Archive for the ‘Mediated Lives’ Category


Posted: April 22, 2015 in Mediated Lives


Video Media Workbook Blog

Posted: April 22, 2015 in Mediated Lives


Entry 1 – Initial Discussions

Met for the first time as a group today. Discussions about what our video should be about, based on the theme of transformation. This is a great theme – lots of opportunity to translate this and to be really creative. Our first thoughts today including cross dressing and drag queens. I really liked the idea of linking the work of Ben Highmore’s theories of everyday life and how what I consider to be ‘everyday’ may be very different to someone else’s everyday. This idea was eventually dismissed – difficult to film using drag queens and not sure anyone else would have wanted to ‘act the part’ for us. This is an idea I would like to develop at some point though – does a drag queen dress up to be a man or does the man dress up to be the drag queen? Other discussions included transformations of humans into vampires etc. Again, a great idea but the film genre is saturated with these transformations and we weren’t sure whether we could add much more to this. Moving away from characters, we discussed the possibility of using Bristol as our transformation theme – the regeneration of areas of Bristol and the meaning attached to this but we all agreed that we wanted our film to be character based. By discussing the types of films we liked to watch, particularly linked to the theme of transformation, we all agreed that the film Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000) should be our starting point. Using the themes of transformation, self-portraiture and recontextualising found footage we agreed to explore the theme of childhood to adulthood and how the choices we make can determine our future. We discussed some initial scenes we might want to shoot – these included drug taking, alcohol abuse as an adult, contrasting with found footage of a child, carefree and innocent. It was at this point that I was inspired by Amy Winehouse and her death in 2011. I remember seeing a photo of her as a child and then just before her death – the transformation was shocking. I’d really like to add this idea to our film.

Diary Entry 2 – Group Presentation

Group presentation this week so more discussions to try and finalise our decisions and have enough detail and ideas to be able to present them to the rest of the group. We agreed that we would use Amy’s home footage of her as a child and then film contemporary pieces to be able to show the transformation from innocent child to drug/alcohol addicted adult. We really liked the idea of shooting scenes similar to the home footage. An example of this was to show Amy as a child at her birthday party with friends and family and then shoot Amy on her birthday as an adult, alone and isolated. We worked well as a group to write the presentation. Please find the link to the script attached at the top of the page.

Diary Entry 3 – Theories behind the video.

I’ve really enjoyed taking theories we have been discussing in lectures and relating/translating them to use in our filming. Some of our main theories are below although there are many more which will be explored in the film analysis:

The first theory, The Critique of Needs by the Socialist philosopher  HenriLefebvre (1947), explores the central themes of psychological and moral alienation. He believes that having more materialistically does not necessarily lead to happiness. He believes that although the dominant culture may dictate, shape or influence our wants and desire, it may not actually satisfy us.  As he says ‘Consumption does not satisfy a need.  In our film, we really want to explore this theory and focus on the alienation Amy feels as she struggles to identify what it is she wants. The poignancy of her childhood, where she appears to have everything, will contrast well with this.

In his second theory from The Critique of Everyday life (1947) –Henri Lefebvre explores
the Critique of Mystifications and the central themes of the mystified consciousness. In our film, we want to explore the contrast between the purity of childhood where everything is unquestioned, simple and safe to that of the mystified consciousness of the adult and her alienation from society, self and reality resulting in her drug/alcohol abuse. It is here that the theme of transformation is clear as Amy choses a path to adulthood that is destructive. We need to capture this alienation (her birthday party scene should do this) as well as the drinking 1,2,3 scene.

Herzog’s Grizzly Man

“You Must Never Listen to This”: Lessons on sound, Cinema, and Mortality from Herzog’s Grizzly Man – David T Johnson

When we watched this documentary in lectures, it had a huge impact on me. I had no idea how important and integral sound can be to a film. In this film, there are times when only sound is heard (the attack of the bear), no film, only sound. This is a great opportunity to utilize this technique for our film too.

Questioning everyday life – Ben Highmore

His theories of everyday life are going to be used in our film as we question what is everyday life and how we interpret it. By the use of quick editing, I want to try to explore the theme of ‘everyday life’ as a child to that of an adult.

