The Get a Mac (aka I'm a Mac; I'm a PC) ad campaign speaks to posthuman conceptions of the organic and the mechanic. Here, the mac and pc characters serve as metaphors for the posthuman bluring of person and machine.1 The ads offer examples of nonstandard agency, what Pickering paints as an agency that "resides in nondualist—explicitly posthumanist—cultures where our distinctions between the human and the nonhuman are eroded, if not entirely effaced" (244). Like metaphors, the figures in the ads mediate between ideas (the cool guy, the geek) and things (the mac, the pc).

This blurring of human and machine poses problems, clearly, when we lose track of the slippage, the metaphoric play, and take the alignment of human and machine as solid truth. The performance of the figures in the ads reinforces ideas, feeding systems that become what Luhman calls "products of their own operations" (771), systems that themselves become machine like and human at the same time, but that also become binding and controlling.2

But the organic mechanic blurring also yields transformative power akin to that found in metaphors. A machine can be a "balance point, liminal between the human and nonhuman worlds" (Pickering 7). Here, our engagement with machines, and with macs and pcs particularly, offers promise. Machines make the best metaphors, bring transportation, when they participate with humans in the liminal business of engaging the material world. When they provide layer palettes for blending images, timelines for sequencing sounds, text editors for arranging words, machines become about the making of meaning, amplifying their already human attributes.3

  1. As Cary Wolfe (2010) puts it "what was previously a rigid, uncrossable ontological boundary between two sides of the distinction—between nature and culture, between the biological and the mechanical, and so on—is now made dynamic and as it were portable in the sense that the same formal mechanism may now be used to think, and link across what were in the past discrete ontological domains" (206). As Wolfe also points out, these crossings include boundaries between humans and "nonhuman animals . . . between the living and the mechanical or technical" (6). back

  2. The challenge is participating in blendings of humans and machines (or other elements of culture) without having our own agency overly bound by the network or system. Neitzsche tells us, truth becomes "a movable host of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms: in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, and embellished, and which, after long usage, seem to a people to be fixed, canonical, and binding" (84). To say, "I'm a Mac" is to agree to participate in what Latour might call a panorama, "a powerful stor[y] [from which] we get our metaphors for what 'binds us together,' the passions we are supposed to share, the general outline of society's architecture, the master narratives with which we are disciplined" (189). back

  3. When machines become part of our making activities, our relationships with them shift, as when we fix things in the material world. Matthew Crawford explores this making and fixing in terms of mechanics:

    Rebuilding a motor, then, is more humanly involved than assembling one on an assembly line. It is a craft activity. But what does this mean, exactly? We have seen that a mechanic's perception is not that of a spectator. It is an active process, bound up with his [sic] knowledge of patterns and root causes. Further, his knowledge and perception are bound up with a third thing, which is a kind of ethical involvement. He looks for clues and causes only if he cares about the motor, in a personal way. (Crawford 95)

    Our relationships with computing machines take on similar ethical, personal involvements. We become companions in an effort to create transformations in the material world. back