Magnetic implants and body enhancements are changing the way we experience the world. But will these modifications truly make us more cyborg or are we becoming more occultist?
Earlier this year, a Swedish biohacking group, Biohax International, announced a groundbreaking collaboration with SJ trains. Together, they hope to offer passengers access to rail services through a small microchip implanted under the skin. A sweeping gesture of your hand against a ticket machine would grant you passage. All you need to do is succumb to the pull of technological enhancement and begin your ascent into becoming cyborg.
With a seemingly endless array of biohacking resources emerging around the world (collectives, conferences, workshops, websites, forums), the implications for the future of medicine and the improvement of the lives of the disabled are being widely discussed among academics and journalists. But there is something else here that needs to be explored. What does biohacking, or becoming a cyborg, actually mean for our day-to-day life experiences? Beyond medical advancement, beyond convenience and even beyond simple improvement?
Science-fiction author Arthur C Clarke famously said: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Within obscure occult practices around the globe, individuals perceive and interact with a spirit world and channel those energies into reality. Are these invisible magnetic fields or data signals emanating from our technological devices a new form of spiritual awakening? The signals from our devices are hiding among us, influencing our choices, hidden and mysterious. Has our detachment from the actual inner workings of technology created a new kind of occultism? In becoming more cyborg, perhaps we are enabling ourselves to seek out and interact with this spirit world of signals, waves, pulses and frequencies.
Biohackers, or grinders, apply the hacker ethics of sharing, openness, decentralisation, free access and world improvement to themselves, altering their bodies with DIY or open-source cybernetic devices.
In 2010, the Cyborg Foundation was founded by cyborg artists Neil Harbisson and Moon Ribas with a mission to “support the use of cybernetics as part of the body and begin to introduce the diverse possibility for artistic practices that utilise extended sensory capabilities”. Harbisson is perhaps most famous for his “eyeborg”, a permanently implanted antenna that allows him to overcome his colour-blindness and hear the light frequencies of the colour spectrum, including invisible colours such as infrared and ultraviolet. Ribas is known for her performance piece Waiting for Earthquakes. Using a sensor in her elbow, Ribas interprets seismic events through dance. Both of these artists and their curious works have given audiences insight into the abilities of cybernetic enhancements on the lived experience of individuals and the boundaries of human perception, both enhanced and not.
Last year, Ribas, Harbisson and other cyborg enthusiasts founded the company Cyborg Nest, and earlier this year, an implant for personal use became available for purchase through them. The North Sense is a semi-permanent implant, attached to the body using dermal anchors (small titanium bars that rest just under the skin) that, when fitted, vibrates when the wearer is facing magnetic north. The 6.5cm2 silicon-coated enhancement is available for $425 (about 3,700kr/€380). It is removable, but sold on the idea that, through constant use, the implant will “gradually enhance your memories, thoughts and the way you experience the world”.
A more accessible form of enhancement is achieved through implanting magnets into your hands. Placing a small magnet into the tip of the ring finger of the non-dominant hand (perhaps because if something goes wrong, this finger is considered the least important) is a quick way for upgraders to alter their sensory experiences. This magnetic implantation is a procedure that has, in recent years, been covered by many media channels. Though summed up by implant enthusiast and blogger Dann Berg, the experience appears to be shared by many: “It has unlocked an entirely new world for me, one that I can touch and interact with in a very real way.”
These are but a few examples of the types of technology, haptic enhancements and modifications that are emerging from the biohacking scene at present. What these types of enhancements or modifications seem to share is their ability to “unlock” a hidden world, an experience that is perhaps missing from our current technological interactions, and one that is compounded by our removal from the workings of technology. The North Sense and magnetic implants appear to change our state of consciousness, creating embodied experiences of the mediated world around us – and possibly upgrading our lives.
For further information on biohacking and events, visit chipster.nu
Words by Abbie R Phillips
All Illustrations by Jess Quinn
Microchip X-ray courtesy of news.au.com
Photograph of Neil Harbisson by Lars Norgaard
North Sense courtesy of Cyborg Nest