Investigating the Cyborg Athlete

Have you ever invested so much time and energy into a topic? Understanding the ins and the outs, how it works and what it means? Well that’s me when analysing the influence technology has on sports.

For the purpose of this blog post, I want to take a particular focus on the research surrounding the topic of Cyborgs in Sport and the Olympics.

What are they? How do they work? Are they ethical? Does technology have to be obvious and mechanical or subtle and technical?

According to the Oxford Dictionary the term ‘cyborg’ is defined as “an integrated man-machine” and “a person whose physical tolerances or capabilities have been extended beyond normal human limitations by a machine or other external agency that modifies the body’s functioning”.

The application of technology in sport raises anxiety, analysis of different articles and journals shows a divide of opinions. Arguments surround the idea of whether using and/or allowing wearable technology can be classified as ‘cheating’ or deterring from the concept that sport relies on your own ability, rather than being used in order to enhance and help the performance of the athlete.

F. Lopez says, “The cyborg threatens deep-seated convictions about both sports and ourselves”. He aligns his theory with the example from bioethicist, Michael Sandel. Sandel uses the example of the bionic baseball player to argue his case against human enhancement technology. He argued cyborgised baseball players and the use of bionic arms eliminates the human element of sport, “the descent of sport into spectacle is not unique to the age of genetic engineering. But it illustrates how performance-enhancing technologies, genetic or otherwise, can erode the part of athletic and artistic performance that celebrates natural talents and gifts” (Sandel, 2009). I found that Lopez and Sandel emphasised that technological enhancement altars the crux of sport that is the human element.

For more on ‘The Case Against Perfection‘ check out an article by the Atlantic.

Where do we draw the line between artificial enhancements and enhancement that ultimately benefits the athlete and progressing with the technological revolution?

Andy Miah explains “sport is described as existing on a continuum of technological change, where technology becomes increasingly necessary as it becomes more apparent that the human body cannot sustain limitless, unaided enhancement”. We have now grown into such an advanced society where technology in all shapes and forms is improving our human abilities, as Miah says, sport is evolving with technology. Rather than relying on the progression and natural enhancement of human strength and performance (not relying on doping), can we now say we are relying on the latest technology of our swimsuits for our professional swimmers, or the latest flyknit technology for long distance runners.

Miah says that we must first consider the interest sport has in performance enhancement. “The concept of performance enhancement has had strong associations with elite competition, where the importance of competition and winning is paramount”. Sport places a great emphasis and importance on the ability to excel, in past years this emphasis on excelling has often seen athletes turning to drug enhancements and doping regimes prior to important events such as the Olympic Games. Therefore other methods of excelling have been evaluated in the contexts of fair play, paternalism, dehumanisation and social-contracts. Therefore, sport require performance enhancement to be achieved in a ‘legitimate’ respect.

I created an online survey, where 60 recipients answered questions and expressed their thoughts towards performance enhancement in sport and the concept of athletes as cyborgs. More than 50% of responders voted ‘No’ when answering whether or not wearable technology and performance enhancement was a valid means of excelling in sport. One responder explained, “Sports is a showcase of how well humans perform. A technology enhancement takes away the human factor in the game”.

For example, Miah refers to a case in 2000 were Speedo introduced a Fast-skin swimming costume which cause a deal of controversy in the swimming world. The suit was a full body suit; the material was modelled to resemble sharkskin, which can help enhance the performance of the athlete.

A study on this suit revealed that it provides a 3% advantage to the athlete, causing officials to question the legitimacy of the device in correlation to the rules. The governing body Federation Internationale de Natation Amateur (FINA), accepted the suit by evaluating whether the suit was deemed as a device. Rules set out by FINA stated “no swimmer is permitted to use or wear any device that may aid speed, buoyancy, or endurance during a competition”. Researchers such as Miah who have reviewed the rules and outcome explain that there is not enough evidence for justification of its acceptance. He explains that “the ability to distinguish legitimate technology from illegitimate technology is problematic; justification seem tenuous and poorly considered”. Moreover, Miah’s views reflect the evolution of society, if we become dependent on these technologies it seems impossible to stop them from continuing to enter.

Although on the other end of the spectrum, an article written by Eliza Strickland casts a different light on the topic. In this article, she reports on the world’s first Cybathlon – where “people with disabilities used robotic technology to turn themselves into cyborg athletes“. The games were held in Zurich, Switzerland The Cybathlon “[celebrated] pure human brawn… [rejoicing] the combined power of muscle and machine”. During this event spectators saw a paraplegic athlete get out of his wheelchair to compete in the exoskeleton race, did it show the evolution and use of Ekso Bionics but it showcased the athlete, Strickland breaks down each event and the use of technology.

