The Body Electric

I am so excited. I had an enormously rational and insightful writing exercise and discussion with my 8th grade students about the future availability of cosmetic, recreational and medical body modification. While excited by the possibility of restoring sight or hearing, or creating replacement limbs, the students expressed skepticism regarding other, less critical alterations.

The topic arose from discussions of two popular young adult book series. In the first, Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, the young protagonists obtain many tattoos as rites of passage to show their “dauntless” nature. In the second, Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, the government forces all sixteen year old citizens to undergo extreme body modification surgery in order to make everyone equally beautiful and eliminate physical disparity.

In my students’ lives, they will not only have the opportunity to obtain such comparatively commonplace modifications as tattoos and piercings, but also more extreme changes. An article on io9, “Which first-generation cybernetic enhancement would you choose?” discusses streaming Internet implants, enhanced vision, rapid twitch muscle enhancement, and memory upgrade.

While some of my students did say that they anticipate one day getting a tattoo of something, “really important to them,” they shied away from more extreme changes, for example, “gauges,” large holes in the earlobes, and dermals, anchors implanted in the skin which allow the wearer to screw in a variety of attachments from jewels to fabricated horns.

Regarding cybernetic enhancements, they had two main objections which both seemed crystal clear to children who have always known technology immersion. First, they expressed concern about the rapid rate of technological development. Last year’s optical implant may be completely obsolete, and even a hindrance. Their second objection proved even more telling and savvy. “If the government can read everything on our cell phones,” they reasoned, “they will even have more control over us if we implant technology into our bodies.” I was completely impressed by their insight.

Of course, we are in the middle of reading Animal Farm.