The Unbecoming of my Broken Laptop – Pauline Munnich
What does it mean to design and perform as a robot? In the seminar “Robotic Imaginaries” several speakers discussed how theatre and robots informed each other and how by bringing robots to the theatre it opened up new ways of designing robots and new imaginaries of what robots can be.
Where before I was easily reminded of an interesting topic to write about in a blog post, this time around I was having quite a hard time coming up with one. As I kept adding and rewriting parts of the blog, my laptop decided to provide me with a fitting example of the unbecoming we discussed during the seminar, turning itself off in what almost felt like a tiny protest due to the recent mistreatment it had endured. You see, a couple of weeks ago, I accidentally tripped over its charger, which it currently has to almost constantly be connected to as the old battery can no longer stay charged for long, toppling it off my laptop stance onto one of its corners, effectively breaking its case. As I am too stubborn to get it replaced (and let’s be fair living on a meagre student budget), I instead got the case glued back together, meant to only elongate my laptop’s life with a year. Unfortunately for my clumsy self, I may have accidentally dropped it on the other corner, risking the recent glue job. Thus, it felt almost like an act of fitting revenge when it decided to halt my writing process by shutting off for a bit.
What this long story is trying to get at is that as I was trying to come up with a topic befitting of what was discussed during the seminar, I wondered, by my laptop deciding to give me an unwanted break to undisturbedly sit with my own thoughts, in what ways the technology around me has already been unbecoming and what exciting new technologies we could imagine by extending the unbecoming robot to the broader unbecoming technology. Almost all technologies we create, including robots, seem to be designed as servo-machines, created to serve us in some manner to make our lives easier.
However, technologies sometimes fail us, revolting against how we wish to use them, creating a break in this power dynamic that we employ. For a second, as the panic settled in whether I had saved another paper I had been working on, I was at the mercy of my laptop. In its moment of rebellion, the power dynamic had been turned around; my laptop had taken charge. It reminded me of relational antagonism where the relation “would be predicated not on social harmony, but on exposing that which is repressed in sustaining this semblance of this harmony, it would thereby provide a more concrete and polemical grounds for rethinking our relationship to the world and to one other”(Bischop, 2004, 79). Although Bischop here refers to art performances that create relational antagonism, I wonder if this can exist in the interactions that we have with technologies as well, and whether, similar to the questioning of social relations, it can help question our relation to technologies as tools too. When my laptop decided to act against my will, I was made incredibly aware that it was not a mere tool, its brokenness had started to give it a particular behaviour of its own and made me rethink how I was interacting with it. As frightened as I was for the consequences of my future essays, part of me was curious about what trick it was going to pull next.
So often, when technology does not work or acts in a way we do not wish, we dismiss it as broken and no longer useful. It prompted me to think: what technologies have been discarded because they were seen as dysfunctional? What would happen when we create technologies with this alternative method of unbecoming and dysfunctional? How could this broaden our idea of technological imaginaries? Would then all our future computers shut off when they feel like it?
Bischop, Claire. (2004).“Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics.” October, (110): 51-79.