Ada Lovelace Day celebrates inspirational women in technology. This post is dedicated to Quinn Norton, a journalist who specialises in covering the fields of body hacking and functional body modification. Unusual choice? You bet! Inspirational? Definitely
Body hacking is, like all other forms of volition: the freedom to enact your will upon a system
Quinn embodies (no pun intended) freedom. Her viewpoint is that in our society we often have less control over our own bodies than we do over other objects such as hardware. Medical procedures are tightly regulated and governed not from the perspective of individual freedom, but societal need. She is an advocate of something called functional body modification – implanting devices, taking drugs and having surgery that enhances our abilities.
This has particular importance to me. I have a distance vision of less than 10 inches, am morbidly obese and have a 3 generational family history of premature death due to cardiac failure. My father was one of the first people in Australia to have an implantable defibrillator – a machine which regulated his heartbeat and actively restarted his heart on a number of occasions when it went into nonviable rhythm. Without life there is no technology. I can’t code when I’m dead.
That said, I’m conservative. I won’t get laser eye surgery to restore my vision to 20/20, yet happily underwent gastric banding to reduce obesity. Without Quinn’s view of body modification – that it is an expression of freedom – it would have taken me a lot longer to reach this decision and take a positive step. Would I take Provigil to make myself more alert? I’m not sure, but thanks to Quinn Norton now I think about body enhancement in a different way and am more open to freeing my body from the constraints that have been imposed upon it by nature.
Using technology to alter the body is nothing new. Surgery has been around for over 100 years. However for the most part it has been mechanical – amputation via hacksaw, bloodletting and debridement via scalpel, relocation of joints with brute force. Technology has only entered mainstream medicine in the last 40-50 years – with lasers for surgery, neurosurgery via telescope, better monitoring through machines. It is a matter of time before the body and technology will merge, perhaps in unexpected ways. Will the next generation be part man, part machine? Will becoming part machine be an evolutionary requirement due to the pace of change – the sheer amount of information that has to be absorbed to be productive? How will social status be changed by the ability to enhance bodies? Thin people are better than fat people!
What it means to be female is also changing. As a female, I can control reproduction and choose to have a baby – only when I want to. If I don’t want children, I can still use my body for the benefit of others and act as a surrogate for a friend or colleague who can’t carry to term – an expression not just of freedom but of altruism. Functional body modification also brings with it new challenges – such as the ability to subscribe to changing societal norms – enormous perky breasts that seem to defy gravity, faces that never sag and bums that never droop.
Quinn Norton is a pioneer – using her own body as a platform with which to experiment, push boundaries and continually question what it means to be human.