Are we cyborgs?

cyborgThe Internet is not -yet- providing us with a so fluid communication that allows us to see  ‘literally see what the other means’ (Cyberia: 140). And we have not replaced -yet- people by avatars in personal interactions. However, Scifi is plenty of both cases. Interactions delegated upon a virtual reality vehicle: films like Matrix or Avatar, or comics like the Surrogates. Remove the picturesque vision of an Earth dominated by machines or of a planet full of blue people, and you’ll have the Internet. People interacting through virtual identities built for the Internet.

Time ago the human gender has become a Cyborg thanks to the integration of technological devices as plug&play extensions of our body. Donna Haraway advanced this fact more than 20 years ago:

‘By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs. This cyborg is our ontology’ (Haraway, Cyborg Manifesto 1991: pág. 150)

Weird? Could you feed and dress up yourself without a credit card? Do you use car, bus or underground? Would you voluntarily live without a mobile phone? Think about that. These devices are part of us. Our definition as a postmodern human being is not complete without them. Not yet convinced? What about glasses or contact lenses?

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We thought about Cyborgs as someone who replaces legs for wheels or connects an infrared camera directly to his brain instead of eyes or… this guy to the right, who is supposed to be the first Cyborg ever. I don’t think so! Would you accept to visit the surgeon each time you change your mobile phone? It is much easier to keep it in your pocket than connect it to your brain. But this doesn’t’ mean you are not equally dependant on the device. That your life has already changed by that.

We already are Cyborgs. This is our ontology.

 

Raúl Antón Cuadrado

On Writing well by William Zinsser. Principles.

Spanish version of this post in Aprehendizajes.com

-Not so- off topic introduction (But you can skip it)

One of the masterworks in modern Language Philosophy, maybe my favorite, is H P Grice’s work about how communication occurs when ‘speaking to an audience’. Grice extracted some conditions to assure it is effective almost 30 years ago (1989, Studies in the Way of Words). And these ideas are still applicable in the Internet era. The key point is the auditory concept. It is evident in offline communication: writing a book or giving a talk in a WordCamp are good examples of these. But also they are still important nowadays because online communication relies on broadcasted messages (a post) or a succession of broadcasted messages (think about a Twitter thread or the conversation starting from a post and carried on with comments).

Cooperative Principle (HP Grice)

What’s amazing about Grice work? The fact it is easier to explain it than to make a TL;DR. He broke down his work into the so-called “cooperative principle” of 4 conversational maxims:

  1. Tell the truth
  2. Make your contribution as informative as required. Not more, not less.
  3. Be relevant
  4. Be perspicuous: Avoid obscurity, avoid ambiguity, be brief, be orderly.

As you can see the formulation is crystal clear. Surgical. So it can be harsh.

Can we make it nicer, more agreeable to read?

Yes, let’s include a discussion about style, add some storytelling and some nicely chosen examples, and we’ll have the first section (‘Principles’) of On Writing Well book.

Where I talk about the book

I love the way in which this first part of the book -Principles- is written. For each chapter, you can read the first paragraph and the last one and you’d get the main idea, so you don’t really need to dive into the body of the text. But do it! Or you’ll miss a clean, vivid explanation stuffed with lots of relevant examples.

Want an example? This is leading by example: “Chapter Two, Simplicity”

FIRST P: Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.

LAST P: Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.

You can easily compose a moral with that. Let’s say : “You must work on your text until it is completely clear”

And what can you find among these two “featured” catchphrases and the subjacent moral? As I said, examples and clarifications :

  • If the reader is lost, it’s usually because the writer hasn’t been careful enough.
  • The man or woman snoozing in a chair with a magazine or a book is a person who was being given too much unnecessary trouble by the writer.

 

Where I summarize the book

on Writing Well summary. section 1 'Principles' Raúl Antón Cuadrado
on Writing Well summary. section 1 ‘Principles’. [in blue] mentioned chapter.
And that’s all.

Well, no. Just a divergent footnote.

