Digital Umbilical

Courtesy of MicrosoftNot long ago I remarked that a practice had most certainly entered the mainstream if Microsoft, one of the world's richest companies, represented it as Office clip art. In that case I was referring to the practice of watching television while exercising on cardio apparatus — the perfect circuitry that is created when body flows to stationary bike and back again, rhythmically complementing a parallel process in which mind flows to telescreen and back again.

When I got my first taste of a commercial fitness club, I was struck by the bank of televisions that faced the cardio equipment area, each tuned to soap operas, sports programs, or 24-hour news channels, depending on the time of day. Data downloads or consumption program patches to make the body production process more profitable, no doubt.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

But suppose the telescreen was showing a different program. Suppose that the "show" constituted a closed-circuit surveillance of the child care centre at the fitness club? This feature is currently becoming more commonplace in the sportscapes of contemporary fitness and suggests an interesting consequence of the inertia that develops when one exercises on standard cardio apparatus: one is now able to watch one's baby the entire time during a workout.

To understand the gestation of such a development, we must look back to the submarines of WWI, which required the development of vision without sight to detect enemy boats while underwater. Thus, the introduction of active sonar, which functioned by pulsing sound outwards and then measuring the waves that would reflect back from any object within range.

It was after WW2 that a direct descendent of this technology, in the form of ultrasonic sonography, would be repurposed by the medical establishment as a means of looking within the body — to see, among other things, developing foetuses in utero. Already we see the emergence of a digital umbilical delivering information from the baby to its parents and medical authorities, while its organic equivalent runs in parallel from the placenta to deliver nutrient-rich blood. Sound is used to create an image of the baby, the acoustic rendered optic.

To borrow from Virilio, it is military technology and a particular requirement to organize perception in the murky depths of the ocean battlefield that at a later point in time expedites an endocolonization of the human body.

Of course, once the baby leaves the abyss of the womb, light penetrates the darkness, mutating the digital umbilical from one that facilitates an acoustic vision to a more classical (though remoted) optic vision that takes place when the mother is exercising on cardio equipment while watching her loved one via closed circuit camera. Separation anxiety assumes a different form by shifting to the parents, since in the digital sense, the child is yet to be fully born, remaining instead attached to its digital umbilical.

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  1. Amateur says:

    When I was in graduate school I did my thesis research in the field of helioseismology, which uses propagating (ultra-low-frequency) sound waves to look at the inside of the Sun and other stars.

    This is another example of the use of "vision without sight" to look somewhere that we can't otherwise see. Most of the electromagnetic radiation that arrives at the Earth from the Sun is completely useless for studying the solar interior. It all originates from the very thin skin of the star.