WHEN I'M HAVING a bad day, I trawl the internet for videos of happy cyborgs. My favorites are clips of hearing-impaired people getting their cochlear implants turned on for the first time. The videos follow a soothingly predictable pattern. Mumbly background chatter and shaky cam--the cinematography is rarely good--then a pregnant pause, wide eyes, and finally that peculiar kind of sobbing that human beings do when we are overwhelmed. The pattern is the same whether it's a babe in arms or a full-grown man.
If you catch the right algorithmic wave on YouTube or the right hashtag on Instagram, you can surf for hours in this genre: videos of Parkinson's patients as their tremors are calmed by a new therapy, paraplegics walking with the help of adaptive prosthetics, infants getting their first pair of coke-bottle glasses, and more.
Adorable kittens and soppy love stories do little to warm my cold, dead heart. But show me a part-robot baby flipping out because he heard his mom say "hello" for the first time, and it's onion city.
I'm not deaf or hard of hearing, but I am aware that cochlear implants are not without controversy in that community. As with almost everything you see on the internet, behind the scenes there is invisible labor, difficult setbacks, and the occasional disaster. Hardly anyone posts those on their YouTube channel.
Still, entire religions were once built around the spectacle of someone banishing a severe disability with the wave of a hand. Today any certified R.N. in the right audiologist's office can be a secular saint. When my own worthless eyeballs were corrected with lasers, making me a blind(ish) woman given the gift of sight, I didn't fall to my knees and worship the ophthalmologist. I just got out my credit card. We live in an age of reliable, scalable, profitable miracles.
People are ungrateful wretches, of course. Once anyone can reliably perform a miracle, it immediately ceases to seem miraculous. Babies generated without sex--actual virgin births--are humdrum. We carry nearly all of human knowledge in our pockets. Within a decade, burgers made without meat will be commonplace (page 10). And the memory of a time when HIV was a death sentence will soon fade to almost nothing (page 30).
AS A SPECIES, we're brilliant at focusing on the negative. There are some very useful evolutionary implications of this trait, but an unfortunate side effect is that we always feel like the sky is falling, even when it's 70 degrees...