Hi folks. This week I contributed a post to Third Spaces, which is the official blog of the Center for Media, Religion, and Culture at the University of Boulder, of which I am a research fellow. Of course I hope you will wander over to read my post, but I also encourage you to subscribe to Third Spaces and visit the CMRC website to read a little about what we do at the center. My involvement there has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my time at CU Boulder.
I just returned from presenting at my first academic conference at Arizona State University. Being my first, I was extremely nervous but I got to present in the panel directly after the keynote speaker, so I got it over and done with quickly. One down, two more to go for this academic year!
The conference was entitled “The Post-Human Network Conference”, and it brought together graduate students from as far as London and from disciplines ranging from physics to art. We spent the entire weekend discussing various elements of this term “the post-human,” a term that has taken on quite a range of different meanings. Add in the fact that each of us have been trained within different fields and are familiar with different theorists, and it makes for a conference that required each of us to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work of constantly listening, questioning, and translating.
The term post-human is one I first encountered a few years ago at the beginning of my master’s program. At that time, I was reading a lot of science fiction and studying both fiction and non-fiction about cyborgs and androids. (Quick primer: cyborgs are humans that have been “upgraded” with technology while androids are essentially robots modeled after humans.) Within this context, the post-human generally refers to some form of evolved human species, and it usually implies that we have used technology to take us to that place. To provide a contemporary example, the film Ghost in the Shell, based on a manga series of the same name, dives heavily into an imagined post-human realm.
The term post-human is often juxtaposed with the term trans-human. These too are words that have been inflected with many different meanings depending on their usage. Trans-human can refer to a human who is slowly experimenting with technology augmentation, on their way to becoming a full post-human. If you use it in philosophical contexts, however, trans-humanism refers to a profoundly modernist/Enlightenment approach to thinking about technology. What I mean by this is that trans-humanism views technology as providing steps towards humanity’s ever-exponential progress. Augmenting a human with technology is symbolic of humanity’s increasing domination and mastery of nature.
This is where the term post-humanism, as opposed to post-human, offers a new set of meanings. Post-humanism resists this kind of attitude towards both humanity and nature; it is fundamentally opposed to an Enlightenment perspective that privileges human reason and that justifies our exploitation of nature. Post-humanism argues for a decentering of humanity; i.e. to stop thinking about ourselves as the center of the universe, and start thinking about the non-human with greater intentionality–remembering we are not the only life in our world, even as we might be distinctly different.
Time for another term: “the anthropocene”. You may have seen this word thrown around in the news occasionally. This is a term that has been used to label the most recent epoch of human history. I’m going to pull from the Smithsonian Magazine here for some more details:
But that label is outdated, some experts say. They argue for “Anthropocene”—from anthropo, for “man,” and cene, for “new”—because human-kind has caused mass extinctions of plant and animal species, polluted the oceans and altered the atmosphere, among other lasting impacts.Smithsonian Magazine
While this is considered an environmentally-driven term, it is also a term used frequently within posthumanist circles, where there is a deep concern for the ways in which humanity has carelessly utilized Earth for our various civilization-building endeavors.
For myself personally, I am interested in two particular areas. At this conference, I gave a talk about singularity theories, which are a collection of scientifically-sourced theories suggesting that our earth will transition irrevocably in the coming century. These theories are taken with great seriousness in areas of the tech industry and with many scientists and mathematicians, but have been often ignored within the humanities. In my research, I temporarily suspend any disbelief, and try to fully engage with the philosophical and ethical implications of these theories. For my presentation at this conference, however, I challenged my fellow scholars to consider how we in society define “being human” because until we can address this question, we have no ground to stand on for any potential development or even evolution of humanity and indeed no ground to stand on as we try to treat our planet and our fellow tenants well.
More on this in a future post.
Second, I’ve been taking what could be described as a post-humanist approach to thinking about space exploration. Placing a settlement on Mars is becoming more and more of a serious consideration, but if and when we do so, what attitudes and ethics will we implement in such an endeavor? I’m working on a number of projects in this area currently, and I’ll be posting a blog piece on this topic soon too.
