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FleshFactor: technological prostheses



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A E C  F O R U M - "F L E S H F A C T O R"
(http://www.aec.at/fleshfactor/arch/)
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TECHNOLOGICAL PROSTHESES: AN ANECDOTE

We have reached the post-physical era.  On the internet, all that
matters is our thoughts.  The body is obsolete.

At least, whoever designed my computer interface thought so.  Clean
design means reproducibility, modularity, uniformity, simplicity.  It
means a technological prosthesis direct to my brain, a simple input
device, easy to use, requiring little effort, just the rhythmic
tap-tap-tapping of fingers continuously pushed and pulled by tiny,
underdeveloped muscles and tendons in the lower arms until one day
they simply give up.

By December 1994 I had RSI (repetitive stress injury), tendonitis in
my hands so badly that if I tried to squeeze your fingers, you would
not have noticed.

My doctor, concerned that I would lose my livelihood (computer
scientists who cannot type are not in great demand), saved the day.
He handed me a technological prosthesis, two black leather wrist
braces which held my hands permanently in a `healthy' position,
allowing those overused muscles and tendons to rest, allowing me to
return to my keyboard, to head back to 10 hour days of rhythmic
tap-tap-tapping of fingers pushed and pulled by a set of even more
underdeveloped muscles and tendons in the elbows until one day they
simply gave up.

By March 1995 I no longer had tendonitis in my hands.  That had
cleared up nicely; what I had was severe tendonitis in my elbows,
which was much harder to treat and meant that I could not type.

My advisor, concerned that I could not finish a paper on time (paper
authors who cannot finish a paper by deadline are not in great
demand), saved the day. He handed me a technological prosthesis, a
speech understanding system that would transcribe my words - modulo a
few errors every word or two - allowing my arms to rest, allowing me
to return to work, to head back to 10 hour days of rhythmic
chat-chat-chatting, of vocal chords in constant movement until one day
they simply gave up.

By two days later I could not speak.  I could not write.  I could not
type.  I suffered a freak injury to my knee and could not walk because
I could not hold my weight on crutches.

I learned to live, mostly, without prostheses.  I had my friends type
my paper.  I learned not to work 10 hour days.  I learned that my body
does not go away when I work.  I learned to stop when it hurt.  I
learned to take breaks and even vacations.  I learned to become a much
less valuable member of society by learning to refuse to hurt myself
and to refuse to behave as though my body was not there.

I took my paper, a critique of technology, to Virtual Futures, on the
prowl for a critical consciousness often lacking in computer science
departments.  "Ooooo!" said the other attendees, on breaks between
lectures on the body as obsolete.  "Those black leather braces are to
die for.  How can I get a pair?"


- Phoebe Sengers

  Computer Science / Cultural Theory
  Carnegie Mellon University
  phoebe@cs.cmu.edu



Note: Phoebe Sengers's text has been forwarded by Robert Adrian/found on
Nettime.  <nettime> is a closed moderated mailinglist for net criticism,
collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets.
For more info: majordomo@icf.de and "info nettime" in the msg body.
URL: http://www.desk.nl/~nettime/ contact: nettime-owner@icf.de
This text will appear soon in ZKP4, Nettime's hard copy publication.

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