Straight Up The Spine: Bypassing The Body In The Future

841 words - 3 pages

In her work How We Became Posthuman, Katherine Hayles criticizes the clamor for an information age “free from the material constraints that govern the mortal world” (13). The “posthuman” of the contemporary world currently strives towards the immaterial in an “information/matter duality” that scorns any hypothetical contribution from physical instantiation (ibid.). It is this transcendence that Geoff Ryman depicts in his novel Air. Direct, sensory experience is rendered obsolete with the institution of a new, powerful technology. The latest incarnation of the internet exists outside of the realm of time and space, marginalizing the utility of the human body. While Hayles predicates existence on instantiation to undermine the logic of the disembodiment of the posthuman, Ryman severs existence from space-time to defend his vision of the information age free from physical constraints.
Ryman grounds his case in the belief that reality consists of more than a sequence of physical interactions. No event in Air better illustrates this than Mae’s ability to tear apart a metal security fence with the sole use of her mind (Ryman 214). Lacking any especial tools, Mae cannot physically demolish the fence accepting basic mechanics. The physical laws of space are insufficient to explain how Mae destroys the fence, yet she manages to pass through it and escape the compound. For Hayles, this capacity would count as one of the “fantasies of unlimited power” granted by information, in violation of fundamental principles of life (5). Ryman, however, attempts to cement this fantasy in science. As Mae explains to Tunch, this power is limited when “the surface of what is probably closes over,” thus preventing “big” miracles – a definite allusion to quantum mechanics (308). The implication is that human consciousness has the power to effect changes with a series of probabilities. Because of this, no physical causal relation is absolute: at the molecular level, there exist not certainties of spatial interactions, but probabilities of different outcomes.
As the story of Air continues, Ryman eventually collapses the notion of time alongside space. In her follow-up e-mail to Tunch, Mae cryptically states that “Everything has always been and has always happened at once” (Ryman 310). What this achieves is subtle. As Hayles conceives of the human experience, the body is more than a “fashion accessory” – it is the essential receptacle and artifact of sensations and perceptions, parsing one moment at a time (5). In the world of Air, all experience is immediately accessible via Air; to Mae (when overtaken by...

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