What's it Like to be a Cyborg? My First Implant (And My Next)
Perhaps you've seen 'biohacking' articles about people who have a tiny rare Earth magnet implanted in their finger and consider themselves to be cyborgs because of it. I am not the cyborg cops, here to grumpily tell them that they're not real cyborgs. They are technically right. But that's a rather low bar, isn't it?
Wearables also stretch the definition of cybernetics in my book. The Thync you can see on my forehead isn't surgically connected to my body, ergo it's not an implant, which means it doesn't belong in the cybernetics category.
A titanium post drilled into my skull does, though. This is the socket that the actual device attaches to. People often say "Oh, a cochlear implant!" but in fact those are almost entirely internal and work in a very different way. (Pardon the wet hair, fresh out of the shower.)
The device is called a BAHA, or 'Bone Anchored Hearing Aid'. I have almost no hearing on my left side due to permanently dead sensitive hairs in the inner ear. The BAHA takes in sound on that side, then sends it through my skull as vibrations to the working inner ear on the right side. Here's how it looks attached:
It looks larger here than it is just because it's close to the camera. It works on the same principle as those novelty lollipops from a few years ago that would cause you to hear music inside your head when they touch your teeth. This is called 'bone conduction'.
It's made by Oticon and costs a pretty penny ($3,000) but was paid for by taxpayers back when Obamacare was a thing. My partial deafness is a pre-existing condition but I was nevertheless able to get it corrected with this device at no upfront cost to myself.
How does it sound? The 'Infinium" sound processor does an amazing job. It doesn't sound like digital audio. It sounds very natural, like what I hear with my good ear. It doesn't exactly feel like having a working left ear, though. I can now hear what's happening on my left side, but it feels as if it's coming in the right ear. Very strange, but hey, it works.
How was the surgery? Shockingly fast. I was prepped in a few minutes, waited for about an hour, then the surgery was over in about five minutes. I was numbed at the incision site so I felt none of it, nor was it especially painful after the numbing agent wore off.
It is a strange feeling to have a permanent metal bit sticking out of your head though. It's no longer comfortable to sleep on my left side, for example. It conflicts with my Oculus Rift head strap which has to sit on top of it. Anything with a lanyard gets stuck on it going on or coming off my neck.
It also accumulates crust. Whatever you want to call it, the same crust that you rub out of your eyes in the morning. It was strange to discover that. One of the many things you do not anticipate coming with the addition of an artificial piece to your body, which does not readily accept it.
There are upsides though, besides restored hearing. My head has bluetooth now. I can stream calls, notifications and music from my phone directly into my head. The basic functionality of a bluetooth earpiece, but "built in". It's quiet though, so unless I'm in an empty room, I can hear the music better with earbuds.
There are social factors I didn't anticipate either. Media depiction of cyborgs has been...mixed. They are either tragic but heroic freaks, or evil techno-zombies looking to forcibly turn you into one of them.
People you ask about it will joke around, seemingly fine with the concept if unable to take it seriously.....until they meet a cyborg in person. Then the gawking and inappropriately invasive questions begin.
I am fine with sharing info about the implant on a platform like this, of my own volition. It is a different thing to be peppered with questions about it by a stranger who happened to notice it on the train.
They are in the mindset of asking about a consumer product. Which I suppose it is. However it also feels very intimate, like part of my body. That changes how you think about it when it's surgically connected to you.
Suddenly the fact that every person who notices it expects you to describe the details of how it works and its tech specs to you like a salesman becomes very obnoxious indeed. I was happy to the first few times, as I am happy to write one article about it, but it gets old pretty fast.
That might just be me, though. I am not a social person, I don't have a large reservoir of "social energy". Others do, and some with this same implant have taken to decorating it with skins, stickers and chains.
Personalization probably helps with the mild body horror of having machinery bolted to your skull. Just as each cyborg is a unique combination of biology and technology with a different set of implants and different biological characteristics, they naturally desire that their implants not look identical to one another's.
I don't feel this desire. I find comfort in uniformity. I also feel no horror at the grosser aspects of cybernetic surgery. I would not get any frivolous implants, they would need to actually be useful enough to justify it, but I am receptive to more. The Touch Bionics I-Limb Quantum for example is not yet dextrous enough for me. I need to be able to type quickly after all.
I am not interested in gimmicks. Cybernetics are too expensive for that sort of nonsense anyway. I am interested in the pragmatic utility implants offer. No arms or hands for me until they drastically improve. I need them to be exactly as functional as natural limbs down to individual joint motion and full sensation, or no deal.
Legs are a different story, though. I despise walking for transportation purposes. I hike for pleasure which is a different matter, but if I am just schlepping from A to B, I don't want to hoof it. I want to be carried by an electric motor.
Consequently I would not at all mind if my legs were replaced with cybernetic prosthetics. I could then walk anywhere I please but feel none of it. I would not miss sensation in my legs and feet the way I would miss it in my hands, it's not like I go around feeling stuff with my feet.
I do not expect them to ever feel like legs. Cybernetics never feel like the original part of you they replaced. They feel like a tool that's integrated into your body which does the job. That's what cybernetic legs prosthetics would be. An electric vehicle that's part of you, in a sense.
Imagine being able to walk fifty miles without breaking a sweat. Or climb a hundred flights of stairs. Imagine being able to run full tilt, continuously, for five hours. The downside of course is you'd be likely to put on weight, as walking is a major calorie burner that you'd be deprived of.
