In an episode of The Ricky Gervais Show (Future, S02E08) Stephen Merchant teases Karl Pilkington with the idea of a not so distant future where we might have a chip inserted into our heads to give us immediate and constant access to the Internet. To the amusement of Gervais and Merchant, Pilkington retorts:
“Hang on now, at what point are we us then?”
He continues to ponder over this and speculates:
“If I’ve got a chip in me head with Google on it, I’m never gonna use my head.”
And the conclusion he finally reaches is:
Karl: “So then I’m not me anymore.” Ricky: “But what are you doing, where’ve you gone?” Karl: “I’m looking at Google.”
Without knowing it (and certainly without Gervais and Merchant having a clue), Karl comes close to ideas put forth by German media theorist Friedrich Kittler. In opposition to Marshall McLuhan who claimed that media is an extension of the self, Kittler asked “what is the self?” Ideologies of intact entities, such as persons or countries, are deformed by the technological encroachment. It’s not as if media is the extension of man, instead man is the extension of technology. We don’t use media, media makes and unmakes us. We believe that we control our technological domain, but we do so no more than we control our minds or the world itself.
Ok, so the chip in the head might not be right around the corner, and probably not the eyePhone either:
But what about Google’s Project Glass?
Most of us would probably shy away from implants, but when a pair of glasses is basically doing the same thing, how much does that differ in function from having a chip in the head? And what’s the difference between wearing a pair of Google glasses and holding an iPhone? Any at all? If not, then isn’t the chip in the head and the iPhone essentially the same thing? We apparently suffer from the notion that the phone is possible to turn off and the chip isn’t, but it is obviously not so – technology is the environment in which we live and breathe; there is no triumph over the machines (as in Terminator or The Matrix) since the machines are only extensions of the environment just like ourselves (and that’s not dystopian, it’s realistic). “What remains of people is what media can store and communicate,” Kittler says, so perhaps Karl isn’t too far off in assuming that he won’t be himself anymore. Or rather, Google is his new self.