Diary Entry 4

Thanks to Katie and Mark, our video is now really beginning to come together. Based on our notes (see below) we have now begun to edit Amy’s home footage. The main shots are Amy playing in the garden, Amy as an angel, Christmas time and Amy at her birthday party. These will contrast with contemproary filming where we will link the idyllic childhood past with the devestation of the present. Diary Entry 5

Here is the unfinished edit we had to show in class to show our progress in our video so far. This was really important because it gave us the opportunity to review the work we had done so far. At the moment I feel we are all too close to the project so feedback from peers is a useful opportunity. Generally the film was really well received and people understood our theme of transformation. Some suggestions were that we should have longer shots of Amy as a child and shorter shots of our shot footage to make more of the emphasis as a child rather than focusing on Amy as an adult and the negative images shown here. I agree with this – watching Amy as a child is endearing and allows the viewer the opportunity to develop an emotional attachment with Amy before we then contrast that with the shots of Amy as a drug user. Also, after the presentation we decided instead of having the drugs sequence edited together we would have it edited in throughout the video. This actually helped show the progression of drugs throughout the video and allowed us the opportunity to use Aronofsky’s method of editing. We’ve got a lot to do now before the project deadline but the critique given by our peers has been invaluable.

Trip to the Museum

Posted: February 19, 2015 in Mediated Lives

Question 1

Visiting a museum is always fascinating, with no particular plan and no particular question in mind when discovering each exhibit. Today was different. As part of the research diary, we were visiting Bristol Museum but with media technology in mind.  This is such an important focus as museums begin to use technology in various ways, not only to display artefacts, but also to offer new opportunities for the visitor to interact with the objects. The first task was to locate latest technology and this was in the Egyptian exhibition. The function of most of this technology was to offer information about the objects, either through audio, touch screens, computers and projectors showing videos of mummification.3


2                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Clever lighting helped to make the technology appear more sophisticated than perhaps it was and the darkness of the Egyptian exhibition which enhanced the quite simple technology further. The TV screen showing how ancient Egyptian pottery was made was enhanced by the black background and dark room in which it was playing. Similarly, the picture of the mummy was lit from underneath creating a 3D effect.

4Sound effects were also playing in this exhibit although I couldn’t quite tell what they were. I went back to the museum after our visit and asked a couple of families what they thought of the Egyptian exhibit. One child liked it because it was dark and scary. Another child said she liked the computers. I’m not sure if the children (aged 7 and 4) knew much more about ancient Egypt but they appeared to enjoy the experience. To support the information exchange further, small audio symbols were placed around exhibits. Pressing the button would start an audio for the visitor.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              765

Much of the newer technology was touch based, with the use of lighting to enhance it. The difficulty is, placing more modern technology is worthwhile but makes some of the older displays look archaic and obsolete.


The most archaic/technologically obsolete area of the museum was the art gallery and the East meets West exhibition on the second floor, although I would question these terms because they suggest a negative experience when they are not.  Perhaps when looking at Noah’s Arc by Jan Griffier, it is not necessary to add technology to enhance the experience, except perhaps good lighting and an information card. One of the volunteers told me that there was an interactive wave machine near to this painting but it seemed to break easily so was no longer used.

At what point is new technology intrusive and rather than enhancing the experience, it detracts from it. I’m beginning to think this could become the main theme for my research project. There is an argument to suggest that new technology in museums is installed in the most ‘popular’ areas. School curriculums may also dictate where new technology is placed. The Egyptians are still part of the new History curriculum so logically, ease of access of information is key here whereas the art gallery is not visited as much. This floor was calm and elegant and apart from some rather up to date easy access doors, spotlighting and dehumidifiers, was devoid of modern technology.