So, what's next for me? I considered an Implantuino. But it requires recharging and frankly I have too much shit that needs recharging already. Besides, what would I use it for? I am not looking to mangle my body for giggles. Implants need a strong value proposition to attract my attention.
This is the xNTi. It's an implantable NFC transponder. I haven't had it put in because it's been a bitch finding a body mod shop willing to do it. The nearest one is in Seattle. This little guy is worth the trouble though. It can send any phone which is swiped over it to a website of your choosing.
As I'm an up and coming author, naturally I will have it send people to a page where they can find my free short stories and novellas, or possibly to my Steemit. It will act as a digital business card, but an extremely memorable one. It will make such an impression that it will ensure whoever I share my work with via the chip remembers to check it out later.
That's genuinely valuable. Look at all the novelty business cards out there made of carbon fiber, acrylic or laser cut aluminum for the sole purpose of ensuring whoever you give it to remembers to look at it. An implantable business card they swipe with their phone trumps all of those.
As an added bonus, this creeps the shit out of Christians. Although the Bible says the mark of the beast will be an outwardly visible marking like a tattoo on the back of one hand and the forehead, it hasn't stopped Christians from speculating that it would instead be a mandatory implantable tracking device since the 1990s, when such tech started making the news. (Before then, they thought it would be a bar code IIRC.)
NFC cannot be used for tracking purposes. It has no battery. It can only be read by reflecting a radio signal off of it, which powers the chip long enough to send back an altered signal with the requested data in it. It's a "radio mirror" you might say, though what it reflects is different than what enters.
These are people who assume the authors of scripture had special knowledge of the future to the point where they change the words around to fit modern technology to support that belief.
Like some evangelical apologists who believe verses in Revelations about locust swarms actually refer to helicopters, that Gog and Magog were the US and Soviet Union (until it collapsed and the world didn't end) and that the Earth destroying effects would be due to a nuclear war that did not materialize.
People like this never seem to tire of being wrong or let it change their convictions, so probably we'll hear more from them about cybernetics as this trend increases.
Already I have seen plenty of internet wackadoos on Facebook and in Youtube comments claiming transhumanism is a Satanic plot of the New World Order to make us helpless slaves of aliens, which will arrive in a staged first contact event, though the aliens (which will resemble either greys or shape shifting lizard men) are just disguised demons.
None of this appears in the Bible of course. It's the sort of thing that comes out of the brain of somebody who deeply assumes Revelations in particular will soon take place and tries to figure out how to reconcile ancient prophetic descriptions of supernatural events with modern weapons, technology and geopolitics.
I've seen flat Earthers denounce these views as a false flag meant to make them look stupid. But then the transhumanism = NWO, aliens = disguised demons crowd denounces the growing belief in a flat Earth as a false flag meant to make them look stupid. Instead of looking on in consternation, I ought to be selling popcorn to spectators.
Just as Abrahamic religion is the primary source of violence and harassment towards LGBT people today, probably it will be the primary source of antagonism towards cyborgs in the near future because of the fringe theology I've discussed above. I also shudder to think of what they would say and do if aliens ever did make contact.
I picture Pat Robertson accusing a pair of baffled alien ambassadors of being fallen angels in disguise during a live interview, only for the embarrassed mediator to have to explain to them the particulars of what he's talking about and why so many on Earth share his fears.
But really, people who would otherwise like you that instead hate you because of innate traits are increasingly rare. More typically they have only weak prejudice that lies dormant until somebody irritates them. Then, they pick out whatever makes that person different and play it up as something grotesque and immoral.
Not because they actually feel that way, but just to make that person feel small, tainted and "othered". That's the hidden nature of most bigotry, it's more often a way to leverage whatever they imagine you're insecure about to hurt you than a sincere prejudice against that aspect of you.
Armed with this knowledge, the scant instances when somebody has used my surgical history to belittle me were easily brushed off. I'd like to share this understanding with others like me, who have begun to change themselves, so they will not take that sort of inevitable childish ugliness to heart.
I am who I make myself, not what others say that I am. I mean that very literally. For me, the process of self improvement has not only been mental and physical, but technological, and I've only just begun. I have seen the future, and it is beautiful. Nobody there is fearful of cyborgs, because there is nobody without at least some degree of cybernetics in them.
The "other" is only scary until it's you, or someone you already love. That's how change, however strange and initially frightening, is eventually adapted to. It is after all our skill at adapting to change which took us down from the trees, out of the caves and up into space.
We have always been daring explorers of every frontier, and tool users from the start. What is cybernetics but a new frontier? What is it except a logical continuation of our increasingly intimate relationship with our tools?
Will it really be standard homo sapiens who venture to the stars, colonizing distant worlds? Really? Homo sapiens, who need food, water, pressurized oxygenated air, sleep, waste removal, etc.? Is it not easier to change ourselves to thrive in space, than it is to change space so that it is less lethal to us?
Have you ever asked why, in Star Trek, only Geordi had augmented vision? Or why there were no benign cybernetic aliens, only the evil scary Borg? Stuff like this is what we'll look back on and smile at how shortsighted today's scifi authors were, even if they were far-sighted visionaries in other respects.
Having said all that, I definitely understand and agree with the hesitation to allow any sort of brain implants. Although I am enticed by the prospect of perfect memory, a brain implant has the potential to control/disable you in a way that a myoelectric prosthetic or subdermal transponder does not.
As a result I have very mixed feelings about Elon Musk's determination to develop a neural lace. Perhaps there are lines even I won't cross, and this will be the reason my grandchildren call me old fashioned.
That's a bridge I can cross when I come to it though, and a topic for another article.