Every Saturday morning I amble over to a dance class that begins at 10AM. It’s a rather perfect program: late enough to throw in a slapdash breakfast (during which I muster up the courage to go) and early enough to resume a weekend after the session. To my benefit (and curse), the studio is located exactly one street away, and you know what they say about kids who live near school always being the last ones to arrive. I’m always the last one to arrive.
I usually grab my water bottle (empty, I fill this up in the studio kitchen before class) and my phone. I arrive exactly one minute before 10AM, a routine mastered over the past month or so. Today is no different, armed with nothing but a utensil and a piece of electronic, I arrive (9:59AM), pay and check-in with my app, sweat a ton, and then I leave the studio. It’s blissfully uncomplicated in that I do not have to cart around the usual luggage: gym garb, membership card, wallet, shower stuff, after-shower stuff, towels, protein shakes/cakes…etc.
Come to think of it, many of my other excursions have started to become blissfully uncomplicated in that I am simply carrying around much less ‘stuff’. On the way home from the dance studio, I remember we’d just run out of tomatoes, so I slip into the local store, pay with one-touch Apple Pay, and slip out with a thing of tomatoes. Now only if my phone had a water bottle function in it. ONLY IF MY PHONE HAD MY GYM IN IT. (Hold on, it does)
Today, we – the logged-in generation – get to navigate our lives with progressively less ‘junk in the trunk’ than our forefathers (Meg Ryans and the Tom Hankses—who were still relatively connected, mind) ever have had to. We are practically naked. I don’t even have a pen in my bag, do you have a pen in your bag? WHAT IS A PEN? We are also ergonomic by nature and more so with the aid of machinery, virtually omnipresent*, and armed with high technology at our fingertips—adaptable to any challenge.
So…wait, are we becoming cyborgs?
In A Cyborg Manifesto (1984), Donna Haraway writes, “A cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction. […] The cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality.” Some thirty years later, Elon Musk ponder the same notion at a Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, based on the ever-evolving symbiosis of AI (Artificial Intelligence) and the human body; he claims humans are in fact, already cyborgs.
What we don’t realise is, we are balls-deep in said symbiosis; and the Snapchat doggy face filter is just the tip of the iceberg. Day in, day out, we sheathe our faces with special effects, and maintain an #instaperfect virtual reality lifestyle. “To be a hyper-connected millennial today is to exist in multiple realities. To be both present within and outside of your own experiences, living them while simultaneously observing them; and assessing their shareability”, Emma Hope Allwood writes, in a recent viral article on BOF. We subconsciously multitask like a computer motherboard. In turn, the gist of our identities is packaged into a neat, marketable brand that is one part curated, and another part computed from multiple social media algorithms that we’d unknowingly fed with virtuous entertainment. Mine consists of a high strung visuals-first façade, peppered with dogs, cake-making videos and a gaggle of open e-shopping tabs. We bank mental welfare on the performance of receiving likes vs. no likes; leading to the fact that, arguably, our virtual persona is essentially composed of 1s and 0s: binary code.
*We exist in multiple spaces, dimensions and time: three-way video-call with family members across the world, message thousands of people at the same time, and #latergram!
above: Coat JASPER CONRAN, Raincoat FILA
leather hat FEDERICA MORETTI
The rumours that thousands of Swedes are now inserting microchips under their skin for instant identification is just one of countless technical advancements today that push towards the literal symbiosis: the robotisation of the human body. However, lest we forget, isn’t the crucial common denominator among most fictional robots and cyborgs, the division between virtual vs. reality; simulation vs. matter? Haley Joel Osment (AI, 2001) craved motherly love, Robin Williams (Bicentennial Man, 1999) fought for autonomy and creativity, Sean Young (Blade Runner, 1982) wanted life. The disconnect was their demise.
In the same fashion, we exhibit clear signs of disconnect. Research point towards evidence of anxiety, depression, unhealthy perception of wealth or body image, and chronic jealousy (AKA FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out) across users – especially female – when using the Instagram app. When said love, autonomy, creativity and life is computed with number of likes, views and followers, humankind will invariably suffer. And personally, having based a career on this virtual reality for the better part of the past decade, tensions are starting to bubble under the surface: I find myself depressed and questioning self-worth now more often than ever.
When LOVE, AUTONOMY, CREATIVITY AND LIFE is computed with crude statistics: number of views, likes and followers, humankind will invariably suffer.
We are in no way, shape or form, closer to hunting Arnold Schwarzenegger in a police uniform, solving crime à la Inspector Gadget or joining the Justice League, but we are definitely smudging away at the lines between imagination and material reality, to a dangerous degree.
Sure, we are already cyborgs, but will the disconnect be our demise?
Mental health issues are rife across users and those coming of age (kids with phones get younger every year), but there is no real help out there just yet. Relax, it’s just an app, someone said to me.
Is it, though? I’ve contemplated writing this article for months now, and countless times I’d swept it under the rug thinking focus on the attractive, prude, mysterious persona, but my own ruse was eating away at my inside. The truth is, I always have bed hair, LOVE a good innuendo and I’m as mysterious as that pencil sharpener on your desk. I write this article as a means of self-preservation; I write for my fellow millennials, ‘influencers’, and next gen (have we determined a name for this yet?) kids who rely on a doggy filter to hide facial insecurities: be a mindful cyborg.
creative direction, photography & words SHINI PARK
art direction CAMILO GONZALEZ
styling MARIAN NACHMIA
hair & makeup KATE TIGHE
production CUBE COLLECTIVE
project management ANNA HOLMFELD
video EMARR KIHOMANO
production assistant LAURA BROWN
research ZANA WILBERFORCE
layout SHINI PARK
retouch ALE JIMENEZ