One evening when I returned from a long evening stroll, the Instagram world had toppled; it was almost like mayhem. Carefully viewing stories of my friends who have alternate accounts, a few of my favorited poetry pages, and other small business accounts from where I usually shop – all were blaring the same horn! A massive Instagram outage had caused a furor over accounts losing followers within seconds, some of the accounts being suspended. Honestly, it felt like a crisis, especially with the tectonic shifts in Twitter only from a few days ago.

The Instagram outage was confirmed via tweets, but the nature of the outage seemed absurd. In my history of using the platform, I haven’t come across an outage this bizarre, but it made me backtrack a few steps and think through an interesting theory I read several years ago. Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Feminism emerged from an essay she wrote in 1985 titled “A Cyborg Manifesto”. Our imagination may fuse to understand the word “cyborg” as being part-human, part-machine or even something right out of the Frankenstein novel’s monster. But it is none of that, and it is a simple idea with complex implications, just like this time’s Instagram outage.

Haraway’s essay calls upon feminists to use technology for social progress, moving away from the traditional and essentialist perceptions of gender in everyday life. Before that, one is to define the term “cyborg”, as mentioned by Haraway. Owing to our increasing involvement with technologies, each individual has merged with the machines becoming a cyborg (a phrase that combines “organism” and “cybernetic”). The term cyborg is also a metaphor for political activity and conflict. In an interview with Wired magazine, Haraway clarified that being a cyborg does not always include having silicon chips implanted under the skin or having mechanical pieces attached to one’s body. Instead, it implies that the human body has developed traits that it would not have been able to do on its own, such as extending life. Even maintaining physical fitness is more technological, with workout equipment, various nutritional supplements, and apparel and footwear explicitly made for athletic activity.

Furthermore, the culture surrounding fitness would not have been possible without the idea that the human body is a highly effective machine whose performance can be enhanced through time. These new digital health tools enable tracking, recording, and turning into data various physical actions. These data are conveniently downloadable into a digital database where cutting-edge algorithms can examine them to produce statistics on a single person or hundreds of people.

Our smartphones are an extension of our memory and even our mental capabilities resulting in an Instagram outage taking the status of nothing short of a phenomenon. Making one compelled to think that this user-creator binary was irked and challenged with one glitch in the grand orchestra of the Instagram world. Some even fear the loss of “followers” or the community they’ve built over the years. We can be present remotely and outside our temporal and spatial frameworks thanks to technological developments in GPS and communication. These technological developments expand the human species and improve our mental and physical capacities turning us into cyborgs.

The widely spread #MeToo movement, the recent anti-hijab movement in Iran, pro-hijab movement in India gained enormous momentum through these social media platforms. Haraway, in calling each one of us cyborgs, advocated the “feminist” use of social media for voicing opinions, advocating, taking charge of the narratives, and sharing their lived experiences. In short, using the extended cyborg arm in the form of our smartphones combined with social media. Cyborg, in this context, becomes the hybrid of machine and organism – a creature of social reality and the one we find in fiction. The social reality is the lived social experiences in the present context of women’s experiences. For example, a fantastic initiative called the “Museum of Rape Threats and Sexism” is a project that highlights the power of social art. This project aims to “memorialise verbal violence that women go through every day”, which is most often normalised and brushed under the carpet.

Cybernetics challenges gender norms in this situation. Women have ingrained that it is in their “nature” to become mothers and wives as ‘destiny’, and that they belong to the weaker sex, are submissive and incapable of independent thought . According to Haraway, these roles cannot be altered if they are all considered “natural”. Through online games, discussion forums, or social media, where our identities can be as varied as the online platforms we use, the social aspect of technology plays a part in the formation of our identities. Men and women, on the other hand, are both social constructs, and nothing about them is intrinsically “natural” or absolute.

Haraway’s argument skips over addressing other significant intersections like accessibility, race, and colour and how each intersection would have a different impact. Despite several shortcomings, the essay is a source of discourses and discussions frequently in feminist circles. The erasure of these identities overnight, or tampering with these identities, feels threatening, especially when this identity became the sole channel to “connect” while remaining physically distant in the COVID-19 pandemic with other human beings as a means of subsistence and earning a continued livelihood, for education to continue, for necessities and groceries being ordered – in short, for every possible human need that there is in these last two years of the worldwide pandemic. I will leave you all with this quote by Michel Foucault that resonated with me reading through all the outage outrage splattered across social media.

“From the idea that the self is not given to us, I think that there is only one practical consequence; we have to create ourselves as a work of art.”