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Accidental Cyborg: link from Boing Boing

Boing Boing has picked up on an essay on digital hearing aids by Jamais Cascio (Institute for the Future). Essay can be found here.

In essence it focuses on how digital hearing aids work, then taking a comparative stance. It does take a poke at us all being cyborgs. Tell that to my inner child, being forced to wear a body hearing aid at school, and each time it banged against the bottom of my chin each time I moved.

Included in this essay is, "is the biological body just another dead-end technology". Okay, so where does body modification end, and embracing difference begin?

For me this article has clearly been written by someone who was obviously hearing (and an interesting perspective at that), but misses out the entire history of oppression.

Comments (4)

The post wasn't about history, or even about 'deafness' per se; rather, it was about present and near-future technology. The post moves from the author's own experience with hearing aids to a discussion of amputees -- obviously, his perspective is as someone who has 'lost' his hearing (like an amputee loses a limb) to a degree, has experienced that loss as a sort of injury, and is looking to technology for a solution.

As someone with moderate hearing loss, I find it troubling that you criticize the author for reflecting on his personal experience. He likely has no experience of oppression, and would thus have no basis to include it in his blog post. If he had, I'm sure he'd be targeted as an outside appropriating deaf culture.

As I said in my comments, it was an interesting perspective, and I gave him this.

My comments were nothing to do with deaf culture here (I did not even mention it). I did pick up on oppression, in the sense that one's biological body is not good enough, when I don't think its as simple as this and misses out a lot. History is everything, it defines who we are. This includes how people might react to suggestions.

Like it or not, the fact that Boing Boing has picked up on this (and has done so only with articles that focus on hearing modification), highlights how little is understood about this subject.

In this post, I was questioning the must modify one's body, and he actually goes outside his own personal experience here. He starts to talk about how any biological body could be limiting and technology could overtake this (he draws parallels). Here we start to enter eugenics. And yes, I have the right of an opinion.

(Incidentally I wear hearing aids).

Of course you "have the right of an opinion", and I didn't say that you had invoked deaf culture; rather, I meant that whenever is exploring new cultural territory regarding hearing loss (as he is, and as I also am), one is often accused of making comments that one has no right to make... especially as someone with hearing loss commenting on deaf issues.

I guess my point is, not all essays are about everything... his topic was more narrow.

Oppression (in many senses of the word) and appropriation of voice are deeply implicated topics, and offense is often taken when someone from outside a group voices sympathetic comments on a subject outside of their personal experience. One walks a tightrope between including aspects of a topic that are outside of one's own expertise (his being his personal experience as well as his 'professional' speculations as a futurist), and often the mere mention of something (such as oppression) would result in a flood of critique about how that mention was insufficient.

Interestingly, I suppose the source of any oppression (in the sense you mention) in the author's experience is from himself; that is, he is the one who feels that his biological body is not good enough. Not only that, he feels (as do many/most transhumanist-type futurists) that no biological body is sufficient, be it 'normal' or so-called 'disabled'.

I also think that his line of reasoning actually leads away from eugenics, rather than toward it. If being 'better than natural' is a goal (I'm not saying it should be, but from a worldview that values augmented sensory perception ,etc., it is), then if is a goal that can be achieved by means of technology, it would be superfluous to try to achieve 'better than normal' through the exclusion of 'worse' biology... don't eliminate 'flawed' or unsatisfactory biology, augment!

I should emphasize that I don't agree with the perspective outlined in the previous paragraph, but I think it's important to follow other people's reasoning to their conclusions, rather than interpreting any mention of a 'lacking' biology as an argument for eugenic elimination of 'flawed' people.

(As an aside, I'm going through the archives of this blog and am enjoying it a great deal.)

I'm really happy that the essay engaged you so deeply, and I do appreciate the observations.

For what it's worth, you'll note that I never used the word "deaf" in my essay. That was intentional, as I recognize that deafness has an identity element that I didn't think was appropriate for my experiences. As it happens, I worked for a few years at UC Berkeley's "Disabled Students Program," providing support for assistive technologies, and encountered people with all sorts of physical differences requiring accommodation. I'm pretty conscious, even a decade later, of the way that disabilities are represented in the popular culture, and I hope that my essay didn't perpetuate that representation.

A point of clarification, however: I don't say that biological bodies are inherently too limited; what I say is that, as augmentation technologies move from purely therapeutic (i.e., bringing a limited capacity up to "normal" levels) to potentially enhancing (i.e., bringing a once-limited capacity to levels beyond "normal"), many people will start to ask questions about why we would hold to the solely biological. I think the quotes from the New Scientist article about people with leg prosthesis turning down bio legs because the tech will soon make the legs better than bio supports my argument.

Finally, as you note, I have been living as a hearing person for quite some time -- over 40 years -- so it's hard for me to see hearing impairment as anything but a loss. I don't mean that as a pejorative, but solely as my experience (and I see that you recognize this -- I just wanted to emphasize it).

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