In her paper “Unfinished Work: From Cyborg to Cognisphere”, N. Katherine Hayles turns people’s attention from cyborg to a new term “cognisphere” to describe the broader phenomenon contemporarily. This concept “gives a name and shape to the globally interconnected cognitive systems in which human are increasingly embedded.” Utilizing this concept, Robert Willim later in his paper “Walking The Cognisphere: Navigation and Digital Media on The Go” makes an effort to describe the influence and indication of cognisphere by showing its connection with human’s “bodily mobility, walking and cognition”.


More specifically, Willim shows interest in the application of an advanced technology in navigation and locomotion. He narrows down the studying subject from the whole GPS system and focuses on a couple of concrete examples to help depict the interesting co-existence between the humans and this particular technology.

The entrance for us to understand this cognisphere provided by Willim is a quote from Hayles:


In highly developed and networked societies like US, human awareness comprises the tip of a huge pyramid of data flows, most of which occur between machines. (…) Expanded to include not only the Internet but also networked and programmable systems that feed into it, including wired and wireless data flows across the electromagnetic spectrum, the cognisphere gives a name and shape to the globally interconnected cognitive systems in which humans are increasingly embedded. (Hayles 2006:161)


As Hayles suggests that the “co-evolutionary spiral”, an evolutionary process between humans and machines, involves the influence both of biology and culture, William as well in his paper mentions the cultural dimensions of media. What’s different between William and Hayles’ paper is that the former author picks a small perspective to describe the cognisphere while the latter author directly explains the broad topic of cognisphere.


One specific example William gives is an outdoor treasure hunting game called Geocatching. He personally practices it and records his observation of people’s perceptions to show their interconnection with the GPS system in this game. What then are overtly observed is the coordination and the question of subjectivity. Using this technology, the coordination is not merely visual practiced on the screen. Most of the time, users feel a continuous process rather than a fixed point for the changes on the screen corresponding to the changes in users’ movements. Thus the coordination also involves a large part of people’s body movements. The question of subjectivity is also mentioned by Hayles. Using the GPS, it gradually appears confusing to people about who is the guide: the system or the user? This question farther indicates the merging of humans and machines. As William concludes, “the navigational augmentations of the body can be examined in relation to the bodily practices of movement and the experiences of place”(p.668).


These two thoughtful papers lead people to think about the role of technology in our daily life. The phrase that William specifically uses is a metaphor called “epistemic wallpaper”. He argues that even a extremely complicated technology will be well exploited and thus integrated with our life, becoming a normal sector. Advanced technology distributes cognition into different parts. Therefore, technology serves as the extension and sometimes reflection of human’s physical power and cognitive system. Quoted from Hayles’ paper, the world can be huge computational data flows.


However, apart from all the advantages and evolution technology brought, it is necessary to accentuate some restrictions it brought to humans’ strength as well. William insightfully points out that the dependence upon GPS technology confined people’s ability once people lose it in that all the information is collected and analyzed by the system itself. Nowadays it is not hard to find a taxi driver how is not familiar with the roads in a city but can survive with the help of GPS.

Therefore, I think it is safe for me to conclude that our dependence of technology gives part of our power to it. This giving can be regarded as a distributional process for technology then helps us promote our work with more efficiency. Yet it can be also regarded as an idle behavior for as long as we lost it, we lose a particular ability, at least temporarily.


By Haiyan Zhang