Centric connect.engage.succeed

Information crucial when considering future mankind

Geschreven door Ben van Lier - 08 april 2014

Ben van Lier
We need to accept our connection with technology. Only then can we move ahead, believes ICT strategist Ben van Lier.

My clothing and accessories are becoming steadily more communicative. The sensors in my Nike shoes are connected wirelessly to my smartphone and reveal my current location to my relatives, how fast I am running and whether I am keeping up with the training schedule obtained from Nike. My shirt by OMsignal, a company whose vision is ‘Technology woven into life,’ measures my heart rate. My intelligent socks by Blacksocks indicate whether they are a pair. And if they are no longer absolutely perfectly black, the supplied app asks whether I would like to order new ones. The very hip Nike Fuel armband keeps track of my calorie consumption. Just a little longer, and I will able to access all sorts of information en route with my Google Glass spectacles. My smart clothing and accessories and the information they collect and distribute about me are turning me increasingly into a ‘post-human’, a person constantly connected by information networks. This post-human individual has become an information object par excellence, barely taking notice of the information he is producing and sharing with others. Increasingly we are translating our world into a ‘problem of coding’ as Donna Haraway was already suggesting back in 1991.

The worldwide trend towards the development, production and use of wearable technology (wearables) appears unstoppable and irreversible. In the years to come many applications will insert themselves almost unnoticed in our day-to-day lives. Mark Weiser was already suggesting in 1991: ‘The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.’ The examples described here appear to be intended mainly for the hip and trendy consumer. But we can also see a similar tendency in the health industry, in the form of mobile health care. Consider implantable glucose meters for diabetics, cochlear implants for deaf children, apps that help the elderly to find their way or make them findable. But day-to-day consumer goods are also changing into networked information objects. There are smart televisions, washing machines with sensors, streaming radios, gaming computers, intelligent thermostats and smart energy meters. All these types of equipment can exchange and share information with people and other devices.

Through the networking of devices and people, our modern society is changing into a postmodern one. Technology is the driving factor behind this, and its development can no longer be driven and managed from a single point such as people, a country or a continent. This was perhaps possible in modern society with its, as Heidegger and Ellul suggested, confinable technology aimed at the individual user. But such control is impossible in a postmodern society, because its technology, as Hayes describes it, no longer has any boundaries or absolute demarcation between ‘bodily existence and computer simulation, cybernetic mechanism and biological organism, robot teleology and human goals’ (1999:3). In short, postmodern mankind is characterised by interconnection with other people and objects in (wireless) information networks.

To fathom the condition of postmodern humanity, we need to understand the role of information and the new networks that are being spun around mankind. This occurs far too infrequently. Let’s go back to my smart trainers. Their sensors deliver data to my smartphone, which augments this data with my time and location. My smartphone then shares this collated information with software in the cloud. The algorithms programmed into this software are able to independently collect, select and compare this information with information from millions of other runners. The significance the software assigns to the information I have provided forms the basis for new activities and actions that are performed and shaped independently by the software, such as the completion of my personal running schedule, advice for my training, the nutrition I need or the shoes on which I am running. This advice in turn appears as a matter of course on my smartphone’s screen.

The example shows that we can no longer understand the comings and goings of the post-human individual within familiar patterns of thought: as a runner who covers his route freely and without any ties. In considering the post-human individual, we need to accept the connection with technology in our day-to-day living environment, and its role. It is only through this acceptance that we can evolve the new mindsets needed to give shape to our ‘post’-mankind status in postmodern society based on networks and information. Or as Rosi Braidotti suggested in 2013: ‘We need new frameworks for the identification of common points of reference and values, in order to come to terms with the staggering transformations we are witnessing.’

This blog was also posted on the site of the Rathenau Instituut.

Professor Ben van Lier CMC is Director of Strategy & Innovation with Centric, a Dutch ICT company with branches in Norway, Sweden, Germany, Belgium, Romania and Switzerland among others. In addition to his work, he obtained his doctorate from Erasmus University Rotterdam in 2009. In 2013, he was appointed as a Professor at the Steinbeis University in Berlin. His research in Berlin concentrates on issues such as Systems Theory, Interoperability of Information, and Network-Centric Operations such as the Internet of Things.

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