Technology and the Human Body – Final Student Projects

As a teacher, there’s nothing more satisfying than learning from your students and sitting back as they show you how well they can critically evaluate the material and bring new insights to it. Here below I have placed (with permissions) a few short excerpts from my students’ final projects, completed for the Rhetoric and Digital Media course on Technology and the Human Body, ENG/COM 395.

Jayne Goethe’s Final Project, titled “My Body Full of Sound”


“My Body, Full of Sound” is an art piece created to illustrate and expand    
upon the possibilities resulting from a transition from human to posthuman    
realities. Inspired by the work in posthuman theory by Tim Lenoir and    
N. Katherine Hayles, the piece analyzes the role of contemporary music,    
particularly contemporary techno and pop genres, as a reflection and    
generator of posthuman sensibilities. Hayles contends that our path to    
becoming posthuman will be through the process she terms “intermediation,”    
in which a series of integrated feedback loops  between us and our    
technological devices, media, texts, and immersions will prepare and guide    
us towards a new all-digital future (Lenoir 3). Hayles argues further that it    
is through metaphor, narrative, and “other interpretive linguistic modes”    
that we will be conditioned for and directed towards this new world, as these   
modes are considered primary tools for understanding and imagining the world    
surrounding us (3). Through a multimedia approach, “My Body, Full of Sound”    
aims to illustrate and support Hayles' concept of intermediation, considering   
contemporary music a narrative-based “interpretive linguistic mode” that is    
anticipatory of, if not influential in, the transition to a posthuman world.   
The video flashes behind and within the character's heads transforming the   
still frames into animated video. The flash and distortion of the images   
reeled to the music reference the simultaneous and endless bombardment of   
information received  in a pervasive computing environment like the one we   
live in today—an interconnected environment of GPS systems, smart phones,   
and the internet—and the ones of the future being imagined and developed by   
the scientists mentioned in Lenoir's article, in which mechanical interfaces   
are erased altogether (20).   

Visuals gives face and color to the characters in the musical  narrative.   
Each of the eight models was photographed twice—one full body shot and one  
headshot—assuming a blank, uninvolved pose. Such a pose is intended to convey  
the potentially emotionally neutralizing impact constant interaction and  
integration within an “environment of ubiquitous computing technology” may  
cause (15). Additionally, each model is wearing the same headphones, a  
symbolic indication that all characters are plugged into a singular  
digital-sonic realm. 


[Crash] an interlude   
My body, its sound carries   
as I crawl into the space[s]   
fight tight all the screens   
[life tearing at the seams]   
I am listening   
my name is Listening.   

The character first describes her connection with sound as an embodied  
experience—it is her body that emanates and “carries” sound. A screen    
interface of some sort is then introduced, the character compelled to    
“fight” this screen, an attempt to withhold the body from the convoluting   
force of the technological interface. The poem suggests that it is the    
destiny and power of technology to tear life “at the seams,” executing the    
separation and distillation of the physical body into its purely digital    
form, posthuman at last. Hence, listening is transferred from an embodied   
act—“I am listening”—to a disembodied state, the name “Listening.”    

Michael Evans' Final Project: "Floating Lotus"  

‘Floating Lotus’ is a demonstration of the potential technology  
has of expanding not only physical and mental capabilities, but also spiritual 
capabilities. Transhumanism only acknowledges the breadth of human potential 
by viewing technology as a prosthetic for the human body and mind.   
‘Breadth’ is herein defined as the range of capabilities of the human   
experience such as enhanced motor skills, memory, knowledge, and intellect. 
On the other hand, ‘depth’ can be defined as everything  
intrinsic to that human experience such as subjective consciousness and  
profound  religious experience. The artwork manifests James Hughes’ argument  
that technologies can be adopted to enhance human spirituality. In one of 
his lectures, he states, “Transhumanism appears to be especially compatible 
with religious traditions that emphasize human agency and evolution to a   
transcendent state, such as  Buddhism, or that have incorporated Enlightenment 
values, such as liberal Christianity.” This ‘trans-spirituality’ that Hughes   
claims is in line with the argument that technologies suitably enhance or 
have the potential to  enhance the depth of the human psyche...  

Other liberties  taken by the artist include the decision to give the work 
a ‘retro’ or ‘steam-punk’ feel by utilizing black and white as well as 
the ENIAC computer.  This computer was a landmark in digital computing as 
well as a spark of the modern information age. The exposed wires and 
interconnectedness of the computer emphasizes the symbiotic relationship 
between man and machine. By happenstance, the image created the shape of 
a light bulb at the top, suggesting the boy achieved enlightenment while 
demonstrating the older metaphor humans had of seeing their bodies as 
electrical machines.    

Thomas Campbell, "Rhetoric of the Comic Body" 

From Superman and Spider-man to the Sunday funnies comics  
historically have been a form interested in the human body. The bodies  
that live within the panels of comics however play by their own rules.  
The form can at once be celebratory of the human form and transforming  
it into something that few would  call human. A good comic can come to  
life on the page and stretch the limits of what is considered real. 

This Jason page shows how using animal characters matted on a human form can lessen the bodily affect tied to the characters’ more extreme actions–in this case violence. This sequence would read as horrific, if it were rendered realistically with a human doing the same action. Jason’s deadpan delivery also plays up the fact that it isn’t to be taken gravely.

The comics medium emphasizes a certain elasticity of the human form; a  
freedom from the constrains of realism. The cartoonist is able to use the  
human body as a spring board for their figures, at times to create creatures 
that are simultaneously identifiable and foreign...The human form is  
frequently at the forefront of comics story telling, but the nature of the  
medium allows the  human form to become something not seen is everyday life.  
The body can become a symbol for action or emotion. It can be a stand me for  
one's self or another. In a medium where as much happens in what is seen as  
in what is not seen, the  possibilities are limitless; and the definition of  
the body is ever changing.  

PROJECT SLIDES: See images and descriptions in 
the comments line:   Thomas Campbell Comics Slide Show

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