During a conversation with a peer, they argued that the following arguments cover two different topics under the umbrella of Cyborg athletes. But my question is it really? Like the bionic arm or the Fast-skin or the exoskeleton these technologies are enhancing human performance, however to what degree should these governing associations permit the use of technology in sport. While Miah, Lopez and others argue that it deters from what sport is, Strickland places the topic in a different light.

There is more research to come, however through the analysis of several academic sources drawing a conclusion on the ethics behind Cyborg athletes still remains unanswered.

Here’s to the next several weeks of investigation!

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Arsenal vs. Swansea

Since beginning the season Arsenal has had 7 wins leading the to second place on the EPL ladder, victory is sweet.

As week 8 of the EPL season was approaching, Arsenal announced that they would be arsenal_vs_swansea_250314.jpgwithout Giroud and Ramsey. However, this did not setback the team, as they took out Swansea in a 3-2 lead. Walcott scoring the first two goals, and Ozil finally stepping up the plate and perfectly executing a volley a great way to celebrate his 28th birthday.

This week’s game was viewed in the comfort of my very own bed, lonesome to say the least but worth it to see the boys fight till the end.

Watching Arsenal play is a favourite pastime of mine, however, what I have found is that the experience is not the same when watching with friends. While the company can often be annoying, it is the people and the atmosphere that create the ultimate viewing experience.IMG_6300.jpg The constant bickering of rivals and the tension as the players dribble the ball up to the goal for execution creates the suspense, and once they score the feeling of relief and happiness is indescribable.

This week was not as enjoyable as the last, while the game was neck-to-neck sitting in bed  alone removed the climax of the game. Listening to myself quietly chant and cheer as Walcott took out the first two goals of the game was just not the same.

Fans do not only connect to sports through stars and places but also through the communication and social currency it generates. Sports events are social gatherings where the supplementary events and experiences are often more important than the actual game. One of the fundamental advantages of social currency is that it appeals to the deeply rooted desire of people to be part of crowds. This factor is critical to the popularity of fan-zones, travelling to away games, viewing parties, sports-bars and – more recently – the dramatic ‘socialization’ of the sports fan.

Fan socialisation ultimately is what has a dominate influence on your viewing experience. I think this was proven correct in my sit in, my viewing habits in comparison to week 4 changed. For example, my media use increased by more than 50% in areas such as social media conversations and media activity. Like my male friends, I began to involve myself in online conversations with my friends and others from around the world. I began to notice that I was using the game almost as background noise while playing games such as 1010! and Candy Crush. My attention would shift to my laptop as the commentators and ground began to create suspense as either team’s were shifting closer to the goals. And due to the early hours of the morning, the comfort of my own bed at the best of times I would often fall asleep.

In the process of viewing this week’s game, I noticed that my movie habits crossed over. These examples are how my attention span and dynamic of my bedroom influence my viewing experience:

  •  The way I assemble my pillows in my bed
  • Positioning of my laptop
  • Every 10 minutes I would put my phone down and focus on the game
  • The process of checking social media: Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and finally emails
  • I always eat/chew when there is no speaking or an ad break
  • Room must be dark apart from the laptop and phone

This lonesome viewing experience highlights how the company of an audience enhances the viewing experience. In my opinion, it adds to the atmosphere, making the game more enjoyable to watch. However, it has emphasised viewing habits and attention spans, by viewing the game alone I noticed that I had a constant habit or desire to be on my phone. From a research experiment conducted by Microsoft, it found that “Young respondents were more likely to display addiction-like behaviors when it came to their devices. For example, 77 percent of people aged 18 to 24 responded “yes” when asked “When nothing is occupying my attention, the first thing I do is reach for my phone,” compared with only 10 percent of those over age 65. Out of the 18 to 24 age group, more than half admit to checking their phone every 30 minutes or less and over three-fourths used their portable devices while watching TV“. Furthermore, it intertwines the idea of personal devices in a public and private space, in this instance I was in a private space. However, due to my media activity across a range of various platforms, I was participating in public activity.the-new-retail-boundaries-private-vs-public-spaces-of-shopping-9-638.jpg

As a result of viewer habits during games, the EPL has adopted Twitter, Facebook and various other accounts. By doing so it integrates the viewing and social media experience together, therefore blurring this idea of public and private viewing habits.

This week’s viewing experience has taught me how media influences individuals watching experience. And also allowed me to value how good company is when watching one of your favourite sports.

Till next week, Up the Gunners!

Calling all soccer fanatics

With the ever-growing technological advancements our society is experiencing, our most simplest and traditional activities are transforming.

For instance Digital Storytelling has had an incredible influence, it is the combination of text, photographs, animation, sound etc which are used as an ‘expressive medium’ online-collaboration.jpgcombining various forms of subject matter. Couldry explains that the movement has popularised the means of producing and exchanging stories afforded by digital media. However at the core of storytelling are story circles, they are at the centre of collaborative and transformative learning. Couldry describes the concept of story circle as “a group of people sitting face-to-face commit to produce stories and listen to each other’s stories“.

