Archive for October, 2014

Upgrade Me

Posted: October 26, 2014 in Mediated Lives


Almost Human

Posted: October 16, 2014 in Mediated Lives

There have been huge technological advances in robotics and cybernetics in recent years. But along with these amazing advances is the question of how all of these advances will affect us as humans. Will we almost be defunct as robots take over all daily functions from teaching our children, to gardening, to caring for the sick and elderly. But these are

Figure 1 – spot the robot

not just jobs – these are social interactions either with other people or the world around us. As far as I know there is no coding for social interaction, no robot who can genuinely replicate our humanness even though many scientists continue to try. Japanese scientists recently contributed to the “Android – what is human?” exhibition (June 2014) in Tokyo. “The robots will help researchers to explore robot-human interactions, and to examine what it means to be human.” (1)

But what if we don’t go down that route? What if rather than recreating ‘humanness’ synthetically, we enhance ourselves as humans?

Breakthroughs in cybernetics and robotics are allowing humans to maintain and even enhance their humanness, particularly for disabled people whose life is altered due to a disability. For example, the ability to walk is not strictly a criteria for humanness but the ability to walk and meet friends or walk to work or tend a garden is. As recently as June 2014, the FDA(Food and Drug Administration) in the USA approved a robotic exoskeleton to help paraplegics walk again. This new technology will allow people to to walk again in their homes and in their communities.” (2) The opportunity to give people moment back so that they can interact more fully in society again is such an important part of what humanness is all about.It is not simply about the ability to walk but the ability to interact in a community with other people.

Figure 2 – ReWalk exoskeleton suit

Murugami in her paper Disability and Identity (2009) states that “impairment should be seen as part of the human condition rather than a basis for setting someone apart, or a characteristic diminishing one’s humanness.” (3) However, research also suggests that disabled people do feel ‘less human’ as Depoy and Gilson’s research suggests “For many people with a disability, the greatest struggle is the acceptance of others to see them as human” (4)

We can debate whether disabled people should or should not look to technology to enhance or overcome their disability and whether the pressure to do this is from themselves or social norms in society but there is an argument that technology should be used toenhance the human condition rather than attempt to replicate it. The point at which robots demonstrate humanness is, according to Rob Miller, professor of computer science at MIT, something that will never happen. “People are constantly inventing new slang, watching the latest viral videos and movies, or partaking in some other cultural phenomena together. That’s something that an algorithm won’t ever be able to catch up to,” he says. (5)

Figure 3 – The future of robots?

And until robots can really demonstrate a sense of humour, our humanness will remain something unique to us.


  • (1) Russon M, International Business Times (24 June, 2014) 1453992

  • (2) International Business Times (24 June, 2014)

  • (3) Murugami M, Disability and Identity – Disabilities Journal Quarterly Vol 29, No 4 (2009)

  • (4) DePoy E, Gilson S – Branding and Designing Disability: Reconceptualising Disability Studies (2014)

Routledge (p 130)

  • (5) The Atlantic (2013)

Figure 1 – International Business Times (24 June, 2014)

Figure 2 – (June 30 2014)

Figure 3 – Washington Post (October 17, 2013)

E Rocon, J. M. Belda-Lois, A. F. Ruiz, M. Manto, J. C. Moreno, and J. L. Pons

IEEE Transactions On Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering, VOL. 15, NO. 3, SEPTEMBER 2007

Geary J, (2002) chapter 6 “Touch” from The Body Electric:An Anatomy of the New Bionic Sense, London: Wiedenfeld and Nicholson

Hi Sam,

Here are some thoughts re our conversation last night.

I think that my decision to upgrade or not is determined by the following:

  1. what you require your mobile to do . I think most people my age group would say first and foremost to be able to communicate wherever you are. I do not require a mobile telephone to do anything else. Make calls, receive calls send texts, receive texts. I do not want my mobile to provide me with a weather forecast or the stock market situation or the latest news.
  1. We evaluate the use of and the necessity for any additional functions when these additions cost a great deal more.
  1. While mobile phones are in themselves a very positive addition to our lives, they also invade our privacy and make us more vulnerable. Keeping it SIMPLE and limiting its use is also limiting its use or misuse to our advantage.

I would like to begin by exploding the myth beloved of the younger generation that older people are unable to understand and comprehend new technology. This is absolute nonsense.

It may well take them longer to understand and use to their advantage but then they have the luxury of time in which to do this and more importantly they are choosing to involve themselves and will also decide what to take on board and what to leave alone, without peer pressure.

The importance of self-reliance is also a very crucial factor in our attitude to social media such as Facebook or twitter. Our desire to involve others in our problem solving or decision making in public is not acceptable to older people who do not need others, total strangers in most cases making decisions for them or commenting on their problems.

Self-esteem and confidence are often sadly lacking is those who seek the approval of others and invite intruders into their private lives.

Privacy is also an important issue. Where so much information about us is now computerised our lives are on display from cradle to grave. This can be advantageous and in some respects can protect and assist us. However once we place our trust in new technology we need to understand both the benefits and the dangers.

We do not own new technology. It owns us. Once you understand this your natural caution kicks in. Older people have both the time and the inclination to evaluate what is on offer and what benefits or drawbacks are involved. Older people are less inclined to do their banking online and are quite often very cautious about providing any information involving financial transactions or personal details.

They do not altogether trust the technology that drives the social media or the technology that provides us with mobile phones, computers and all the other additional hardware/software that we are constantly being told we cannot live without. The ability to be able to financially afford all of the constant updates to both equipment and software is also a major factor.

