a person whose physiological functioning is aided by
or dependent upon a mechanical or electronic device.
There are plenty of us out there who fall into this category; people with pacemakers, mechanical valves, artificial legs, eyes, hands, whatever. Some people would argue that even people who wear glasses are cyborgs. A discussion about someone wearing glasses being a cyborg was actually what started me off thinking about this whole subject of cybernetic humans. Here is a bit of it:
I don’t know whether people who wear glasses really count as cyborgs, though. Mainly because the glasses are not a part of them in the same way that the pacemaker is part of me – it’s in me and literally intertwined with me. I can never be without it. It’s part of the mechanics of my body in a way that is very different to the interaction between someone and their spectacles. However, I see the flaws in my argument – what about people with removable prosthetic limbs? for one.
The idea of people-technology hybrids as being “more than human” is an intriguing one. Cyborgs are more than human in that we’re humans with ‘add-ons’, as it were, but not usually in the sense that we’re enhanced beyond normal human capabilities. However, we are also not less than human (which was Simon’s point). We usually think of cyborgs in the context of science fiction, where they’re quite often portrayed as the bad guys; and we think of them as being somehow less than human – robots, rather than people enhanced with machinery – so the term ‘cyborg’ can carry quite negative connotations. [I'm not sure whether the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica really count as cyborgs, but there is an excellent and fascinating case in point if they do.] As well as this, some people can get a bit freaked out when thinking about machine-human hybrids. Being part-machine is not natural, it’s not ‘normal’, and humans tend not to like things or people that don’t fit their ideas about what is natural or normal. Bizarrely, when I went to see the surgeon before my heart surgery in 2008 the thing he said that upset me most was that I might have to have a pacemaker. I still can’t coherently explain why, but I think it was just the idea of having something in me that wasn’t me. It just seemed wrong. But now I know it’s perfectly alright, and being a cyborg has improved my life tremendously!
It seems that the definition of who or what is a cyborg has moved far beyond my personal opinion and what the original definition of the word referred to. If I remember rightly, the conversation on Twitter went on to discuss cyborgs and librarianship. If you’re interested in such things you might want to have a look at Simon’s post on the subject. Further afield, at least one person is arguing that “we’re all cyborgs now”:
What do you think?
*Although I may be paranoid, this is not to be confused with an android.
** Interestingly, not every dictionary defines “cyborg” in the same way. Some define cyborgs as being fictional or hypothetical, and as someone who is technologically enhanced beyond normal human capabilities. However, if one goes back to the original of cyborg (cybernetic organism) as someone who is part-machine and part-human then cyborgs certainly do exist, although most ‘real’ cyborgs are only enhanced ‘up’ to, rather than beyond, normal human capabilities (if that). Even with my pacemaker I’m not going to win any races! However, I’m pretty sure I exist…