Although like any project that requires technology and collaboration, researchers are able to identify success and limitations. As part of Couldry’s project, he devised three concepts: multiplications, spatialising (narratives of narratives) and habits of recognition. Multiplication refers to the relationship that is created by the story and the platform, as a result of the convergence of media and technology it has allowed for an ever-evolving communication scope. Spatialising explores the the creation of a narrative within a narrative based on its geography. Lastly habits of recognition highlights how differently the communication occurs when face-to-face and over social media, however interacting over social media does not hinder collaboration. Couldry explains that “the digital story circle does not replace relationships… but provides a means for sustaining and amplifying them“.

Understanding Couldry’s breakdown of the factors of a digital story circle, has allowed to identify a potential topic for the upcoming digital project.

Growing up in a sporty household and as a former athlete, tsports-watching1.jpghe nature of watching sporting
events has drastically changed. Now you are able to almost have the same experience of
attending the game, but presently seated in your own lounge room, eyes glued to the newest high definition television and surround sound blaring. Could we call this a man cave?

As an avid sports watcher, my viewing has gradually spanned over a range of channels on both the Free to Air channels, Foxtel and now online streaming channels. While we now have the luxury of being able to watch out favourite sporting teams in the comfort of our homes, our access to such games and events are dramatically changing.

 

For the upcoming digital project I have decided that I will be focusing and observing how jMtu4x25.pngaudiences watch the EPL. The way I intend to present the project will be through a range of blogposts, recounting my observations and experiences in different environments. I also want to include public opinion, therefore conducting a survey will also give me insight into where soccer fans prefer to watch their games and how atmosphere effects this.

Generations at war

Every generation has its own distinct characteristics, and the way each and every one has interacted with digital media vastly differs. It is said that older Gen Y’s and all of Gen X can be described as the ‘digital immigrants’, preferring TV over youtube. Whereas younger Gen Y’s and Gen Z can be considered ‘digital natives’, preferring to surf the social media world and pass time on Youtube.

As the more newer generations are growing up their abilities to interact and work online is becoming far more advanced. We are now in a world were connectivity is so easy and thereScreen Shot 2016-08-22 at 11.54.40 AM.png is now a heavy reliance on ‘digital machines’.

As a result of our constant reliance on our devices, it is driving change in the media landscape. The changes are almost so instant and noticeable as people are cutting TV chords and instead now paying up to $14.99 a month for a premium and unlimited package on Netflix.

However it is not only the latest online streaming programs that are kissing the traditional television package goodbye, it is the younger generations interest in exploring TV shows, movies and sport from around the world. The interest no longer lies only in the local sporting events or national TV, rather interests are now wanting to explore on a global level.

My boyfriend, an avid TV show and movie watcher, sports fan and soccer fanatic (Arsenal to be exact). However his show/movie consumption is mostly done off the computer, a mixture of torrented TV shows ranging from Suits, The Walking Dead and Power and live streamed sports events. “Watching shows off the internet is easier and instant. I can get them a day earlier without the constant Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 12.46.02 PM.pngannoyance of pointless TV commercials”. However when Foxtel announced that they no longer will be showing all Live English Premier League games he was not impressed and his television consumption was cut more than half. “We can stream games but most of the time the streams are unclear and if you have Facebook there is no point waiting for the repeats because someone will have spoiled it,” he said. “It is good publicity for Optus and they are offering  more options than what Foxtel ever did, but for those of us who aren’t with Optus it is really annoying because we aren’t left with many secure options.”

From 1,677,000 Australian EPL watchers, “15% of EPL viewers switched broadband provider in the past 12 months, compared with 10% of all Australians 14+ with a fixed line service in their home. ”  “EPL viewers are also more likely than other fixed broadband customers to stream TV, movies or video via computer during an average four weeks: 44% compared with 38% of all people with a fixed-line internet connection at home.”

Going back to the interview I completed with my dad, he laughed when I asked if streaming shows or sporting events would be something he would consider. “Why would I want to stream anything and have to stare at a tiny computer screen? I go on the internet to check my emails and I watch my TV shows to relax on the lounge after a hard days work. If I had to be on the internet to watch TV I wouldn’t bother.” As you can tell he was not a fan of the ideas merging.

As ‘millennials‘ are advancing in technology, networks such as the EPL are now expanding 56VRLRFE_400x400.jpgtheir outreach to fans beyond games, live broadcasting and merchandising. They are also tackling social media to reach out to fans and gain a greater viewing. This can be seen through twitter @premierleague, where live updates and the latest news can be found.

It is said that traditional television may be seeing its last years, as a result of the internet and social media influence. However for people like my dad and many others, the internet isn’t as he described “the be all and end all”. Maybe traditional television won’t fade so quickly.