The Six-Million-Dollar-Man fantasy

by Rob Horning

4 February 2010


This Fast Company story about prosthesis envy is possibly even more creepy than the classic of the genre, the Atlantic‘s “A New Way to Be Mad,” about voluntary amputees. It begins as though it will be a story about reducing the stigma attached to artificial limbs and then takes off into voluntary body modification and the fantasy of transcending human limitations by becoming bionic, like the Six Million Dollar Man. I have nothing against amputees doing whatever they want to improve their lives, but I admit, and this may be wrong of me, that I find the idea of amputating additional parts of one’s body for aesthetic reasons disturbing.

Amputees are now regularly removing healthy tissue to make room for more powerful technology. “I see it every day,” he says. “People will get a second amputation—move their amputation up their leg—to get the prosthetic equivalent of a hotter car.”
Orthopedic surgeons often consider amputation the equivalent of failure, Young says, and reflexively save as much of a damaged, injured, or diseased limb as possible. But in leaving lots of human being, they create a bigger problem: There is little room left for high-performance machinery. Now, the allure of that machinery has become so powerful that amputees are routinely taking the extreme step of paying out-of-pocket for what the industry calls “revisions.”.... Herr’s suggestion, of course, is that the better prostheses make us perform, and the more glamorous they look, the more beautiful they will make amputees seem, too, even though their sheen, contour, texture, and color have ceased to look human.
“What is the obsession with looking human?” he says. “You think the only beauty is human? Bridges can be beautiful. Cars can be beautiful. Cell phones can be beautiful. They don’t look biological. So why do you anticipate 30 years from now that amputees will give a shit about human beauty? They won’t. Their limbs will be sculptures.”

Herr—an prosthetics engineer—is right. I wish Apple would stop designing gadgets and start designing elegant human-body-replacement canisters so I could do away with this hideous flesh husk. I have always aspired to be as beautiful as a phone.

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