This is an interesting little area of academia with which I am becoming slowly more familiar. So please pardon my limited knowledge and do also recognize that I have barely scratched the surface in this post. But as always, I do want to make a point of sharing a bit of my own journey into research, and I will be building on the ideas of this post in many other posts to come. In the meantime, please let me know if you have any questions, or if you’d like to add to something I said above. What do you think about this idea of the post-human or post-humanism?
This semester is in full gear, and I’m scrambling to keep up with various deadlines while also prepping for a couple of conferences I’m presenting at in March and May. Lately, it’s begun to feel like a never-ending game of whack-a-mole. I get one thing done, breathe a sigh of relief, and then realize the house is metaphorically burning down. That being said, after a first semester of just adapting to CU Boulder, this semester I have been able to dig back into my own research, which is very joy-inducing. I’ve been exploring the history of cultural studies and media studies in South Africa, reading extensively about the ethics of going to Mars, and formulating an upcoming project that involves Westworld. So I may be exhausted, but it’s been awhile since I’ve been this happy.
Research aside, I want to dedicate this post to something less intellectual but certainly useful–my new favorite “gadget.” If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you probably know I’m a huge fan of technology that supports analog practices. My mom knows that especially and snagged me an amazing Christmas present this past December. I’ve been holding off on posting about it to check and see if my infatuation would last longer than a few weeks. Well I am no longer infatuated; this is true love.
The Rocketbook Wave looks deceptively like just a regular notebook, but it’s so much more. It’s an erasable and reusable notebook and a digitally archivable notebook. What does that mean? Well to begin, the notebook is designed to be used with Pilot Frixion pens. Under regular circumstances, these pens can be erased like you would erase a pencil marking–with an eraser on the end. When used with the Rocketbook Wave, instead of rubbing out text, once you have filled out the entire notebook, you simply place the notebook in the microwave and after a few minutes, the ink fades and the notebook is good as new. Reusable.
The notebook is also compatible with an app that can quickly capture each page and send it directly to the cloud storage of your choice. Each page is outlined with a thick black border that helps the app pick up the edges of each page no matter the surface beneath. The QR code registers the page number so you don’t have to snap the pages in order. And the symbols at the bottom of the page, when checked off in pen, correlate to distinct cloud storage locations of your own designation. For myself personally, each symbol is associated with a different Evernote notebook. All I need to do is hold my phone over a page when I’m finished writing, and in a second it’s duplicated online. Digitally archived.
There are some notes that I like to keep permanent analog copies of. (You should never trust digital alone. It is not without flaw.) For instance, all of my class notes are stored in Moleskines and carefully archived according to semester, in addition to being digitally duplicated on Evernote. However, I also attend a lot of meetings and events, and for those types of scenarios, I am fine with just a digital record. Ten years from now, I won’t be too perturbed if I can’t find the notes from that department meeting I had to attend. But in the short-term, those notes are valuable and they take up space. The Rocketbook Wave ends up being the perfect solution for all those miscellaneous note-taking needs.
I know I sound like somebody paid me to write this review. I promise they didn’t. I’m just passionately obsessed with this notebook. It’s already somewhat battered because I take it everywhere with me. My cohort members have had to hear me yak on about it, as have many others.
I’ve heard through the grapevine that apparently they’re releasing an even more impressive option later this year–I’ll keep you updated on that front. But in the meantime, you can order one through Amazon, and if you want to learn more about it, PCMag did a pretty comprehensive review of it. Just a reminder that Amazon gives me kickbacks whenever you purchase something on their site after entering the site through a link on my page. You don’t even have to buy the thing that I linked to; I get kickbacks simply because you followed the link and bought something. The kickbacks aren’t much, but I do use what little I get to help maintain this site.
Most importantly though, I want to hear from y’all if you try the notebook out. How do you use it? Do you like it? Are there other similar tools that you prefer? For instance, someone mentioned to me that there’s a whiteboard notebook on the market too. Let me know in the comments!