The body, the face, the skin, have all come into the attention of early and foundational eco-feminist theorists precisely as matters of design – of both recognizing and creating, spotting and envisioning these affordances of life-being. Affordances here mean possibilities of embodiment, so our designing goal is finding and supporting those possibilities that better lead to an experience of being at home in the world. The skin foremost became a privileged site of intervention. As early as 1991, Donna Haraway asked: “Why should bodies end at the skin, or include at best other beings encapsulated by skin?”⁴ In her foundational work, beautifully entitled Volatile Bodies, Elizabeth Grosz also suggests that porosity is an axis through which we are of and in the world:
“The limits or borders of the body image are not fixed by nature or confined to the anatomical ‘container,’ the skin. The body is extremely fluid and dynamic, its borders, edges, and contours are ‘osmotic’ – they have the remarkable power of incorporating and expelling outside and inside in an ongoing exchange” ⁵
There is an intricate relation of constant and vital transfer between the inside and outside of the skin. The skin itself is an active site of trans-corporeality. That this vital openness is sometimes lethal is something that we recently became awfully aware on an unexpected large scale. The skin pertains to the material reality as much as it pertains to a symbolic imagery of artificial separation. This is a matter of design – one that has been designed on scraps of habits and prejudices of old philosophies.
Is then the Anthropocene a tactile experience? Inasmuch as the skin is this active, “osmotic” site through the body’s enmeshment with the world, then, yes, the Anthropocene is an epidermal matter of concern and design. Rosemary Garland-Thomson, feminist theorist writing on disability studies, offers us a suitable way of thinking about corporeality in the Anthropocene, as an ecology of relations. As she notes: “all bodies are shaped by their environments from the moment of conception. We transform constantly in response to our surroundings and register history on our bodies. The changes that occur when body encounters world are what we call disability.”⁶
The skin is embroiled in climate change as a relational form of eco-sickness. This is a sickness that inhabits both human and non-human bodies, revealing their entanglement and co-dependency. We inhale the world; from the oxygen we need to survive mixed with other chemical parts that might hurt us, to numerous shed fragments of skin, as well as a multitude of micro-organisms.
Multiple scholars and writers have hinted at the internet long before its inception: Canadian media theorist Marshal McLuhan coined the term global village in his books The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1962) and Understanding Media (1964) as a term to describe a global coexistence that organically integrates relationships, international commerce, migration and culture; in the postmodern novel The Crying of Lot 49 (1965), writer Thomas Pynchon created Trystero, a primitive version of the internet as an alternative, underground postal service that acts as the resistance for the monopoly of official means of communication.
Today the internet is arguably man’s greatest feat, a veritable hivemind of interconnection and endless links, an actualization of the collective consciousness. It is at once McLuhan’s global village, Pynchon’s Trystero, and many others fragmentary visions of the future, mashed into Haraway’s cyborg, beautiful and monstrous all the same. It is now that the concept of mind upload, previously pertaining to the realm of science fiction, has become an actual reality. This concept has been flying around the sci-fi community for centuries, the idea of transferring consciousness to a machine in order to achieve immortality has been plaguing the minds of thinkers, writers, artists from as early as the 1700s, giving birth to early theories of posthumanism.
The science-fiction genre poses an interesting question, especially in instances where sci-fi media was able to accurately predict the future: is the sci-fi author borrowing pre-existent theories from science and advances them to the point of plausible fiction, or is the scientist basing their research and advancing ideas borrowed from sci-fi media to the point of realization? In our current post-spectacle society, it would only make sense that both statements are true. A closer inspection of the internet’s predecessors, TV and cinema, reveals how much they have influenced current online trends and phenomena, specifically on the topic of transhumanist theories.
One of the early representations of transhumanism in pop culture is The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest
animated series from 1996. Perhaps some readers might remember watching this on Cartoon Network. It was a sci-fi show about teenage adventurer Jonny Quest and his crew where part of the action takes place in “the virtual realm of QuestWorld
, a three-dimensional cyberspace domain rendered with computer animation.”²
The show had a novel format that mixed the classic style of cartoon animation with the three-dimensional computer one, and motion capture. Moreover, it was one of the very first cable cartoon shows that put forward the notion of a video game-esque Virtual Reality where an individual would be consciously transported into another world. QuestWorld
was a research platform conceived as simulation space for various scientific high-risk scenarios that could play out, and a virtual playground for the protagonists. One character that stood out was Jeremiah Surd, the series’ villain, a paralyzed old man who seeks revenge and takes over QuestWorld.
As opposed to his real-life counterpart, his cyberspace avatar showed him as a strong, healthy man.
Pop culture has since been littered with instances of consciousness transfer or mind uploading,
which capitalizes on the same kind of escapism that makes video games
so satisfying to play, coupled with vicariously living through a character who was carefully crafted and endowed with skills and XP points. Successful high grossing movies like The Matrix, Avatar, ExistenZ
, or Transcendence
, and TV shows like Harsh Realm
, Altered Carbon, Black Mirror, Osmosis
were able to craft enticing fictional possibilities of dramatically altering and often all together disposing of one’s body. The allure of being able to shape a better you, the perfect you – the fantasy that all these productions cater to – is, in fact, deeply rooted in feelings of insecurity and inadequacy; and this makes up an important part of why productions that approach transhumanism are so beloved. This proves to be an excellent example of how the entertainment media facilitates and reinforces the widespread of beauty ideals and eternal self-improvement.
As the internet became the dominant entertainment media, it took transhumanism to a whole new level. Today’s online reality is comparable to a hybrid between the 2006 comic series The Surrogates
and the 2011 novel Ready Player One
(both adapted into blockbuster films in 2009 and 2018 respectively).
Both were written before the era of online influencers, yet they portray an eerily accurate image. In The Surrogates
, people use androids shaped like perfect versions of themselves to navigate the real world and experience it, pain and death free. Crime is non-existent and everyone gets to live their best lives while keeping their true selves tucked away. In Ready Player One,
the real world is struggling with an economic crisis, and so people escape it through a virtual reality game, much like Questworld,
but more akin to a virtual society with its currency being the most stable in the world. The only thing keeping these two stories in the realm of science-fiction is the fact that we have yet to find a way to fully immerse ourselves in the virtual world. But with the rise of VR technology, however, we may not be that far off.
If previously dominant forms of entertainment media and pop-culture were able to predict and bring about the birth of cyberspace, as well as shape our desires and expectations, what can the current dominant media, the internet culture, predict about the future, and how will it influence it in its own right? Like its predecessors, the internet hints at the possibility of total mind upload
and total control over one’s virtual avatar, of an inhabitable virtual space. But unlike TV and cinema, the internet is interactive, or even self-reflective, it is not static, it evolves along with us, often jumping ahead.
Transhumanism via social media
And so today, as the web seems to have completely engulfed every aspect of our lives in the context of CO-VID19, the prevalence of transhumanist tendencies is more evident than ever, that is the use of any new available technology to enhance the human species. Transhumanism is quite literally taking place via social media, where we upload instances of our carefully curated online persona.