Giving meaning to a RFID or cochlear implant: Technology as tool, the normal self, and the enhanced self

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1 Giving meaning to a RFID or cochlear implant: Technology as tool, the normal self, and the enhanced self Sandra Wagemakers Research Master Sociology of Culture, Media and the Arts; Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication; Erasmus University Rotterdam Prof dr. Liesbet van Zoonen Supervisor Dr. Marc Verboord Second Reader 20 June words Abstract RFID implants are controversial for their potential use in society. However, as the social shaping of technology predicts, technology itself is not inherently good or bad; it is important how the technology is used. Through an ongoing process of giving meaning to a technology, people incorporate a technology into their lives and in this sense domesticate it. Using semi-structured interviews with people with a cochlear implant (CI) and do-it-yourselfers with a RFID implant, this study sheds light on the meaning individuals give to their implants. Three repertoires were found among my respondents: technology as a tool, the normal self, and the enhanced self. CI-users perceive the implant as a tool to be able to hear and participate in society. This study shows that the CI-users desire a body that functions as it normally should because they want to participate in society. The CI is a means to achieve this normalization and the fact that it is implanted rather than attached to the body is generally of minor concern. The RFID tagged persons can also perceive their implant as a tool, but attach different meanings to it. Whereas the CI-users want to blend in society, some RFID implantees use their implant to stand out. Some RFID implantees perceive themselves as upgraded and welcome a tighter integration of technology and their bodies. Moreover, believing in an enhanced self corresponds with wanting to modify the human body to improve the body s capacity. This shows that desiring human enhancement is not only about the exact details of the enhancement, but also about the mere fact of being enhanced. Keywords Implants, Radio-frequency identification, enhancement technology, Domestication, Social shaping of technology International peer-reviewed journals The information society, Information, communication & society, Social science computer review, Social studies of science

2 Wagemakers Human implants are small electronic devices that are implanted under the skin. These implants can have medical functions, enhancement capabilities, or identification purposes. In this thesis, I focus on two types of implant: a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) identification implant and a cochlear implant for hearing improvement. RFID implants are passive chips, identifiable by a reader from short distances, without the ability to send out signals (Aubert, 2011). RFID implants can serve diverse purposes. In the healthcare industry, RFID tags can be linked to medical records. The VeriChip is the size of a grain and transmits a unique 16-digit code that links to a medical database. Biomedical chips communicating physiological changes such as glucose levels are under development (Masters & Michael, 2007). Furthermore, an implanted RFID chip could identify a person more securely than current methods. In the future, RFID implants could replace passports. RFID tags are already used for access control, including the opening of doors and cars (Masters & Michael, 2007). Volunteers in the Baja Beach club in Rotterdam and Barcelona and Bar Soba in Glasgow got a chip implanted. These implanted customers obtained VIP access and could make transactions with these chips (Martin, 2005; Michael & Michael, 2010). Other (future) uses mentioned in the literature include chipping offenders to make sure they are not violating their parole, implanting children so parents can monitor them, and chipping people so in case someone is kidnapped or missing, he or she can be found more easily (Anderson & Labay, 2006; Gadzheva, 2007). While GPS tracking is frequently associated with RFID implants, this is currently impossible (Aubert, 2011). A cochlear implant (CI) is a device for people with severe hearing problems. An electrode array is surgically implanted in the cochlea. After several weeks of healing, an external processor is connected to the internal part. Typically, people cannot immediately identify what they are hearing but need several months of revalidation to recognize different sounds and to understand speech. For deaf people, who do not consider deafness as a disease, but rather as a common marker of identity, CI represents a threat to their community. If all children receive a CI, the existence of this minority culture ceases to exist (Sparrow, 2005). The implantation of RFID tags has also caused controversy. Those opposing RFID implants have ethical concerns, consider it the prelude to an Orwellian nightmare, or perceive implantation as a Mark of the Beast, in other words a token of the devil (e.g. Gadzheva, 2007; Glasser, Goodman, & Einspruch, 2007; Michael, McNamee, & Michael, 1

