I hate the term “biohacking“. Don’t get me wrong, I fall into all the categories I’m about to discuss here, it’s just… biohacking is just doing biology. Appending the word “hacking” on to anything is, at this point, a blatant move to get some VC funding.
When you talk with people about biohacking, you find out that the term is weird and fractious. On one side of the spectrum, you have bodyhackers. These are basically people who have mastered the art of getting a good nights sleep, exercising, and eating a sandwich. Why are they called hackers? Probably because, as a society, we are so out of touch with what it means to healthy that we needed to create a new, clever way of discussing health. Bullet proof coffee is just an expensive way of letting you know that you get hangry if you don’t get any lipids.
On the other side, you have the biohackers, emphasis on the “bio”. These folks, predominately getting a lot of coverage in the Silicon Valley area, are taking the work done in university and industry labs and are instead doing them in renovated garages and loft spaces. There is nothing being done here that isn’t already being done other places. It’s mostly a change in venue. Come visit, I can show you my “food hacking” skills by making aforementioned sandwich in my apartment instead of a restaurant. Same concept.
Then you have the Grinders. They’re orthogonal to our x-y plot, the third point of the triangle. Every dialectic needs it’s plucky outliers. This is where the body mod scene, the wearables as inside-ables people, and the self experimentation groups all come together. None of these things are particularly new. Scientists have been testing on themselves and each other since the beginning. This is a really crucial group, it’s a dialogue that needs to happen. When people get freaked out that some guy put night vision eye drops in his face, it’s important to know that the person who developed this work in a university lab attempted a similar thing just to see how it would turn out.
Sometimes it’s less about breaking boundaries and more about normalization through exposure.
The creation of open or safe spaces to work initially leads to factionalism, which is can be detrimental to the long term stability of a movement.
It’s a thing. We all want to be special. Initially this allows for an amount of freedom. For progression to occur, only integration or a complete dissolution of the current methods exist as options.
Luckily, we can consider this a given result over time, much like the original computer hackers. All of my friends built their own computer. My mom uses encryption technology. We are not l33t haxxors. We are responsible technology users. When you make your own microbiome profiled yogurt from samples you swabbed from you mouth last week, you’re not some nut in a garage, you’re Jane Doe, mother of 2 and a responsible health conscious individual. Right now, in the stone age of normalized scientific education, you read your food labels and freak out about anything with 3 syllables. In the future, you know that monosodium glutamate is just the crystalline salt of glutamaic acid and it’s in milk, steak, and tomatoes. And then you carry on with your day.
We are seeing the advent of science and biology work not as a degree or a job, but as a metric of access to tools and information.
More important than what it is, is the ‘why’ of people engaging in biohacking. To better themselves, to make a new future. We can’t all just sit around with our monoculture crops, sitting for 8 hours a day, rapidly wiping out half the macro species, and then eating 150 grams a sugar in one beverage. It just isn’t working out for us.
This can be really hard for some people to deal with. Legislation struggles with an informed populace. Issues in regulation that would harm innovation abound, mostly as we have a large population pushing for legislation without an understanding of the mechanics behind the work being done. Historically, legislation has a tendency to smother scientific discourse. You can work your way from Galileo to the bans on climate change papers in Canada.
We are currently in a period where uninformed portions of the population are making decisions about biology research.
Legislation on these issues should not be made by people who know nothing about the issues. It’s inappropriate. I don’t tell you how to do your job.
Luckily, biology education can be inclusive. To riff on a well known slogan, “Get Your Laws Off My Biology”. While I will probably never know the struggles of bearing a child, anyone can learn how to modify a bacteria for their own means. Innovation tends to be weird. It’s often unexpected. I’m writing this essay using a software system derived from something that A GUY BUILT IN HIS GARAGE! If you value the tools that you use today, why would you restrict the access to the tools that people will be using tomorrow?
The best part is, that is really doesn’t matter. People love to push the limits. Commander David Scott said it when he stepped onto the surface of the Moon:
“As I stand out here in the wonders of the unknown at Hadley, I sort of realize there’s a fundamental truth to our nature. Man must explore. And this is exploration at its greatest.”
I want your self driving car. I mean, I don’t care about your car. I don’t drive. Cars don’t really fit into my worldview for the future. But I like it it. It’s cool. I want your car so I can take it apart and build my future. Not yours. And there are thousands of people out there that feel the same way. The future of biohacking can not be legislated. It will be fast, hot, and out of control, just like biology itself. Your best bet is to crack a book, put on some gloves, and get yourself a wetlab.