Blog Post

Interface :: A few notes on Chorost's talk

Thought I'd pen a note or two about Chorost's talk as I know not everyone could make it. I hope other Interfacers will add their impressions to/against mine.

I found Chorost to be an excellent speaker, and I suspect we'll have some lively debate tomorrow, as I know several of us disagreed with some of his conclusions and convictions. For example, tonight he reversed one of the few places where he engaged the politics of race and class in his book, how unequal access to cochlear implants could potentially change the dynamics of race and class in the Deaf community. Instead, he now says that Medicaid means that "the poor" have easy access to implant technology, including dual implants. Thus, presumably class (and, insofar as they are intimately related, race) is no longer an issue. And yet I came away worried that this is an oversimplification of the question of technological access -- that race, class, and gender continue to complicate the matter in significant ways.

I also thought he deployed scientific research in a rather uncritical manner, but I'm trying to put a finger on what exactly was unsettling, because in principle I think humanities folk should do more to (re)deploy scientific discourse. Chorost made both predictive and normative claims. . . On the one hand, he risked predictions about the directionality of current prosthetic/cyborg research, with a particular focus on neural-computer interfaces and the idea of a future "web of minds" (may not be the exact term - I was filming and not able to jot notes down at the same time), which I think ties back into Jenkin's launching point - collective intellgence. On the other, he asserted rather normative claims about the politics of "non-sexual, intimate touch", backed by scientific literature on how touch produces oxytocin and, by extension, a feeling of well-being and connectedness which, as he also argues in his book, might be a panacea to the loneliness and disconnectedness of the contemporary age. One can, of course, take issue with his reading of the contemporary moment as well as the normativity of his "politics of touch" . . . This discussion/debate was initiated tonight by David Liu and BHS, and I hope we can pick back up on that thread tomorrow as well.

What I keep coming back to is how Chorost's work traces a particular line through really fascinating issues about the ethics and politics of sensation and/in the social, particularly in relation to (technical) simulation/mimesis and prosthetic extension/augmentation. Whew! That could bear some theoretical and practical unpacking!


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