Must have it now is simply another way of explaining away the pressure from peers. Older people tend to question expenditure and would need to be sure that any financial commitment was justified. In other words if I am not going to use it, why would I want to pay for it

Older people value their privacy. They value self-reliance. They will use the technology available if they feel it is both cost effective and beneficial to their lives. They have an enormous advantage over the younger generation in that they did not grow up with new technology. They were not subjected to the pressures that now exist. I’m not sure if this is a discourse or a rant but these are my thoughts.

Choosing someone to interview regarding technological advances and their effects was not a difficult choice. My grandma, at 74 is one of the most interesting, critical thinkers I know. Her understanding of the world, along with her vast experiences, made her the ideal candidate.

I asked Grandma the question that I had spent a considerable amount of time thinking about, although when it’s written down on paper, appears a little simple but having researched the different questions I could ask, the ‘why’ question seemed most appropriate. Rael (2004) highlights the difference between simple and critical questions. A simple question will often lead to a yes/no response whereas the critical questions, often starting with ‘why’, “leads to more questions and provokes discussion.”

So, the question posed was: “Why have you not upgraded to an iphone?” Having displayed my iphone 6 to her previously, I knew she was familiar with the phone and its many facets. She takes a keen interest in technology and is always keen to discuss and debate the recent innovations in the world of technology.

The phone went quiet for a moment. “Interesting question,” she replied. As Grandma began speaking, I made notes and listened intently. The notion of upgrading something that was already doing the job she wanted it to do was a key message. There was an underlying discourse of a throwaway society and a belief that there is always something better than what you have. Cost was also a key factor and “is often cited as a significant barrier in the minds of older people. Older people tend to assume that the costs of technology are higher than they actually are.” (1)

Grandma then began discussing the merits of private vs public. “I don’t need everyone to know what I’m doing and I don’t need recognition or acceptance from my peers through Facebook,” was a key quote. She felt that by making our private lives so public (through social media accessible through the mobile phone) we were giving too much away. She quoted a phrase that her mother used to say,”don’t do your dirty washing in public and don’t tell anyone your business.” This quote was discussed for a while as Grandma debated the merits of everyone knowing everything about you. Although it is clear that Grandma has a definite point of view, it is also important to unpick the discourse from which this point of view exists. Grandma appears to have a general distrust of social media and technology. Research from Loughborough University (2010) identified concerns about security and privacy as barriers for older people using technology. But it would be wrong to think that all older people share this discourse however wise I think my Grandma is. Many older people relish new technology and actively engage in social media.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Although I don’t necessarily agree with all Grandma has said, I do envy her freedom from the online society. Whether this is due to her wisdom or lack of experience of new technology is debateable but it is still a valid and interesting insight into age and technology.

Other discourse identifies a digital native as a person who understands the value of digital technology and uses this to seek out opportunities for implementing it. Idea of older people can be a digital native


(1) Age UK – Technology and Older People Evidence Review (2010) p.21


Bowdoin, R – Reading, Writing, and Researching for History, Bowdoin College, 2004


Gomez, J, Pinnick, T, Soltani, A – Know Privacy (June 1 2009)


Jorgensen, M, Phillips, L (2002) Discourse Analysis as Theory and Method (extract) London: Sage Books

Figure 1 –

I am connected to the world through social media, actually I am not just connected, I am totally immersed in it. Through social media such as Facebook and Selfies, people should know more about me than ever before – who I am, what I’ve been doing, where I’ve been. My ‘mediated self’ is fascinating to me but increasingly, I wonder if it’s really good for me. Am I trivialising what I do and where I go, with sound bite posts and self-indulgent comments?

Facebook at 14 was a revelation to me. I created my profile, added friends and photos and watched as the number of friends I had grew from 10 to over 1000. But then I began looking at how many friends my friends had – why did some have so many more than me? And why did they look as if they were having so much more fun than me in their photos? What was at first a fun and interesting way to keep in touch and share experiences, became a heavy weight of social acceptance and peer pressure. I am not alone in thinking this. A recent study by Kross (2013) found that the more people used Facebook, the worse their subjective well-being was. It would appear that the very reason we join Facebook, to feel part of something and share experiences, is in fact doing the opposite – making us more sad and lonely! Kross found that “On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection. But rather than enhance well-being, we found that Facebook use predicts the opposite result – it undermines it.”

Figure 1

Figure 1

This was certainly my experience as a young teenager. Facebook made me unhappy as I tried to ‘keep up’ with my friends. Linked to that was the jealousy and envy I felt when reading friend’s posts and comments. Research by Krasnova et al (2013) found that envy on facebook was a hidden threat to users’ life satisfaction. Their results “offer an explanation to the ever increasing wave of self-presentation and narcissism behaviour witnessed on SNSs – a phenomenon we refer to as the self-promotion-envy cycle.” I continued to bow down to the almost addictive use of Facebook (there is now a recognised Facebook Addictive Disorder – FAD), until a couple of years ago when I began to question rather than accept this form of social interaction.

The final straw with Facebook was a post when a friend died which just had a ‘sad face’. A whole life summed up with an emoticon! The trivial nature of this form of social interaction changed my opinion of it or at least what it had made us become. Social media such has Facebook has a place in social interaction and there are benefits to it, but it is perhaps at the cost of our sensitivity to others, and an acceptance of who we are as human beings, confident in our self-worth irrespective of our Facebook status.

sad faceBibliography

Figure 1

Rutledge,P – Media Psychology Research Centre


Kross E et al Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults



Krasnova H, Wenninger H, Widjaja T, Buxmann P – Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat to Users’ Life Satisfaction? (2013)