better may be a matter of perspective

Day 5, NaBloPoMo: Post 2 since declaration of intent.

Remember Steve Austin? The six-million dollar man? In the TV storyline from the show of the 1974-78 series, Austin was an astronaut severely injured in a crash and the OSI (Office of Scientific Intelligence in the show) had him rebuilt in an operation that cost six-million dollars. His right arm, both legs and the left eye are replaced by bionic implants that enhanced his strength, speed and vision far above human norms,  he could run at speeds of 60 miles per hour, and his eye had a 20:1 zoom lens and infrared capabilities. Since they picked up the tab, naturally he used his enhanced abilities to work for the OSI as a secret agent.

Hubby and I attended a mind-blowing lecture at the University last night by Dr. Cynthia Furse, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Associate Vice President for Research at the University of Utah. Dr. Furse brought all of us in the the auditorium of SRO up to date on the newest technology from bioelectronics. What we learned is that–although Steve Austin was a reel man–folks, in today’s technological world it is now possible to make a real man into a real six-million dollar phenomenon.

Dr. Furse presented slides and video clips that showed us a contraption–a bionic uniform of sorts–that could be strapped on a man and enable him to lift enormous weights for an impossible length of time for an ordinary man and yet hardly feel the effects of his exertion afterwards. Limbs as good as or even better than the originals can be made for amputees. Broken hearts can literally be fixed. Optic nerves can be made to respond to electrical stimuli so that the blind can “see” again–or some for the first time. Paraplegics can be made to walk again. A burn victim’s own skin cells or DNA can be used to clone new skin, and a Cochlear implant can make a child hear who cannot or never has before. If we can think it, it probably can be done now.

Imagine if you suffer from any of the drastic conditions mentioned, these miracles and many more in Dr. Furse’s presentation represent only a drop in the bucket to what engineers may be able to produce with continued research in bioelectronics and bioengineering. Considering the strides already made, what else could be done with the next 20 years?

But, because this technology is available, should we all just fall in line and assume it will make us better? As a member of the audience pointed out, and what Dr. Furge not only agreed with but hoped everyone in the audience would take from the lecture was this: what good is all this knowledge if we haven’t developed the ethics or even a full understanding of the  implications this new technology will bring with it.  And how can technology make us better if it can’t help us maintain better relationships among ourselves? If it can’t help Muslims get along with Jews, Christians with Muslims, Democrats with Republicans, and so on, what good is it? There are so many questions with few answers.

Not everyone agrees that all this technology in the Bionic Age is a good thing. Opponents of the Cochlear implant, for instance, believe that a positive self-image for hearing impaired people may be better served by becoming more involved with the Deaf community. Many deaf individuals have written about their love of the community to which they belong and they would argue that being born unable to see or hear doesn’t mean they’re not normal, just different. Is different a bad thing? Saul Kessler wrote the following poem to explain how he feels about being deaf. It illustrates perfectly that we have a lot to think about in terms of how much and what we need to fix in the world.

Smokey Light (2)

They Say I’m Deaf

They say I’m deaf,
These folks who call me friend.
They do not comprehend.
They say I’m deaf.
And look on me as queer,
Because I cannot hear.
They say I’m deaf,
I, who hear all day
My throbbing heart at play,
The song the sunset sings,
The joy of pretty things.
The smiles that greet my eye,
Two lovers passing by,
A brook, a tree, a bird;
Who says I have not heard?
Aye, tho’ it must seem odd,
At night I oft hear God.
So many kinds, I get,
Of happy songs, and yet
They say I’m deaf

So, assuming you’re still with me, the question is whether a six-million dollar man is really better after all.

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6 thoughts on “better may be a matter of perspective

    • They can also make your heart race faster or slower–whatever is needed–it truly is a miracle what they can do with hearts now. Too bad my father didn’t live long enough to benefit, because we just didn’t know enough in the 1970’s when he died of a heart condition. (Btw, it’s nice to hear from you after a long absence!)

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