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Chris Hables Gray, 'Cyborg Citizen'

Routledge 2002; ISBN 0 415 91978 9; US$19.95

This book is fascinating, funny, at times truly hopeful - and at others pretty despairing - and certainly provocative. It took a year for the publishers to send it to us, and a further six months for me to find the time to read and review it. However, it has been worth the wait. If you are interested in the politics of technology in any way - read this book. It will stimulate your mind and make you ask questions.

Its author is frequently referred to as a “guru of cyborg theory”, which makes him sound kind of nerdy and remote - lost in cyberspace somewhere with a bunch of other academic theorists. He isn't. Chris Hables Gray is firmly of this world and his appreciation for grassroots organising, combined with an acute analysis of militarism, and an ability to discuss the relationship humans have with machines, combine to make this a gripping and, intellectually and politically challenging, read.

If you have previously read (or tried to read) Postmodern War or The Cyborg Handbook and got a bit lost (I did), panic not! The best thing about this book is that it is very easy to read and thus makes some quite spaghetti-like issues very accessible.

As (fairly accurately) described on the jacket, the author “offers the first guide to `posthuman' politics, framing the key issues that could threaten or brighten our technological future”. From the outset Gray asks questions: “does participatory evolution require participatory government?” he goes on to pose further equally hard questions - that demand a considered response (if not an actual - possibly unknowable - answer).

Chapters cover a wide range of cyborg issues: sex, identity, family, gender, work and reflect on the impact our cyborged selves have on these issues and vice versa. Through the telling of real stories this book constantly brings to the reader's attention the little things - which most of us in the western world experience in daily life - that make us cyborg: from the vaccines pumped into us when we are tiny, to the choices we make about who we are and how we live now.

While many of us will become cyborged through medical intervention (frequently not freely chosen), more and more of us are finding the ability and desire to modify ourselves with a certain amount of free will.

The final chapter's final section “The future is not yet written” (a quote from the Terminator II film), while including a very sweet story about the Pakrac peace project and the use of the ZaMir network during the Yugoslav wars, tells us that technologies are political and argues that “a more democratic technological order must be based on a number of principles, especially participatory citizenship”.

In Cyborg citizen, Gray manages to present a range of quite complex ideas that, while beginning to present challenges now, will only get more problematic in the future. As he points out “If humans are going to accelerate our own evolution, we have to make political changes that keep pace ... Along with new technologies we need new political institutions. We must look ahead”.

How very true!

Topics: Technology