My sole Graduate English course for the Winter 2011 term (Jan-Apr 2011) is scheduled to be “Cyberbodies,” a course that “will explore how technology—from the computer mouse to genetic engineering—has impacted the human body, both materially and conceptually” (course description).

I have not put much thought into how the body should (or could) be studied academically outside of anatomy or kinesiology classes. To me, my body is my container, my “avatar,” that helps my internal being (my mind and whatever else might be in there—a soul, perhaps) move around and interact with the “outside” world. I use and abuse my body as I wish, and while I, like so many others, have a few issues with my body, I am more or less happy with what I’m stuck with.

I suppose that is how I see my body in a “material” sense, or a tangible, physical sense—but conceptually? I have no idea where to begin with the notion of perceiving the human body “conceptually.” In terms of what the body means to people outside of its use as a biological vehicle, the obvious idea that comes to mind is how people objectify one another in terms of their physical appearance. Today, this objectification seems to be simplified to a case of whether someone is “hot or not,” and females especially continue to be unfairly judged/valued in terms of their physical appearance.  Such objectification has been a part of human society forever, but things used to be more complicated. For women, the body was seen as a reproductive device, symbolized in art with magnified sexual organs (i.e. Venus of Willendorf) and kept from physical activity in order to preserve its condition. Fortunately, such notions are losing steam. But the female body continues to be portrayed in popular media (in North America) as an object of desire, especially on television shows like Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Desperate Housewives, and America’s Next Top Model. In the Middle East, women continue to wear hijabs in order to keep their bodies hidden, which preserves their modesty. I am not confident in my credibility as a feminist thinker (or an expert on Islamic religion for that matter), but female objectification is what I think of when I try to think of the human body “conceptually.”

Of course, an interesting twist to the Cyberbodies course is the addition of technology, specifically in the form of robotics and electronics, to the human body. Today we are surrounded by technology and “new media” of all forms, and nearly all of the communication we conduct with other people on a daily basis happens through electronic means, whether it be via the Internet, email, mobile phones, webcams, or a combination of all of the above. But do we simply use this technology, or have we become a part of the technology we’ve developed? I am familiar with the ideas of Marshal McLuhan, who considered technology to be an extension of the human body. But I am also familiar with movies like Terminator and The Matrix, which combine humans and technology seamlessly. I was a huge fan of the television show Reboot when I was younger, which showed how life may be like inside a computer—inside the “mainframe.” Needless to say, once Bob and his friends got lost in “the Web,” the show became a little too complicated for me, and I lost interest. I, like others in the mid-late 1990s, was still a little skeptical of this “Internet” idea, but now it seems as though I am now caught up in the mainframe and intimately tied to my computer and the Web, of which my computer (and everyone else’s) is a part.

That is how I understand the body and its relationship with technology in early January 2011. It will be interesting to see how my ideas of “cyberbodies” change over the course of this term—I do not doubt that they will.

– Dyldebeest