3 Giving meaning to a RFID or cochlear implant 2006). Rather than continuing this trend of negativity and opposition, this research will investigate individuals who have decided to get a RFID or cochlear implant in order to investigate how these implantees perceive their implants. Particularly because of the controversy in society of RFID implants and the limited research on implantees, research is needed to shed light on implantees views. Examining these early adopters leads to a better understanding of why people get themselves implanted and how individuals have incorporated their implant into their daily lives. This research will contribute to a better understanding of what technologies mean to people; thereby it contributes to an understanding on how technologies may develop in the future. To do this I will look at two types of implantees and compare them: Do-it-yourself (DIY) implantees who use a RFID implant for access control and people with a cochlear implant. This research is conducted from a social shaping of technology approach, focusing in particular on the domestication of technology. Hence, I will focus on the meaning individuals have given to their implant. First, I will look at the existing literature on RFID implants and elaborate on the domestication perspective. After explaining the research design, I will discuss three particular repertoires present among respondents: technology as a tool, the normalized self, and the enhanced self. After elaborating on three mini-biographies to give these repertoires more depth, I will discuss the implications of these findings. Implants Thus far, little research has been done on the acceptance of human chipping. In a study examining the willingness to be implanted for different purposes, Smith (2007) and Perakslis and Wolk (2006) show that people are more willing to use medical implants or implants for personal security than implants used by the authorities to combat terrorism. Such outcomes suggest that implants are not problematic in themselves; rather the issue is for which purpose implants are used (Niemeijer & Hertogh, 2008). In addition, research demonstrates national and generational differences in attitudes towards implants: people from India are more likely than people from the UK, USA, or Australia to perceive an implant as a more secure technology for employee identification. The millennial generation is more likely to consider RFID implants as a more secure method than Generation X, which is, in its turn, more open towards it than Baby Boomers (Perakslis & Michael, 2012). 2

4 Wagemakers Michael and Michael (2010) describe the benefits the Baja Beach Club obtained from implementing a system with RFID implants in an access control and epayment setting. For their research, they interviewed the IT manager of the Baja beach club in Barcelona and performed a content analysis on online documentation related to the implants at the Baja Beach club. By using Rogers characteristics of an innovation that affect the rate of diffusion of an innovation: relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability, and observability (cf. Rogers, 1962/2003), they show the benefits the Baja Beach Club obtained from having these RFID implants. In another article, Michael and Michael (2013) show how the voluntarily implanted Gary Retherford, external consultant responsible for the implementation of verichips at Citywatcher.com, contests concerns about implants. Retherford believes that getting an implant should be based on rational choice; hence, he considers religion, paranoia, and other personal beliefs irrelevant. He argues that privacy can be partly given up for increased security. Furthermore, he claims that other technologies (e.g. biometrics and cell phones) have similar issues, but people concerned with implants generally do not lobby against those technologies (Michael & Michael, 2013). Similarly, implantee Graafstra contends that people should take their own responsibility and research the advantages and disadvantages as well as the risks before inserting a chip into one s body. Privacy is irrelevant to DIY taggers because of the use on personal scale, but medical safety is an important issue for DIY implantees (Graafstra, Michael, & Michael, 2010). According to Graafstra, who has contact with many (potential) implantees, most DIY taggers have their implants for utilitarian reasons as it assist them in their daily tasks such as unlocking doors. He is also approached occasionally by young (underaged) individuals who consider implants cool and by body modders who want something different (Graafstra, Michael, & Michael, 2010). Concerns about RFID implants Several concerns have been raised about RFID implants. While carcinogenic effects have been associated with RFID implants, the exact medical risks of an implant are indeterminate (Foster & Jaeger, 2008). Other medical issues include irritation under the skin, migration of the implant, and the risk of getting the implant in non-medical settings (Gadzheva, 2007). Some people fear for physical assault assuming that someone may want to steal the chip (Trocchia & Ainscough, 2006). 3

5 Giving meaning to a RFID or cochlear implant Privacy and the security of the collected data also preoccupies people (Gadzheva, 2007; Glasser, Goodman, & Einspruch, 2007; Michael, McNamee, & Michael, 2006). Chips used for identification purposes create privacy issues when people share their data and thereby lose control of information (Perakslis & Wolk, 2006; Trocchia & Ainscough, 2006). Perakslis and Wolk (2006) state that half of their respondents consider privacy concerns as the primary hesitation when considering biometrics and/or implanting a chip (p. 41). Furthermore, it is argued that implants are dehumanizing; people will lose their individuality and dignity because they are turned into numbers and are branded like cattle (Gadzheva, 2007, p. 221). This dehumanizing critique is not exclusive to implants, but relates to technology in general as technologies miss essential human characteristics (Haslam, 2006). Some people worry that in the future people will be required to have an implant, which these people see as a violation of human rights (Foster & Jaeger, 2008; Gadzheva, 2007; Michael, McNamee, & Michael, 2006). Lastly, some Christians consider the tag to be the Mark of the Beast as described in the book of Revelation (Michael & Michael, 2010). Implants in this study To date, most of the articles on RFID implants focus on ethical and privacy issues that scholars raise themselves or find to be present among the public (e.g. Foster & Jaeger, 2008; Gadzheva, 2007; Glasser, Goodman, & Einspruch, 2007). Some quantitative research examined the acceptance of different types of implants but remained largely descriptive (e.g. Perakslis & Wolk, 2006; Smith, 2007). Qualitative case studies with a sample of one examined the implementation of RFID implants (Graafstra, Michael, & Michael, 2010; Michael & Michael, 2010; 2013). Research on cochlear implants frequently focuses on the effect the CI has on a person s life. Frequently, such studies focus on children. Scholars not only examine how the CI improves people s ability to hear speech, but also the difference a CI makes on social life, for instance social participation (Punch & Hyde, 2011) and anxiety (Theunissen et al., 2012). Additionally, scholars paid attention to the concern of Deaf people losing their identity (e.g. Sparrow, 2005). Rarely has research focused on the experience of the individuals and the incorporation of technology into one s life. Wheeler, Archbold, Gregory and Skipp (2007) form an exception to this by examining how young individuals experience their CI. The young CI-users perceive their implant as 4

