In my research I have come across quite a few ‘revelatory’ descriptions of how our media and our tools are part of us, from McLuhan and Churchill to more modern thinkers including Paul Smart, Richard Menary, Keith Oatley and Maja Djikic. To me this seems so obvious that it’s hard to quite understand how it’s revelatory and how it’s even a story but let me paint a picture from my personal situation nevertheless:
My son is due to be born on the 11th of May 2017 and one of the biggest surprises for my wife and I during the pregnancy is the amount of movement in the womb. When friends were pregnant it was of course a privilege when we were invited to touch the belly and we were told sometimes there would be ‘kicks’ but in our small experience we really just felt a beautiful big round belly.
With our son, now that we have the privilege of being with him all the time, it’s not the odd little kick, he does a huge amount of kicks and punches and twists which leads to a fundamental insight into who we are: The coding in our Deoxyribonucleic acid does not include a map or a schema for how our bodies will be at every stage of life – there is no clock in our minds which changes our bodily sensorimotor maps at specific intervals as we grow. How could there be, we grow at different rates according to extra genetic factors such as the availability of food, the amount of exercise we do and so on.
What we do have is a sensory motor feedback system which continuously updates our schema based on what happens when we interact with the world, we update our a map of our perceptions, to quote Mark Stahlman’s comment on the chapter on Facebook. My son is banging about in the womb and this allows him to build up a map of who ‘he’ is and ‘what’ his world is and how the two relates. My son will be born into a cold, bright world where he will have to start to breathe, eat and move around. As he does so, he will continue to flail about and in so doing, he is learning what his arms and legs are – how long they are, how strong and flexible they are and so on. He is learning about what he is through interaction, he is learning about his reach.
He will not be born with a full understanding of his body and as he grows his interactions with the world will change as he gets stronger and as he learns to sit and crawl and walk and run and smile – he will learn how his weight is carried across the world by his muscles and he will learn how his facial expressions carry weight with those around him, in the social world.
As he gets on a bicycle (and oh! How I look forward to that day!) he will start part of that process again. As he uses a smartphone, a laptop, a VR headset, AR systems and more, he will continually learn about his extended reach.
It is quite clear that the difference between his arms at 1 month, 1 year and 10 years are profound, as would the differences be if he starts to work out in the gym or if he chooses the couch. This difference can be carried cross quite naturally and with quite the same mental mechanisms as his little newborn hand with his mother’s fingers or his hands with a baseball bat, his hands on a bicycle steering wheel or his hands on a keyboard learning to type and using keyboard shortcuts.
The edge of his being will not be a hard edge at his fingertips, it will be at the edge of his interactions and his understanding.