Friday, 29 August 2008

Feeding the Machine

Its an enticing, if over-recited metaphor. Mankind as a mechanism, its methods of arrangement much like an endlessly intricate system of levers, cogs and valves. The idea has been kicking around since our (and by that I mean industrialised) society came to be dominated by the machines that did the majority of our labour, then the idea came to dominate the majority of sociological though when the functionalists ascended, the peak of their control being in the 1950s.

The functionalists were largely positive in their view of society, though, deeming the meticulous operation of it and the institutions that ground it into motion to be a broadly positive formation. To them the workings of this grand device were to be admired and the order which it brought to the world cherished through analysis and understanding. Not so those that followed, with "The Machine" being seen as a foul mechanism by the radical thinkers of the decade that followed the functionalist's grip being at its tightest. The only appropriate response to understanding its hold was to attempt to escape its clutches. Tear it down, rend your way free, fuck it up. There was a division between those who thought you should liberate yourself and if it came crashing down then that was a consequence not worth mourning and those who wished to see everyone saved from its relentless operations, but all were certain that they wanted out. This wave of resentment died down but survived and festered, culminating in a band referencing the name becoming on of the most popular in history.

In effect, though, this only resulted from a shift in perspective. The same machine was still being considered.

Unlike so many influential tropes this one seems to be likely only to grow in relevance rather than become tired and increasingly obsolete. This is because the relationship with humanity and machinery seems likely only to grow more intimate. I speak not of our increasing dependency in contemporary life (ranging as it does from central heating to mobile phones), nor of the speculative sciences of cybernetics (which at the moment can allow a crippled man to walk through a swimming pool if he's rich enough, but struggled to mend the harm inflicted upon victims of Thalidomide).

Instead I wish to discuss solely pieces of technology that are entering more frequent human usage. Not as means of communication, but instead which entail direct human interaction with machinery. There are variety of gains that can be obtained from as much but the most striking is sexual.

The device to the left of this text is a fuckmachine. Its used as part of the rapidly expanding mech-porn sub-industry. These devices penetrate women in lieu of men and the sight is increasingly popular, with websites springing up and turning in healthy profits.

The immediate, intuitive response from most is to find these contraptions bizarre, outlandish. But on a smaller scale are these devices not the primary supplanter of a genuine for the modern woman? Are they not now available at Boots?

For let us not allow the feminists to cast the cock-bots as yet further evidence of male strangeness an insecurity (although so strong a wish not to see a real penis does suggest a rather severely excessive heterosexuality). More laughably still let us not cast this as another instance of the male exploitation of women and their forcing of them into foul acts. Women than men are far greater perpetrators in this carnal merging of flesh and metal. This has been the case for a considerably lengthier period of time than most imagine, with batteries and marketing being the only two advantages that the modern equipment has over the wind-aways of old.

Let us shift the topic from pleasure to health, and it is hear that things grow truly remarkable. For the temporary entrance of substitutes for sexual flesh is a single thing, and the permanent for organ flesh another.

A pacemaker is a simple machine that brings about the regulation of the heart using electric pulses, as you are no doubt already aware. What is rarely considered is how close this device drags us unsuspectingly towards post-humanism: the failings of the human body are amended and the natural irregularities of a failing system adjusted for using mechanical means. This remains natural: tool-making skills applied to problems are the hallmark of species seeking the perfectly standard aim of self-preservation. But it also sets up apart, fuses the once distinct animal and machine in a fashion that authors of science fiction had long predicted.

The same is true of the shunt, used upon sufferers of hydrocephalus.

This device extracts the liquid that would swell and damage their brains to their abdomen, where it can be safely vented through their bladder along with the rest of the body's excess fluids. Earlier versions were manual but present ones make use of magnetism for superior salvation.

In these ways a merging of machinery and humanity results either in the delivery of immense pleasure or the aversion of immense woe. When bodies and bolts inter-sect in such beneficial ways it can only by surmised that the technocrats were perfectly correct: both in that humanity can be improved upon and in that through mechanical solutions our lot is enhanced.

It is also easy to imagine that given these advances further progress might be accepted a good deal more easily than conservatives would imagine. The creators of Google have spoken of wishing obtaining knowledge could be a matter as simple as speaking a question into the breeze and having the answer whispered into your ear, as gossip of Midas' ears in reverse. This would require technology barely more sophisticated than that in existence already. Indeed, reconfigured it probably could be done.

This opens vistas of possibility that are difficult to exhaust, simply by us mingling as freely with computer and code as we should do each other. Already there are those who would implant micro-chips in their arms purely for kicks. No doubt these technophiles shall be joined by many others as their augmentations grow other than superfluous.

Those in need of assistance from machines, be it in seeking pleasure or a regular heartbeat, have their needs met. Increasingly they are not judged as strange for it. All that restrains us, therefore, is that machines can not fulfill our every need.


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