I am not entirely human. All of the parts of a human being are inside me, but I have a few extra bits as well, not so much floating around as firmly secured in place. In some spots, these nonhuman bits hold me together. In other spots… well, that’s a different story.
I have a couple gadgets inside of me. One was forced on me; the other I chose. I made the choice in much the same way you’d choose a computer. I tried to future-proof myself. I chose an option that I could upgrade later. In the end, I made a decision that was not entirely rational, but rather based on passion and branding and aesthetics over performance. Like I said, just like a computer.
I’ll start with my leg, because it’s easier for me to talk about. I broke my ankle a few years ago. I was walking the dog on a very, very cold night in Newton, Mass, and the sidewalk all around the block was a track of ice fit for a speed skater. I took a bad step and slipped off the curb, and my tibia rotated wrong and crashed into my fibula, snapping it in multiple spots. I fell to the ground immediately, and that’s when I learned a couple things about myself.
First, I learned that I do indeed have a high tolerance for pain, something I’d always suspected but never bothered to prove. When the paramedics arrived to put me on a stretcher, they asked me to rate my pain on a scale of one to ten. I gave it a six. The worst pain I’ve ever felt, by the way, is a cracked tooth, which is about an 8, and it’s a great story, but for another time.
The second thing I learned about myself is that my body is capable of destroying itself with hardly any intervention from my mind. When they lifted me into the ambulance, with my foot askance and twisted, I asked if there was any possibility I could have dislocated it, instead of a break.
The paramedic told me: “well, anything you can locate you can dislocate.” But it was obviously broken.
I had titanium installed. The x-ray is awesome. I have an erector set in my leg, with screws holding me together. There’s no chance it can break again, I’m part fighter jet down there. I couldn’t walk for four months, and I was in pain and using a cane for another 2 months. I had an awesome rolling aid instead of crutches called a Roll-A-Bout. I highly recommend it if you break your ankle. I was faster on that rollabout than I ever was on both feet. When I needed a cane, I bought a high-tech, carbon fiber walking stick with spring loaded shocks and other features only useful for orienteering and nature photography. It made the suffering more palatable.
Now my only limitation is that I can’t stand on my tiptoe on that leg. When I tell people this they look at me like I’m telling them the old joke about the guy who breaks his hands and says to the doctor: “Doc, will I be able to play the piano when I’m healed?” The doctor says “Sure,” to which the patient replies “That’s great, because I could never play before.”
See, I’m a big guy. When people are meeting me for the first time, I’ll sometimes tell them to look for the biggest guy in the room, and that’s probably me. For the six months I was recovering from my broken ankle, nobody explicitly said it, but I know that my size must have been the reason such a shallow fall caused such a horrible injury. I’m not a 6’2″ basketball player jumping eight feet in the air to block a shot. I’m a six foot schlub who slipped off a sidewalk walking a 40 pound dog.
This brings me to the other gadget inside me. I have a device implanted in me called a lap-band. It’s like an inflatable donut . . . mmm, donuts . . . wrapped around my stomach. It makes my stomach smaller, and divides it into a small portion up top and the rest down below. This is supposed to be a weight loss surgery. You fill the donut with saline and it expands, contracting your stomach. Then, you eat less.
If you don’t eat less, you throw up. That’s actually a feature of the lap-band. It’s supposed to make you throw up. Also, because of where it’s located, higher up than your normal stomach, a full stomach actually feels more like choking on something at the bottom of your throat.
Is it any wonder this device doesn’t work? It sounds like high-tech torture. In fact, the lap-band has a shockingly low success rate. 70% of people who get a lap-band fail to lose weight. Your body adjusts to it. Your body naturally learns how to make you more comfortable, and you resume your old, horrible habits again. When I got the band installed, I lost a bunch of weight, then it came back.
I had other options for surgery, but they all involved heavy cutting and removing massive parts of me that would never grow back. The lap-band is reversible. In fact, I’m having it removed soon. I’ve already had it replaced once with a newer, better model. Now I’m having it taken out altogether. Time to try something different.
When you make the decision to have this band removed, the doctors will exclaim that the lap-band has failed. The euphemism of this choice is not lost on me. Let’s be honest, the band didn’t fail. My body didn’t fail. They did exactly what they were supposed to. They succeeded. I failed the band. The psychology of my thinking and habits overcame my physiology. I am weak. I take the blame. I have failed myself.
Perhaps this is why I’m sensitive to the power that psychology has over our choices, especially when it comes to technology. Technology buying should be a completely rational decision. I need this, therefore I buy it. I do not need to do that, so I will not buy something that does that.
We look down on people who make decisions they cannot rationally explain. We justify our purchases after the fact with rational arguments. I bought this phone because I have large hands. I needed a 60-inch television because I could not read the text on screen. I bought this watch because it is high quality and it will last longer.
We look down on the passionate, the irrational. We look down on people like me whose psychology has failed them. You bought a device you cannot understand, and you are a failure for not learning how to use it. You bought something because your friends all had one, and it made you feel good when you bought it, but you are missing out on all the capabilities of this other thing, the thing I carry with me every day.
I failed my band. The problems I have, which I pretend to understand, and for which I am regularly judged by people who also believe they understand, defeated me. I let them win. I am weak. I am passionate and I give in to irrational urges and desire. I have failed.
One day we’re going to see the utter stupidity in this form of judgment. One day we will understand the true power our subconscious minds hold over us. We will stop blaming people, and hating people, for making decisions based on emotion and passion. We won’t blame them when they fail the gadget, when we realize they may never have had the power to succeed.