Technologies-in-Context: “Bionic Reconstruction”

Scientists in Austria have recently replaced permanently injured hands and arms of three people with bionic ones, which patients control using nerves and muscles transplanted into their arms from their legs. Doctors explain that these “bionic reconstructions” are possible when a patient has a voluntary amputation, and then use the faint signals and sensations from their transplanted leg muscles and nerves to control their new bionic hands. Involved doctors explain that this emerging medical approach is not without complications, such as patients taking anti-rejection medication for the rest of their lives. However, people who now have these bionic reconstructions are happy to have the use of their limb again to do things like open water bottles, eat a sandwich or play with their children. Doctors explain that as prosthetic technology continues to develop, the enduring question will always be “how do we get the message from the mind to the metal?” Reading about this emerging technology, I was strongly reminded of David Serlin’s book Replaceable You: Engineering the Body in Postwar America. In this book, Serlin looks at the place of medical technologies and procedures in the politics of conformity present in postwar US culture. If one were to conduct an analysis of present day prosthetic cultures and devices, I wonder what politics they might say they belong to and push forward?

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