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Go-go gadget vision or a cure for the blind? A rhetorical analysis of Google X's bionic contact lens

Thu, November 12, 8:30 to 10:00am, Denver Sheraton, Governor's Square 9


In this paper, we will outline a rhetorical approach to recent online and print news concerning the bionic contact lens, a hardware invention promoted as a ‘future’ personal device technoculturally akin to a smartphone. In light of the public release of Google X’s patent applications for miniature embedded cameras and glucose monitoring in early 2014, this paper explores the rhetorical justifications employed in the news coverage surrounding the proposed smart lens devices. By analyzing a large corpus of mainstream texts, we identify the rhetorical means through which the bionic contact lens is instantiated in both medical and transhumanist discourses. Employing Roland Barthes’s semiotic theory of Myth as a critical model, we argue that the first medical justification for using bionic contacts significantly obfuscates but ultimately promotes human enhancement. This transhumanist vision endorses enhancement and augmentation without an identifiable purpose or room for critical dialogue concerning the cultural, social, and ethical implications of this new device. New media are not only predicted and promoted during phases of invention; their social function, implied values, and commercialized agenda are proposed long in advance of product release. This paper argues that cultural studies of digital culture should also focus on the dynamic relationship between present and implied future practices inculcated in popular discourses.