Altering the body, in both necessary physical or cosmetology-based ways, has long been a tenet in human history. Whether humans attempt to change themselves for the greater good of their health or for the necessity to feel accepted by society or themselves because of their looks, altering the body is not a new idea to any person. However, attention has shifted more recently to technological changes to the body; meaning, adding technology to the body itself for both cosmetic and physical need. This idea of body hacking/bio-hacking, or adding technology to the body for something other than medical necessity, is not only an up-and-coming phenomenon, but has had its influence on the human race since early history, as humans try to move beyond their natural abilities and push the boundary (Merleau-Pont, 2008). In order to understand how body hacking came to be, it is important to first investigate how it came to be and why people now view it as a necessity for human survival in order to optimize the support of conscious life. The main purpose of this first dossier is to first investigate the rationale surrounding body hacking, its arguments and methodologies, as well as its history and shift into the technological era we know today.
Arguments Surrounding Body Hacking
There are three arguments surrounding the ideas of body hacking (Duarte, 2014). One argument for body hacking is the relationship between the body and technology. Body hacking is often used in order to extend the limits of the body, as well as to fill any feelings of being incomplete for an individual. For example, if someone feels as though they need a piece of technology to feel whole as a human, they may choose to insert this piece of technology into their body in order to make them not only unique, but the ability to feel fully functioning as a “whole human.” Durate (2014) also refers to this as a “technological alter ego” effect that may allow for the individual to change their feelings towards their bodies and personal attributes.
A second argument surrounding this phenomenon is that idea that individuals may use these technologies in order to control their environments and futures through physical tools; in this case, the use of technology in the body. For example, individuals may choose to add sensors in their arms that allow them to interact with their environment or allow for storage of digital date in order to have it on them at all times.
A third argument for the “art” of body hacking includes the use of technologies in all things in today’s
society is inseparable from any task in question. Because many individuals may see these body changes as unnecessary, this may limit the ideology and creativity for humans to expand from their ideas. Some also see these changes as evolving and adapting with the changes times; as technology advances, so does the need for our bodies to be able to interact and communicate with it. Because of this, specific technology that is being put into the human body, such as data storage or biomedical interaction units, are seen as the future of human-environment interaction, as well as health advances.
In a media archeological sense, one may see the body currently and in the past as “something that has always been around, but in a less elaborate form” (Zielinski, 2006). The body in a lesser elaborate form (i.e.: how it is without media and technology inserted into it) may be seen as something that has been around for the entirety of human existence; however, by adding technology to it, it evolves and becomes new; we find new in the old (Zielinski, 2006).
What does it mean to be human? This age-old question drives the transhumanism movement, an ideological endeavor aimed at enhancing intellectual, physical, and psychological prowess by melding technology with the human body. Transhumanists study the ethical issues surrounding this biotechnical convergence, and largely aspire to a superior existence, if not an outright goal immortality. Consider the transhumanist declaration published by the UK Transhumanist Association.
The Transhumanist Declaration
1. Humanity will be radically changed by technology in the future. We foresee the feasibility of redesigning the human condition, including such parameters as the inevitability of ageing, limitation on human and artificial intellects, unchosen psychology and physiology, suffering, and our confinement to the planet earth.
2. Systematic research should be put into understanding these coming developments and their long-term consequences.
3. Transhumanists think that by being generally open and embracing of new technology we have a better chance of turning it to our advantage than if we try to ban or prohibit it.
4. Transhumanists advocate the moral right for those who so wish to use technology to extend their mental and physical (including reproductive) capacities, and to improve their control over their own lives. We seek personal growth beyond our current biological limitations.
5. In planning for the future, it is mandatory to take into account the prospect of dramatic progress in technological capabilities. It would be tragic if the potential benefits failed to materialise because of technophobia and unnecessary prohibitions. On the other hand, it would also be tragic if intelligent life went extinct because of some disaster or war involving advanced technologies.
6. We need to create forums where people can rationally debate what needs to be done, and a social order where responsible decisions can be implemented.
7. Transhumanism advocates the well-being of all sentience (whether in artificial intellects, humans, posthumans or non-human animals) and encompasses many principles of modern humanism. Transhumanism does not support any particular party, politician or political platform.
Transhumanism has its roots in humanism, a malleable psychological concept that devotes itself to a human-centered perspective. Transhumanism is humanism on steroids, surpassing mere humanistic tendencies and entering into a realm of cyborgs and sci-fi, where limitations only exist in the imagination. Transhumanists are obsessed with the idea of merging with technology, to the extent that safety concerns are eschewed in favor of pushing the ethical boundaries of self-experimentation.
