Although in class we have discussed the tropes of orientalism, techno-orientalism, feminism, and post-modernism in use in the SF/Anime genres, I wanted to take a look at how some of these exact same tropes are beginning to play themselves out in real life. Last week and this week, we are beginning to look at texts that are beginning to come close to home in terms of our current technological development.For example, cyborg development has reached a new point, allowing for small, intelligent exoskeletons (note Cyberdyne and HAL in that second link), turning the unenhanced body into an encumbrance for humans competing against modified humans. While these examples are not in production yet (and thus not affordable), our ability to implement them is here, and will only increase in both capability and aesthetics. At the same time, note that Cyberdyne’s examples are more aesthetically sculpted, implying feminine qualities; the Berkeley Bionics examples, on the other hand, are more ruggedly shaped, matching the military and sports implications. One developed by a Japanese company and displayed at the International Forum on Cybernics 2011, and the latter by an American company and demonstrated at TED 2011. Whether these two companies are playing to the tropes consciously or not, we cannot help but notice the Oriental/Occidental dichotomy.
For a much closer example, we have many memory aids being more directly incorporated into our lives every day. Through a now-standard smart phone, a person now has direct access to a broad base of his own memory expansion, through apps such as Evernote, to very in-depth personal memory recall through apps such as Dropbox. In addition, these intuitive devices are allowing access to much of humanity’s general and specific knowledge. The ease-of-use is beginning to deconstruct and lower the barrier that the keyboard/mouse interface has always been, de-prioritizing the physical body. The ability to access and retrieve such vast amounts of personal and human data is beginning to deconstruct traditional power dynamics in politics, de-prioritizing geographical location. The ability to offload scheduling, shopping lists, and the history of the Napoleonic Wars to our devices frees up our minds to creative pursuits, such as understanding postmodernism and/or techno-orientalism.
This week’s film, Ghost in the Shell, offers one step along the way to completely disembodied intelligences. If the net becomes sentient (The Puppetmaster, this is also seen in Robert J Sawyer’s WWW: series), the ability to create intelligences, and/or upload our own, is not far behind. The parallel I wanted to draw was our almost obsessive reliance on the network, and the soon-to-be reality of mechanically-modified bodies, begins to turn us into the exact post-modern characters we are studying in class. Our personal knowledge is fragmented in a way Thomas Jefferson or Thomas Edison could never have foreseen, and though we have been modifying our bodies chemically since the stone age, these mechanical innovations are going to turn us into the true cyborgs we see in last week’s readings and today’s movie.