The fourth revolution is also enlightening, because it enables us to understand ourselves better, as a special kind of informational organ- ism. This is not equivalent to saying that we have digital alter egos, some Messrs Hydes represented by their @s, blogs, tweets, or https. This trivial point only encourages us to mistake ICTs [Information and communications technology] for merely enhancing technologies, with us still at the centre of the infosphere. Our informational nature should not be confused with a ‘data shadow’ either, an otherwise useful term introduced to describe a digital profile generated from data concerning a user’s habits online. The change is deeper. To understand it, consider the distinction between enhancing and augmenting technologies.
The handles, switches, or dials of enhancing technologies, such as axes, guns, and drills, are interfaces meant to plug the appliance into the user’s body ergonomically. This is akin to the cyborg idea. Instead, the data and control panels of augmenting technologies are interfaces between different environments. On the one hand, there is the human user’s outer environment. On the other hand, there is the environment of the technology. Some examples are the dynamic, watery, soapy, hot, and dark environment of the dishwasher; or the equally watery, soapy, hot, and dark but also spinning environment of the washing machine; or the still, aseptic, soapless, cold, and potentially luminous environment of the refrigerator. These technologies can be successful because they have their environments ‘wrapped’ and tailored around their capacities. This is the phenomenon of ‘enveloping the world’ that I shall analyse in Chapter 7. Now, despite some superficial appearances, ICTs are not merely enhancing or augmenting technologies in the sense just explained. They are forces that change the essence of our world because they create and re-engineer whole realities that the user is then enabled to inhabit. Their digital interfaces act as (often friendly) gateways.