The ever quotable Elon Musk has suggested “we are all cyborgs now.” Many of us live our lives online and are dependent on our devices for almost everything. This is particularly true since lock down.
Cyborg has become the new normal.
There are, of course, plus sides to being half-human, half-machine. We can work from home, crunch complex data, track our fitness, order Indian take-away, and automate otherwise mundane activities. We can talk to friends overseas, design cities remotely, meet a future partner, or create funny meme’s that go viral.
Our devices give us super-human powers. This is why we gravitate towards our machines. They extend our reach, augment our memory and expand our networks.
So we are all cyborgs, in some way. It’s our new reality.
BUT Don’t go to Darth Vader for relationship advice
Despite the positives, there are clearly downsides to being a cyborg. We know this instinctively. You wouldn’t go to Darth Vader for relationship advice. Or life-coaching. Or spiritual guidance. At least I hope not.
For the cyborgs we see in movies may be powerful, but they suck at relationships. They struggle to form deep bonds and intimate connections. They can’t be still – always busy, reactive, and on the move. Nor do cyborgs take holidays to kick back and rest deeply. They don’t enjoy long walks in nature. Or value slow, meditative pauses. And they rarely examine their inner life. It’s just not in their nature. They are, well, mediated machines.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to be intolerant or judgemental of cyborgs. I like the Terminator. And Robocop. I have a Darth Vader coffee cup in my kitchen cupboard. So I’m not anti-machine. For if I needed something done in a hurry, I’d call in a cyborg. They are awesome in battle and interesting to be around. I just wouldn’t model my own habits, values or relationships on what they do.
And that’s the downside to us becoming like a cyborg, digitally dependant, ‘more’ than human. When we spend all of our time online, we lose a part of ourselves. It’s hard to put into words. The changes are internal, not external. They are subtle, spiritual, even ethereal – more a feeling than an experience. It’s about the heart and soul. The humanist part of being human. And the more we fall in love with our machines, replacing ordinary life for something spectacular – always distracted, always online – the more we lose this sense of ordinariness. The more we lose what is deeply human.
This was true for Darth Vader. It is also true for us.
Trading humanity for a super-human-mediated-by-the-internet-version-of-human is a costly exchange. There’s something irreplaceable about being human – just human.
But here’s the good news. Darth Vader took off his helmet. Robocop remembered his lingering humanity. Even the Terminator rediscovered his softer side, eventually. And you and I have an advantage. For we started human and have a reference point for which we can return. And this experience, this memory of a wonderfully ordinary life, is a reminder of what we left behind. It is a world in which we can return, if only in moments, to recover the beauty of a life just-human.
For human is not something we do. It is who we are. It is our ability to delight in a sunrise, enamoured by reds, yellows and pinks in the sky. It’s the curiosity created when we engage in a book. And peace that flows from the scent of eucalypts after spring rain. Human is wandering through the park with nothing to do. And daydreaming. Or paying attention to moss on a rock. It’s laughing with children. And throwing a stick to a dog. And cleaning up spaghetti from a table after a particularly raucous meal. Human is a warm hug, or a cold beer. It’s sitting by a friend in grief, saying nothing. There is great joy in the ordinariness of everyday life – the joy of being just-human.
None of this suggests that we should avoid digital living altogether, for Musk is surely right … we are all cyborgs now. Most of us are almost always online. This is just how things are. But let us not lose our humanity in the process of engaging in the digital life. Let us practice, from time to time, unplugging from our devices, to enjoy the mystery of humanity. Let us make space to celebrate the magnificently mundane moments that make us truly human. Let us ponder the mystery of humanity, which is intangible and irreplaceable. And worth savouring. For there is much value in being fully and completely and ordinarily human.
How do you feel about becoming a cyborg and what does this mean for your humanity?
Daniel Sih is a professional keynote speaker and the award-winning author of “Spacemaker: how to unplug, unwind and think clearly in the digital age.” He loves to inspire audiences to make space in their world to live intentional lives. Check out our speaking page and invite Daniel to speak at your next conference.