Friday, May 1, 2009

"Homo Evolutis"

Listening to a recent NPR story, I heard biotech entrepreneur Juan Enriquez predict that within 100 years, humans will essentially become a new species, largely engineered and robotically altered. We will take control of our evolution in what he calls "the ultimate reboot."

So the monsters of us arrive, Bhanu, the hybrid metaphorical vehicles, from where they've been housed, hatching in labs, growing new organs and rewiring our brains into hard-drives with digital interface.

It makes the current vogue for the handmade and artisanal (c.f. the wired DIY crafters of Silverlake & its virtual environs, Cafepress and Lulu.com) seem like the nostalgic phase of decadence. The backyard chickens seem touchingly quaint — very “Little House on the Prairie” or "The Waltons,” for those d’un certain age. It’s quaintly pomo that it’s from TV that the current vogue for the handmade & crafty gets its images of the hand-to-mouth life. And from “The Pioneer Woman’s” blog or the “MaryJane’s Farm” mag.

“The Waltons” taught us, in the ‘70s, about how to live through the Great Downturn of now. Even in the euphemism ‘downturn’ there is a ghost of a mouth hungry for the upturned & rounded corner, the “Happy Days” rerun. We resist depression for there is not enough Prozac, in fact, for the whole nation.

Didn’t I promise you a TV show?

So let me be quaint, for the thread of an episode’s digression (while you remember that ‘quaint’ descends from ‘quim,’ by way of Erica Jong). I'm thinking nostalgically of what we call the quintessential [Rockwellian American] human experience because it apparently will soon be as obsolete as Neanderthal brows:

— children’s small hands, with their bitten fingernails & the white flecks in the nail-beds. Children playing games like hide-and-seek in yards and public parks, playing baseball with other children and not with digital opponents on screens. Children who were not allergic to every kind of food.

— the fallen arch of a slender foot, the laugh lines & crow’s feet will never be seen in a few more decades — remember a grandmother’s aging face, lined ten times for each decade. Oh breasts of every size & shape, lopsided, bulging, billowy!

You are so Old Humanism.

— the mood swings, the un-microchip-enhanced sense of smell which gave us BBQ, mown grass (there was still grass) & the smell of baking bread or chocolate-chip cookies. There were flowers — the old climbing roses or sweet peas—you could smell with your own nostrils. Not all roses came from Ecuadorean sweatshop greenhouses.

But, yes, those (& these) were the days of the relatively unretouched human being, uncosmetically altered & unmachined — no pacemaker, no silicone, no artificial joints, no pig valves in hearts, no transplanted faces. Not for lack of prior trying on our parts—scarification, circumcision, tattooing, footbinding, prosthetic limbs anyone?

You know they will be downloading our rusty, archaic data files for decoding to study us anthropologically, like ‘primitives,’ so let’s leave a fossil record for our descendants. Don’t forget to write about what it was like, & send the emails for permanent storage on remote servers. The aliens of the future will want to know how it was.

Not that it was better before! — we died off in droves, in waves, in plagues. Just — don’t completely forget chicken pox, mumps, polio & getting tonsils removed just yet. Or natural childbirth, diphtheria, AIDS, the common cold whose genome we’ve mapped. Or how about putting your hand into some ‘real’ dirt to garden? How about pimples, losing your baby teeth?

Somebody write it all down now, before it’s over: how it felt to get a crush, have a tantrum, be depressed or afraid of the dark. Some things will, in the future, never be felt again. There will be neuroenhancer meds, genetic engineering & magic-bullet pills to make it all go away. Smooth human sailing forever, into some kind of utopic almost-immortality you can buy — Oh! but only especially if you happen to be in what’s left of the Fortune 500.

All this may be behind us, I’m just saying, to remind us to note ourselves marvelling at the 'simple joys' [as they're called] we felt. Be kind, remembering how cool we thought we were as early adopters of the cell-phone, the laptop & (just yesterday!) Facebook. Think of how we look at our ancestors — those ignorant simple people who lived & died like flies, before antibiotics, anesthesia & sterile procedure.

Just saying. You’re living in the old Hallmark card days right now; in the sepia-hued countryside of those who still sometimes walk around barefoot, on actual soil, & take food grown from living plants into their own personal, physical mouths & chew it for themselves like humble animals. Remember you lived through that, before the new ‘compute power’ robot-manager analogue of your kind declares your species extinct.

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