Margaret Rhee's presentation exemplified what I enjoy most about HASTAC and the HASTAC conference. Margaret's short documentary asked an important question about the role of technology in society and did so in an artful and poignant way. Using the recent example of the student strikes at the University of California in 2009, Margaret Rhee uses the concept of the cyborg to ask questions about this new age of activism. What is the connection between the embodied act of protest and its representation in digital media? What does it mean to be cyborg activists, whose hands raise in fists and demonstrations, but also hold cellular phones and cameras? Each act has its own rhetorical impact; the physical space and the embodied message are remediated online.
Our discussion on Google Wave discussed the image of the cyborg and how Margaret's presentation revised that image. Cathy Davidson asked,
Does the cyborg hand raise itself in protest? I wonder, literally, if the current generation of neuron-powered cyborg hands can even make the fist gesture--to fight, to protest. If it does, is it a weapon?
Maureen Engel connected the hand to the importance of voice:
One of the things that struck me as I was watching is the relationship of the hand to the voice -- the way the hand has often traditionally reinforced the voice in protest. What happens when that voice gets distributed from the chant to the tweet, and does that same change mean something similar for hands?
The voice connection is one that I latched onto to consider the questions Margaret raised. Voice is a common metaphor used to discuss writing. Social media users often self-consciously cultivate a specific voice when they write online, and that voice is often different on different social media sites. What interests me, though, is to think of the remediation of the protest chant Maureen mentions, because it must be multimodal. Is its equivalent the YouTube link? A Twitpic of a sign? Thinking back to the use of Twitter in Iran last year, the content that circulated captured actual voices, but also something else.
Cathy's question made me think back to Donna Haraway's image of the cyborg, which places human hands on a keyboard. Margaret provides us with other images to revise this one, of hands raised in the air, holding cell phones and cameras. Here we see the importance is not the human tethered to the keyboard, but the embodied acts of the cyborg in a specific time and place. We used to think of cyberspace as a place we went that left our bodies behind, but now we see the act of being online as that of being in the world. Our hands carry signs, but they also carry a message into online spaces. The line floating around Twitter after Margarets talk was, "I wanted to give you a poem, but I offer my body instead." The words and images in her presentation today demonstrate the importance of both.