Saturday, May 14, 2011

Technomysticism - Chapter 3, part 2 - The Mobile Phone Organ

Quite a while ago I started publishing the first 5 chapters out of my book "Technomysticism" which was published in Hebrew in 2009. After publishing the first 2.5 chapters, I was carried away by other tasks, and never got to finishing the publication of the first chapters.
I apologize for that, and now plan to complete the publication of the other 2.5 chapters which together with the first 2.5 compose the first part of the book.
Those who haven't read the first chapters can find them here: (Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3).

The mobile phone organ

It is easy to see how information technologies become an integral part of our body, if we examine one of the most important organs which have been added to the human body during the past millions of years: the mobile phone

The mobile phone, a technology which became ubiquitous around the whole world, from New York to third world villages, fulfills dozens of different functions for man. Billions of people carry it on their body wherever they go during the day. After all, the mobile phone has already become more multi-functional than the original personal communicator used by the Star-Trek crew in the original TV series.

My perfectly standard mobile phone functions as a beeper, an SMS, a camera, a video camera, a game console, pictures, music and video editing machine, a flashlight, a music player, a recording device, a photo album, a movie album, a notebook, a fax, an internet port, a calculator, a meter for the fourth dimension (a clock), a calendar, an organizer, a memory device and much more. It can even make phone calls.

Not many of my bodily organs perform such a variety of tasks. Who dares leave him without his mobile these days? This organ is totally ours. Yes, there are still some people who are walking without mobile phones, but they seem to be a minority facing extinction. That isn’t necessarily good or bad. It’s just a fact. The mobile phone has become a part of our body.

In a society where all our experiences are communicated through mediating mediums, in which communication with other persons in the other end of the world are mediated through a video camera, USB, fiber optics and screens which lead to the mediation of eye and brain, the mobile phone is a kind of technological “third party organ” which functions as another kind of sensory layer mediating between me and the world.

Electronic gadgets become a part of a global market of organ trafficking, and the greatest organ implant markets of today are the ecommerce sites where electronic gadgets are sold: a free market where we buy and sell super abilities ready to install.

What does it mean, when the mobile phone becomes an integral part of the body? Maybe it means that when I acquire a newer model, my organs are in better shape. If the mobile phone turns me into a cyborg, it can be seen as something which gives me the powers of a superhero. The mobile phone gives me special superpowers and allows me to see in the dark, to know exact time, to record sound, to take pictures, to remember details and of course to communicate beyond time and place.

Maybe this means that in the mobile phone era, the concept of good health is not confined to the physical body, but pertains to the digital world which surrounds me as well? Sometimes, when my computer is slow or stuck my body become tense, agitated and my breathing turns shallow. Is this not a classic case of the technological illness affecting the physical body’s equilibrium directly?

This relation seems to imply that in a future where we and our machines would become evermore entangled in one another, we will have to rethink our concept of health, so that it will include not only man’s biological machinery but also his technological ecology. If today’s integral medicine seeks to view man as a mind-body wholeness, the integral medicine of the future might perceive man as whole composed of mind, body and machine.

At the same time, the increasing dominance of the new technological organs might make it advisable to give special attention to our old organs which have functioned relatively well until the mobile phone and other technologies have arrived and made them obsolete and degenerate. A 2007 study which was conducted in Dublin’s Trinity College has found that increased use of mobile phone might damage your memory. For instance, people who rely on their mobile phonebooks suffer from poor memory performance. The researchers have found out that 50 year olds who don’t rely on their mobile phonebooks could remember more phone numbers, birthday dates and other kinds of data, better than thirty year old people who rely on their mobile phone to remember for them.

One could feel the degenerating influence of gadgets in a variety of ways. Some of the people who use GPS report that their ability to orient themselves in their surroundings has been seriously damaged; others who rely on their word processor to correct their spelling mistakes, report that they have ceased improving their spelling skills.

These phenomenon reverberate much older and deeper currents which have been percolating in our civilization for thousands of years. In the dialogue Phaedrus Socrates tells a brief legend in which king Thamus warns us that instead of helping people remember, the technology of writing will teach them to forget: “it will introduce forgetfulness into the soul of those who learn it: they will not practice using their memory because they will put their trust in writing, which is external and depends on signs that belong to others, instead of trying to remember from the inside, completely on their own”.[1]

Thamus’s admonition was not an empty prophecy. The great Talmudic literature was passed on orally and was written down only after hundreds of years, so was the Indian literature of the Vedas. During the classical antiquity and the middle age many of Europe’s scholars were proficient with “ars memoria”, the art of memory. The “memory palace”, a famous technique for memorizing information during the middle ages allowed savants to memorize hundreds of pages and lists consisting of thousands of items. Since the coming of print, these abilities have long since vanished, and new technologies have further escalated the situation. Today’s scholars would be totally at lost without an internet connection to the world’s databases. They are, in most cases, totally dependent on external memory.

Marshall McLuhan claimed that new technological organs amputate our older organs. Cars, for example, make our legs superfluous. They “become weak” and are “amputated”. Does this also happen to our mental abilities when we use gadgets excessively? Perhaps we should take care not to rely excessively on our new technological organs and to keep in touch with our older organs lest they become defunct.

[1] Plato. Phaedrus. Translated by: Alexander Nehamas & Paul Woodruff. Indianapolis: Hackett publishing company. 1995. p. 79.

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