Question 2

From the moment you enter the museum, there is evidence of communication media. Signs and information guide you immediately.  Although they do the job of informing and directing, the sinage is a mishmash of fonts, colours and designs. If museums are to entice visitors then I think they need to do more to ‘sell’ their museum. Looking at the West meets East sign, this would have been a great opportunity to excite the visitor before they even enter the exhibition.  Kim Kenney who is the curator of the William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum in Ohio says that “The introduction label should be a “teaser” and talk about the main sections of your exhibit to encourage people to see the rest. If there is something significant or special of the main exhibit, it should be introduced here. At this point the visitor should have a good feeling what the museum is generally about. Visitors should understand immediately what they are going to see and they should desire to want to see the entire exhibit. Using this theory as a guide, the Bristol museum signage is not always fulfilling this. At the entrance to the museum is this sign. Welcome is clear, followed by three quite negative pieces of information. Although the information is clear, there must be a positive way of getting this across..’Please do take photographs of the amazing collections inside, just make sure you’re flash is off,’ sounds so much better.  This sign is positioned next to the exit and has a really important message…support this gallery – again, the sign is small and is not as Kenney says a ‘teaser’. Some of the signage is better. The David Hockney exhibition sign almost had a Banksy graffiti feel to it, big and bold, it welcomed the visitor into a narrow corridor of bright lights and amazing artwork.

1411 1512 13

Information cards are used extensively throughout the museum but again, if they are ‘teasing’ the visitor to find out more, then this simply doesn’t do the job. Similarly, this information card aimed at older children was in a poorly presented plastic case, the cards were messy and didn’t look as if they were used much.

Unsurprisingly, both of these cards were on the second floor. On the ground floor (the floor dedicated to children according to the information desk volunteer), the signage was brighter, bolder and easier to read.

16 17


Glass cases are used extensively to display objects. There is a ‘department store’ feel to some of the cases almost as if the objects they display are for sale.These vases are on display at the Bristol museum, the guitars are for sale in Harrods. Both use top down lighting and glass casing enhancing the objects inside.

19 20

Question 3

During the research visit, I did find some images and objects from popular media.

The first was the Lego figure found in the Roman case. I asked one of the volunteers why these were placed here and apparently they were used to ‘entice’ children to visit each part of the museum. As the volunteer suggested, the children were unlikely to visit this area if there wasn’t an incentive. Although this incentive had finished and the Lego figures should have been removed to make way for the Easter egg incentive (same principle as the Lego figure, but the children will have to find the Easter eggs displayed around the museum instead). I asked the volunteer if this incentive worked and she felt that it did to the extent that the children were looking in cases that they would normally walk past and that ‘some of the information might go in’. Motivating children to visit all areas of the museum does seem to be something the museum are working on. They used to have a ‘Fun Sunday’ each week where activities would be put on for the children but this has stopped due to funding apparently.



During the visit there was the Photographer of the Year exhibition and this seemed to be popular. Visitors had to pay to see this exhibit and they appeared willing to do so. The temporary exhibits seem to be an increasingly important way to raise funds for the museum. The Twentieth Century (once permanent) exhibit has now made way to the amazing ‘Ahead of the Curve, new China from China’ exhibit.

Although this is an exciting and new temporary exhibition showcasing modern images and objects, it is not without its critics. This quote from trip advisor, suggests that some visitors are missing the Twentieth Century gap in the exhibits.

“ Toys, electrical apparatus, furniture all from the 20s, 30s, 40, 50s and 60s would be far, far more interesting.”.

Visited February 2014

Question 5

“To understand new media in the museum and the museum as a media form, we need to examine the material ways in which they organise and structure knowledge and perception through the production of bodily experiences.”

At Bristol Museum, it would appear that much of the new thinking regarding exhibits and the dissemination of knowledge and pedagogy is focused on the younger visitor. There are very few bodily experiences, experiences that immerse the adult visitor’s senses in historical information, meaning and culture. Hence the vast difference between the Glass and ceramic exhibition (on the second floor) where the red walls and lighting are certainly visual but the displays are devoid of question and the sort of cultural detail that would allow the visitor to imagine the object within its historical and social setting. So displays such as this begging bowl appear tired and devoid of interest and the information on the card does nothing to enhance the object. Perhaps it is time for curators to see all objects through the eyes of a child. Not that I am suggesting ‘dumbing down’ artefacts but rather to make the information more sensory, showing a scene where the begging bowl would be used, or put a replica on display for the visitor to hold.



When speaking to one of the volunteers, he explained the problem of people wanting to touch the objects. There were two objects that had been damaged as a result of people wanting to feel the object.