What makes someone want to install a camera into the back of his head, or graft a human ear into his forearm, or implant an RFID chip under his skin? These Frankenstein concepts are much maligned by those who do not understand how people could embark on such endeavors. Palk (2015) notes:
- "Transhumanism, the movement that aims at radically transforming the human condition through improvements in the areas of physical, cognitive and emotional functioning, has invoked vehement condemnation. This disapproval is frequently informed by the view that it is intuitively and intrinsically ‘wrong’ to tamper with who or what we are, particularly if such changes result in us altering ourselves to the extent that we may no longer be classifiable as biologically human, in terms of membership of the species Homo sapiens. In this regard, it is claimed that transhumanism jeopardises that which, at the most fundamental level, distinguishes human beings and human existence as valuable, worthy and idiosyncratically human. Furthermore, many of the arguments that are informed by this view advocate the preservation of the human form in its current state as something sacred, inviolable or essential to the human being; often without the provision of adequate grounds for these claims. Such arguments are increasingly associated with a notion that is the subject of great interest and debate in bioethics, namely that of human dignity."
But who gets to define what is dignified about human existence and what isn’t? To invoke what is certainly by now almost a cliché, Shakespeare’s Jacques announces that “the infant, mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms” transitions into the “last scene of all, that ends this strange eventful history, is second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”If we don’t question the now ubiquitous rise in medical enhancements - pacemakers, artificial joints and limbs, and cochlear implants, for example - then why do we question the emergence of a movement that seeks to empower the human race through other kinds of technology? What makes implanting a camera into the back of one’s head to counteract the limitations of colorblindness so much different than installing a pacemaker into one’s chest to regulate the heartbeat and keep one alive? Where is that line? As Cordeiro (2014) postulates:
- 'Humans’ can no longer be regarded as a stable category let alone one which occupies a privileged position in relation to all that is subsumed under the category of the nonhuman. On the contrary, humans must be understood as a tenuous entity which is related to the animal, the “natural,” and indeed other humans as well. Humans are at a crossroads like other natural species that are reclassified in the face of new relational dynamics and shifting episte- mological paradigms. Moreover, such dynamics and redefinition serve to reveal the boundaries of humans as a corporal, cognitive, and agency-laden construct. Discovering such boundaries, one may glean where humans end, where humanness is called into question, and where humans may well be able to augment themselves and become more than human.
However, although these body hacking techniques come with great reward, they are also associated with great risk. Since individuals must seek out professionals other than medical doctors for these surgeries, there is high risk for infections, abnormal bruising, or stretching of skin, depending on how large the insert is in relation to the location in the body. For those going through these procedures, the potential for harm is often worth the risk, as they see themselves and their technology as ways to improve the human body and its functions, rather than fix it (Peralta, 2016). Often times, these body hacking individuals relate their technology to those of pacemakers or diabetic pumps in the body; people may not be used to it now, but they will be in the future. Because of this, there is an overwhelming feeling that these types of technology, at least from those in the body hacking community, will become a part of normal human existence as time progresses.
The New Paradigm: Body Hacking in the 2000s and Beyond
As time and technology progress, there are new ways that individuals are able to alter their bodies to become more in tune with the technology surrounding us. These technophiles choose to alter their bodies mainly for recreation or to make their body something that no one else can “replicate,” as it becomes a piece of technology and media. However, body hacking also extends beyond the ideology of putting a sensor into the arm or a LED light into the body. Rather, this can also mean the use of implants to track health diagnoses, the use of 3D printers to aid in reconstructing major bones in the body, and so on.
The wide-ranging term of body hacking was first coined by Lukas Zpira in 2000 (Duartes, 2013; Fiévet, 2012). Those individuals who now use body hacking see it as a means to sync their bodies to more technology; in other words, individuals hope to have this media, technology, and their bodies become one. The body, in this sense, is seen as something malleable and easily altered for the wants and needs to the individual. As this phenomenon continues to grow, individuals often times must seek out tattoo artists or piercing professionals, rather than medical specialists, in order to have these items implanted into their bodies. Medical professionals do not see them as necessary and refuse to do these technical surgeries. One of the major surges for implants has been something called RFID chips. These chips, also called Radio Frequency Identification chips, use radio waves for identifying the chip and what it can all do (Fangming et al., 2015). Individuals can use these chips and their frequencies to unlock doors and they hold encrypted information. While all of this may seem like a thing of magic and science fiction, individuals line up by the hundreds to have these chips implanted at body hacking conventions (Peralta, 2016). These ideals of transhumanism have since taken over stereotypical ideologies within technology, as advancement in the realm of body hacking continues to grow. Individuals now have cameras inserted into the backs of their heads, as well as LED light underneath the epidermis on their hands.
Body hacking is not necessarily a "new" ideology, especially in the terms of transhumanism. Individuals who have included technology in their bodies so not see it as them using technology, but rather them becoming technology and the technology is a part of their being. The more that cybernetics are used, especially within the bodies in a non-medical aspect, the more likely it is that other inidividuals will become used to this idea. From a media archaelogical aspect, we are able to make new from the old; in this case, the body becomes new, even though it is an "old" topic. As technology continues to expand, one must also ask if technology is being taken too far. However, our future lies in the "hands" of technology; it makes sense to move with it instead of against it.
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