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Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology

Volume 21, Issue 1, 2017

Hub Zwart
Pages 24-54

“Extimate” Technologies and Techno-Cultural Discontent
A Lacanian Analysis of Pervasive Gadgets

According to a chorus of authors, the human life-world is currently invaded by an avalanche of high-tech devices referred to as “emerging,” ”intimate,” or ”NBIC” technologies: a new type of contrivances or gadgets designed to optimize cognitive or sensory performance and / or to enable mood management. Rather than manipulating objects in the outside world, they are designed to influence human bodies and brains more directly, and on a molecular scale. In this paper, these devices will be framed as ‘extimate’ technologies (both intimate and external; both embedded and foreign; both life-enhancing and intrusive), a concept borrowed from Jacques Lacan. Although Lacan is not commonly regarded as a philosopher of technology, the dialectical relationship between human desire and technological artefacts runs as an important thread through his work. Moreover, he was remarkably prescient concerning the blending of life science and computer science, which is such a distinctive feature of the current techno-scientific turn. Building on a series of Lacanian concepts, my aim is to develop a psychoanalytical diagnostic of the technological present. Finally, I will indicate how such an analysis may inform our understanding of human life and embodiment as such.

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