The first was the toe of a statue that had become worn as a result of visitors touching the statue (apparently this was one man in particular and he was eventually banned!). The second was a statue of a bust (literally) and was a firm favourite of teenage boys!



Offering the museum visitor bodily experiences (from this I am understanding sensory perceptions) means that some objects are going to be ‘touched’ more than others. With this is mind, banning visitors from touching (the volunteer’s idea) won’t be the answer. Rather a replica next to the real statue with a presentation or audio from the sculpture explaining his methods and inspiration (if it’s a modern piece) would lead to a much more rounded experience.

On the ground floor, there is an area called Curiosity which allows children to explore and understand more about the museum, its artefacts and the importance of history and what it tells us about our culture and the world we live in now. Here there are bright colours, interactive displays and thoughtful questions for the children to ponder.

28 29 31


Bright, colourful, tactile, interactive, thought provoking displays dominate the Ground Floor as children are invited to explore. However, the museum still continues to present the children with the offerings below – not appeared to be used during my two visits.

Although I agree with Griffiths (2003) that museums must avoid “vulgarising museums and turning them into commercialised sites for edutainment,” there is an inquisitive, questioning, tactile child in all of us and museums would do well to remember this.


Question 7

Throughout my research visit I was drawn to some exhibits more than others. What needs to be determined here is whether that is simply my preferences as a visitor or is it the museums organisation of objects and information that draw me to some areas in preference to others.

The museum does establish a hierarchy of objects, first of all through its advertising and signage. So for example, I was drawn to the photography exhibition because of the advertising banner at the front of the museum. This exhibition was fee paying so did the museum feel that this was an exhibition worth paying for and therefore of higher value than some other exhibits. It is possible however, that this is part of the deal for the museum to host this exhibit and the profits are divided between the host and the exhibitor. Other signage directed my attention. For example, the Hockney artwork was signed throughout the museum so appeared to be quite high on the hierarchy of exhibits.


Lighting also appears to be a tool used to establish a hierarchy of exhibitions and therefore objects. The two entrances below illustrate this – Sea Dragons appears to be more modern, exciting and worthy of a visit. The natural history section appears traditional and austere.

The lighting in one of the newest temporary exhibits is key to deciding its importance. Here, white is used as a backdrop to the whole exhibit and everything else is shoved into corners to prevent any distraction

35 36 37 38In the art gallery, one of the volunteers explained that the one art gallery had just had a makeover and the colour blue had been chosen – ‘it makes the paintings stand out’ he said. This is perhaps another way the museum, deliberately or not, gains our attention. In this instance, it works.


It would appear that the location of objects is also a key factor in determining their hierarchy. One of the volunteers was stationed by the two new objects below and was telling a group of visitors about them. This was not the case for many of the other exhibits which were devoid of volunteers. The cases were new and were positioned at the foot of a staircase where all visitors would have to go to visit the rest of the museum – location, location, location.

40 41 42

In direct contrast to this was this exhibit. The museum is not hiding the fact that this exhibit is not worthy of much attention – but that is their decision rather than the visitors. However, if degrees of lighting, signage and location all suggest a hierarchy, then it is clear that this exhibit has long been forgotten.

My blog this week is based on Michelle Henning’s chapter about New Media, found in Sharon Maconald’s book, A Companion to Museum Studies (2011).  Having been to many museums over the years, I have noticed a change in the way information is presented and how new technology is revolutionising the museum experience. This convergence of “mass media practices and technologies with data processing technologies [Manovich 2001:23] are permeating many aspects of the museum experience. From hand held information devices to virtual museum realities, the user is bombarded with information in a way never seen before. I can understand why institutions such as museums would want to embrace new media – to modernise and reach new audiences, to deliver information in a similar way to ‘the outside world’ but at what cost? I’m not convinced that more people would enter museums because the information was being accessed via a mobile phone. However there are many museum apps already in existence that offer a virtual tour – see

Here, in the comfort of your own home, you can ‘immerse yourself in the life of two roman cities, study objects in detail and discover an eruption time line’.

Is this a cautionary tale for museums? As Griffiths (2003:375-7) ponders “New media is threatening the authenticity of the artefact, the authority of traditional sources of knowledge and as vulgarising museums, turning them into commercialised sites for edutainment”.

