You might remember the title quote. It comes from the opening of The Six Million Dollar Man, the mid-1970s television show about the first cyborg man, Steve Austin, played by Lee Majors. He might have been married to Wonder Woman (Lynda Carter), or maybe they just wrestled. I don’t remember.
In any case, it was one of the first series treating the subject of the integration of humans with machine, carbon with silicon. It’s been a constant theme in popular culture ever since, from Tron to Robocop and Star Trek’s “Borg.” Arnold Schwarzenegger milked it for all it was worth until he married a Kennedy, became governor of California, and played Truth or Dare with the nanny.
Recently, I have become involved in a health food/fitness industry startup based somewhere in France, maybe Paris, maybe not. As startups go, that’s fairly common, although this one has all the right ingredients and solves a problem for its identified market. It’s also distinctly French, which I figure is big right now since they just had a demonstration in Paris bigger than VE Day. The fact that neither our Pres nor VP went is a minor detail (well, for me, not them).
Anyway, since I know nothing about health or fitness (at our first meeting I suggested cigarettes, oysters, and champagne in our meal packs), I decided to start reading about the subject. What I discovered was overwhelming; namely, that fitness centers generate $27 billion in revenue each year, weight loss programs $20 billion, organic/health food products another $20 billion, and that the number of health clubs, workout programs, diet and vitamin supplements is expected to increase drastically. By 2017, the overall industry will reach $1 trillion. That’s US dollars. Greenbacks.
All of that is food for thought (sorry) and would make the ordinary startup close down. But not us and certainly not me. Why? Because I came across another trend that is a harbinger of something good for us, since we are emphasizing truly natural products (no GMOs) with a French flair. What is that trend? It’s called “biohacking.” I had never heard of it until a friend posted a comment about Bulletproof Coffee on Facebook. Apparently, he didn’t like the coffee.
Biohacking is essentially the technology to create the 21st century version of the Six Million Dollar Man. After inflation, it’s probably worth about forty million, which reminds me of The Dominoes’ song, “The Sixty Minute Man,” but that’s another story. Besides, I try to keep these blogs G rated.
Here’s what that modern-day oracle called Wikipedia has to say about biohacking: “Biohacking encompasses a wide spectrum of practices and movements ranging from ‘Grinders’ who design and install do-it-yourself body-enhancements such as magnetic implants to do-it-yourself biologists who conduct at-home gene sequencing.” It’s supposed to combine biotech expertise with the “hacker ethic.” I didn’t know hackers had ethics, and I certainly wasn’t aware that you could conduct gene-sequencing in the privacy of your backyard gazebo, but there it is: a look at the future.
You might find my reaction to all of this quaint. Maybe you’re surprised that I didn’t know about biohacking. Don’t be. Although I am by no means a troglodyte, I hardly keep up with anything outside of my own work in business ethics and teaching. I barely have time for those. Don’t ask me what else I am doing. I’m not sure where the time goes.
Here’s the thing: the new Six Million Dollar Man is about control: control of diet, exercise, identity, genes, and, if you accept it, soul. As a society, we seem to be consumed with creating a master race of people who work harder, think faster, and move through life like teflon, untouched and untouchable. I find that frightening. I spend all my time working with clients and students, trying to get them to give up, unwind, and acknowledge that they are neither perfect nor in control. Failure and mistakes are inevitable. It is the human condition as ancient as the cave drawings at Lascaux, reflecting the spiritual struggle that lies at the center of what it means to be human.
Honestly, I like technology as much as the next integrated circuit. I just think that if we are going to create a real Six Million Dollar Man, we ought to make him a human man, not a machine man (or woman).
I need a drink. I’m thinking champagne and oysters.