Footnote: I love the Usage chapter (7th). Here is where the author explains how he took part in a panel to choose which words and which not to put in a 1960s’ dictionary. (On writing well was edited in 1976).  My point here is: if the panelist were unable to agree on some words and they expressed their individual votes… instead of blindly trusting their votes, let’s write with our own words -but yeah, being clear and simple- 🙂

Then, why do I love this chapter? Because it is picturesque, refreshing and colorful and it shows words are living organisms. And that’s poetry, bro.

Science to perpetuate statu quo

Lyotard warned several decades ago in his seminal work, The Postmodern Condition, about noun_225280science’s lack of legitimation. At least, about the lack of a “beautiful” legitimation, as he noticed that instead of searching for the truth or trying to improve mankind’s living conditions, science is nowadays ruled by what he called the performativity principle. In brief, science must be lucrative, returning money to investments in the same way other businesses do. Or returning more, if you want to assure a regular money flow to research. For those to whom “performativity” sounds like cryptic philosophy, Feyerabend provided (why not Plato?) a straightforward explanation:

20th century science has resigned to have any philosophic pretension to become a big business. It is no more a threat to the society, but one of the firmer pillars.

Yep, a threat to society sounds bad … except if you think about society as an ideological system with the function to reproduce inequality by supporting and transmitting the scheme that maintains few people in the zenith of the social pyramid: those who own resources and retains power relationships.
There are lots of examples of how science is no longer mankind’s progress weapon but a way to perpetuate the status quo. Here is one of my favorite examples: citation indexes.

Citation Indexes? What’s that?

Citation indexes (CI) are essentially lists in which scientific journals are ranked according to their impact factor, or the measure of how important their articles are for the scientific community. Sounds nice and helpful as this shows

‘a journal’s true place in the scholarly research world’ and ‘Measure research influence and impact at the journal and category levels’ (Thomson Reuters, the editor of the JCR ranking, dixit).

Perhaps it sounds nice, but it isn’t. In the same way JCR qualifies journals, these journals transitively pinpoint good researches –whose works are published in these journals – and exclude the others.

C.I. Rankings promote inequality

noun_97178.pngFirst, top-list journals are expensive, so there is not global access to these, and this becomes a powerful source of inequality. “There are countless researchers without access to most impacting articles because journals abusive price: each paper costs about $30 and you should read lots of papers. If these articles are, arguably, the best scientific works, those people without access to them would have more difficulties in developing brilliant, innovative results, thinking science as an accumulative process.
Additionally, citation indexes make countless researchers all over the world systematically invisible as they are misrepresented. Their works are excluded from mainstream research not even because of their quality but because of where they are published and, indirectly but not less important, because of the language (the vast majority of journals in the first quartile are in English) or researchers’ relationships.
Of course, those researchers are not explicitly excluded. But the symbolic violence of this segregation is brutal, first because it is explained and legitimated in terms of quality of the research work, and second, due to the relative invisibility of this segregation.

An alternative to citation indexes?

Criticism has been dethroned by pseudo-democracy or pseudo-intersubjectivity mechanisms to focus literature or entertainment contents consumption. Habermas complains about the intellectuals’ lack of authority to direct public discussions. Science, a change engine by definition, seems to be one of the few places resisting this democratizing wave by maintaining authority argument in the form not only of peer review committees with shamanic powers to interact with Knowledge deities to decide what’s good or not.

That’s even worse when you know that sometimes those peer reviews can be fabricated or just hilariously stupid, made only to justify picking money from young researchers’ pockets.

I’m overtly not in love with mass pseudo-democratic mechanisms, easily influenced and cooked by advertising constructions or filter bubbles. But it is clear that we need to give voice to horizontal and open peer-review systems where anyone can be a peer. And national research certification systems could also take into account more open and modern impact measures, more aligned with what science and research should mean.
Is there anything like that? There is.

What do you think about Academia.edu, for instance?

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Raúl Antón Cuadrado