One of the many functions of museums is to present artefacts and information that we would not normally be able to see. When this becomes virtual does it negate their function? Perhaps there is a balance to be struck which satisfies the technologically savvy user and the bystander historian hiding in all of us. Museums of the future have a difficult path to tread as they try to keep the awe and wonder of historical artefacts while presenting information in an interesting and ‘technologically pleasing’ way.

Not only do museums have to battle with the expanding desire for technology but also the ever decreasing attention span of the general public. Most educators and psychologists now agree that spans have been decreasing over the past decade with the increase in external stimulation (citing new technology as the biggest culprit). In 2013, the average adult attention span was 8 seconds (a goldfish has a 9 second attention span).

Is it too much for museums to present artefacts and assume that users will take time to discover their historical story? For museums not to become defunct they do need to meet the needs of the users and many museums are now thinking of ways to present their artefacts using cinematography and 3D backdrops to bring the artefacts to life and attempt to place them within the culture and setting within which they were found. The American Museum of Natural History uses taxidermy, wax modelling , 3D backdrops, cinematography, all geared to immerse the user in the information and artefacts. The 8 second attention span is negated here as users flit from one scene to another, immersing themselves in a wealth of information.  Museums of the future will need to cater for all users, taking into account a diminishing attention span and which take users on a fully sensory and interactive journey through time. Technology must enhance rather than engulf this experience.


Henning M (2011) – New Media found in: Macdonald S,  A Companion to Museum Studies

Manovich L (2001)  – The Language of New Media

Griffiths (2003) cited in Macdonald S,  A Companion to Museum Studies (2011)

How refreshing to begin to experience media and culture in a new light. This first week, I have been researching the concept of media genealogies/media archaeology. Gone is the idea of a linear progression through history, replaced by an entanglement of technological development , experimentation and coincidences that have given us the technological advances we enjoy today. Looking at my iphone sitting on my desk, I began to realise the importance of certain theories, observations, needs and discoveries that all had to occur at key moments in history for me to have this amazing piece of technological equipment in front of me.  ‘It is, as Taylor and West so aptly put it, “material evidence within a web of relationships”.(1)

How many theories of mobile communication were rejected and how many prototypes were abandoned before the path to mobile technology took the path it did? If Heinrich Hertz hadn’t demonstrated his apparatus for the generation and reception of electromagnetic waves in 1888, then Sir William Crookes might not have suggested that this new effect could be used to communicate – and which now forms the basis for most communication worldwide. New media could be forgiven for being rather smug with itself at times, but its reliance on what has, and has not preceded it, cannot be ignored.


Newlands C (2004) A Historical archaeology of mobile phones in the UK

Tarlow S & West S (1999) The Familiar Past? Archaeologies of later historical Britain.

Routledge, London and New York

I am Legend (the remake) was released in 2007, directed by Francis Lawrence and starred Will Smith as Robert Neville. Neville is a brilliant scientist and a survivor of a man-made plague that changes humans into blood thirsty mutants. As the only survivor in New York, he wanders the city in the hope of finding other survivors, while also attempting to find a cure for the plague that has decimated the human population. Although there are many films based on post-apocalyptic survival, I am Legend is one of a few films in which the ‘hero’ is the only human in the film for most of the time.

Figure 1

Figure 1

There are many underlying discourses in the film but perhaps the most critical is the discourse of alienation. This theme takes three main aspects of alienation – alienation from social interaction, alienation from ourselves as human beings and alienation from the natural world. The first form of alienation present in the film is linked to the lack of social interaction, as Neville wanders the streets of New York, desperate to find human company. Although he is accompanied by his faithful dog Sam, Neville still craves human interaction.  In order to relieve this isolation, he talks to shop dummies. He ‘flirts’ with one of the female dummies, imitating interaction.

I am legend main

Figure 2

This scene highlights the desolation and loneliness the main character feels as he says to the mannequin “Please say hello to me.” The sense of alienation is beautifully played and perhaps something that audiences could relate to. There is the idea here that many people are alone and desperate for human contact, for someone to “say hello to them”.

