Friday, June 24, 2011

We All are Cyborgs

Professor Pianfetti's recent blog post on technology, privacy, and security-especially concerning medical advances- made me contemplate the way I have started to view technology in light of health issues. I have grown up with technology. I have come to rely on the technology of computers and smartphones to provide access to information, as well as leisure and educational activities. Though I am almost never without my cell phone, I have the option of leaving it. If choosing to do so, I can be "disconnected" from the technology that has become almost a second limb.

That was before I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes this past January. Now my life is
continuously connected to technology; insulin and pen needles, glucose meters and strips, and my phone. There are multiple apps that are targeted for people with diabetes-the one I liked the best is called Diabetes Buddy. I am able to record what I eat from a large database of items, calculate the number of carbs, record my blood sugar readings, and how much insulin I take everyday. I also can log activities or exercise that I do-the type, length, and how I feel. I can then easily email my blood sugars to my endocrinologist, or my food intake to my dietitian. Or if I have a question, I can quickly email my diabetes educator along with any information about my day to day life that would be helpful in answering. As much as I would do anything to not have diabetes, I am thankful to be diagnosed in a time where technology is expanding the quality, and extending the years, of life for diabetics. And the technology continues to progress.

As a new diabetic, I have only just begun to
master multiple manual insulin injections per day, but I have slowly started to see an insulin pump in my future. From the discovery of insulin to current research on the artificial pancreas, medical technology has improved the lives of diabetics around the world. The artificial pancreas seeks to mimic the human pancreas by creating a loop system between an implanted continuous glucose monitor and an insulin pump. The monitor tells the pump how much insulin to give, depending on blood glucose levels. The system is automatic, allowing the person to decrease manual glucose readings and eliminate manual insulin injections. (Please see the JDRF Arificial Pancreas Project for more information.)

As I begin to seriously think about the next step in managing my diabetes, I contemplate the positives and negatives of being literally connected to the technology that helps me live. When I was diagnosed, the one thought I came back to was that after spending my life relying on only myself, I now must rely on something outside of myself to survive. There will always be something external that I must have in order to live a full life. I was determined to not let a disease define me, but it is not something I can ignore. It is a part of me; something I constantly think about. And the technology that helps me live, is a part of me too-whether it is attached or not.

I am reminded of a book I had to read for undergrad called Rebuilt: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human by Michael Chorost. Michael was hard of hearing growing up, but as an adult, became completely deaf, forcing him to make a choice: stay deaf with no previous contact with sign language or the Deaf community, or receive a cochlear implant. His book details his decision and the process of re-learning how to hear, as well as his internal struggle to define himself with the newly implanted technology.

As technology advances, the line between the technological device and the human on which it is being used can become blurred. While he struggled with the idea of being part human/part computer, I struggle with the decision of having a device constantly attached to me that is artificial. Currently, I am still somewhat in control of my disease-I am able to manually test, manually figure out how much insulin I should take, and administer the insulin myself. An artificial pancreas would push me to rely on the working function of the technology. I am subject to the in and outs of using technology-malfunctions and breakdowns. Part of me would not be human. We often think of technology as hard, cold, and lifeless. But I am slowly seeing technology come to life; bringing security and ease of mind.

Technology raises questions of privacy, security, reliability, and identity. Who are we with and without this technology? If a part of our body is replaced with technology, does that make us less human? Where do I end and the technology begin? Is this an issue that all of us face? Even those without health issues?

As technology improves, the line between human and technology will become even more blurry. Personally, I am excited about the possibilities; excited about the technology that gets out of the way to allow me to live my life. Cold, hard technology brings me life. I already can't wait until the day I don't have to stick my finger multiple times per day.

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