in trying to remove the human from the absolute center of identity in the digital age, the following passage stuck with me – and reminded me that I am a sociologist, and (for now) I study people.
If it is true that the limits on information-processing will turn out to be more human than physical, technological or economic, it is ironic that popular usage makes so much of the prefix ‘cyber’, as in cyber-cafe, cybersex, cybercrime, and cyberworld. ‘Cyber’ was introduced into the English language back in the 1950’s by Norbert Wiener’s world ‘cybernetics’, which referred to the science of control over systems. He derived it from the Greek kybernetes for helmsman or guide – whose initial K appears in the name of the American academic honour society ΦΒΚ, an acronym for the Greek maxim ‘Philosophy, the guide of life’. As we surf the Web for the latest high-tech magic, it pays to remember the human roots of the word. A cybership without a human steersman is a vessel without control. [p. 8]
Indeed, it is human-centric – but for as long as I am studying cultures and identities (both human constructs) I think it’s ok to start from the inside out. This is not to say that there is not agency sans humans, but the question is, can culture and identity exist without the human? Perhaps I need to start with defining the difference between agency and identity – a task I have avoided until now.