The discourse of alienation continues as John Neville encounters one of the mutants. There is a key moment in the film when he comes face to face with the mutant and it is here that the idea of discourse from our own ‘humanness’ can be debated. The evil, self-willed sadistic nature of the mutants could almost be a mirror image of ourselves, as we as a human race, continue to destroy, make war and kill each other as religion, inequality, injustice and greed ‘plague’ our societies and countries. If we are to survive and prosper in the future, we need to alienate ourselves from this uncaring, thoughtless aspect of our humanness.

Figure 3

Figure 3

A further link to the discourse of alienation relates to our continuing alienation from the world in which we live. In the film, scientists ‘mess with’ nature to find a cure for cancer, with catastrophic results. As one of the scientists says:

“Well, the premise is quite simple – um, take something designed by nature and reprogram it to make it work for the body rather than against it.”

Figure 2

Figure 2

It may be far-fetched but as we continue to abuse and ‘reprogram’ nature for our own benefit, we risk alienating ourselves from the natural world and the consequences of this are still unknown.

‘I am Legend’ provides a rich discourse analysis of alienation from others, ourselves and the planet on which we live.


Figure 1 –

Figure 2 –

Figure 3 –

Figure 4 –

Free Wifi with your coffee?

Posted: November 9, 2014 in Mediated Lives

I am tethered to technology. I have emerged from  what Turkle calls ‘the tethered teen’, always available, always online, always connected, to the tethered adult, slightly panicked when I have no signal or accidently leave my phone at home.

Some public spaces, like coffee shops have always aimed to tether us in one way or another. English coffee houses in the Eighteenth century relied on people talking and meeting (and staying longer and buying coffee thus increasing profits). The lack of alcohol in these coffee houses meant that these places were for more serious, more formal conversations rather than the social, alcohol fuelled conversations that would have taken place in the alehouses at the time. Having spent a couple of evenings in both the local coffee shop and the local ale house, I think that this is still the case. It could be argued that the coffee house has simply moved with the times but rather than getting together in groups to discuss and debate the themes of the day, people sit as individuals and connect to the global village – to work, to chat and to ‘connect’. Having sat in a coffee house this week as part of my research, there were only four people out of 15 who were not using their phones Those who were not ‘tethered’, were either reading or chatting. Coffee houses do all they can to ensure we can remain connected (and buy more coffee?  – free Wi-Fi, Facebook pages to share the experience, Twitter feeds (any different to ‘word of mouth’ in the historical coffee houses?) and Coffee Club Apps where you can earn points for your loyalty.

Human beings are social beings, we learn by communicating with others. So are we any less social because we choose to communicate with people through technology? It still seems odd to me when friends cut short a ‘real conversation’ to answer a text message – almost demonstrating dual lives. Are we becoming so attached to our mobile devices that we are simply an extension of them? Castells sees the human being simply “as a communication portal who handles the management of continuous data stream that flows into a space.”  (2008: 449) But just because the people in the coffee shop aren’t socially connecting to me doesn’t mean they are not socially connected. In fact it could be argued that these tethered people are in fact widening their social interactions and that the people I was studying in Costa were part of a social public space, joined together with others through a common theme – the use of technology to connect. Were these people still social beings, even though they weren’t chatting with their nearest coffee drinker? These people weren’t sitting in their bedrooms, tethered to their computers, they were out, in the social sphere with co-located others. But are we kidding ourselves? It could be argued that they are simply involved in ‘public privatism’, involved in a private activity in a public space, disconnected from social interaction and ignoring their coffee loving counterparts. On a happier note – the local pub was loud, noisy with chatter, laughter, interaction and several pints of the social liquid known as beer



Turkle S, (2006) Always On?Always-on-you: ‘The Tethered Self’, in James Katz (ed) Handbook of Mobile communications and Social Change, Cambridge MA; MIT Press

Wikipedia –

The Costa Coffee Club –

M Castells (2008): “Afterword”. Katz, Castells (eds.). Handbook of Mobile Communication Studies. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Hampton K, Community and social interaction in the wireless city: wi-fi use in public and semi-public spaces

New Media & Society December 2008vol. 10 no. 6 831-850

Croudsourcing Blog

Posted: November 2, 2014 in Mediated Lives

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