6 Wagemakers essential and many do not perceive any disadvantages. The young individuals in this study perceived themselves neither strongly hearing nor Deaf. They recognized their internal deafness, as without CI, they would not be able to hear, but they were not affiliated with Deaf culture (Wheeler et al, 2007). Since research is limited on the incorporation of a technology, the case of CI represents a good case to compare with the RFID tag. It is important, noting society s fears about RFID implants articulated above, to understand how RFID implantees make sense of their implants. Therefore, to investigate implantees in more detail, this research goes deeper into the meanings people assign to the implants and how this technology becomes part of their everyday life and their identity. A richer understanding is achieved by not merely looking at this technology in isolation, but understanding its perspective within the larger scope of technologies. Therefore, I will compare the case of RFID implants with the use of cochlear implant. This comparison allows me to see the parallels with other technologies, but also to understand in what ways RFID implantees differ. Domestication of technology When analyzing technologies, it is important to study them not just as objects, but also to understand the meaning these artifacts generate. Technologies are not neutral artifacts, but have interpretative flexibility. Consumers actively shape the technology they use based on institutional, cultural, economical, and political factors. Both the social and the technological are constantly interacting with each other resulting in some sort of synergy (Williams & Edge, 1996). Technology has no uniform meaning; users inscribe meaning onto these products. Through an ongoing process of giving meaning to ICT, people incorporate a technology into their lives and in this sense domesticate it. This approach of the domestication of technology literally refers to the taming of a wild technology into the home. While a marketer may plan a product in a certain way, users give meaning and significance to the technology (Haddon, 2006). The domestication approach uncovers the process of becoming familiar with an object and understands what happens when someone takes a technology home and gives meaning to this particular object or system (Berker, Hartmann, Punie, & Ward, 2006; Silverstone, Hirsch, & Morley, 1992). 5

7 Giving meaning to a RFID or cochlear implant The domestication approach tries to understand how people experience technologies. It focuses on skills and practices that are learned and adopted, both the construction of new practices and the compatibility of these technologies with practices, skills and habits of the individual. Moreover, it analyzes the meaning that is generated within this process, including its potential role in the creating of an identity for the individual (Haddon, 2011; Sørensen, 2006). Thereby this approach exceeds motivations or use alone. It focuses on the context and the generated meanings; what people are trying to do with their technology (Haddon, 2011, p. 314). Rather than a linear process or a one-off event, meaning making is an ongoing process. People can continually reshape their produced meaning and their relationship with the technology (Hynes & Rommes, 2006). Method In domestication research, it is important to understand data within its generated context (Pichault, Durieux, & Silverstone, 2005). Qualitative data provides in-depth and contextualized knowledge on the subjects. Before holding interviews, I asked Amal Graafstra, a well-known implantee, to distribute an explorative questionnaire with mainly open questions among RFID implantees. The questionnaire dealt with the use of the implant, the implantation, and concerns about RFID implants. Ten respondents completed and five respondents partly completed the questionnaire. Respondents countered common concerns and misunderstandings about the RFID implant. The survey showed not all respondents were only concerned with convenience; some respondents indicated the reason to get a RFID implant was because it was cool or the person was on a life mission of cybernetic transformation. After this explorative questionnaire, I conducted semi-structured interviews with eight people with a RFID implant and thirteen people with a CI. I approached the respondents from the survey who indicated they were interested in a follow-up interview and people who indicated somewhere on the Internet they have a RFID implant. I posted a message on a CI-forum and sent a message to a user who forwarded it to other CI-users. Some of them forwarded it to more CI-users in their turn. Consequently, I got responses from interested people with whom I conducted interviews. Because of this sampling method, the CI respondents were generally positive about their implant and happy to elaborate on it; their views may not be representative 6

8 Wagemakers for CI-users who are less satisfied about their implant. All respondents with a RFID tag were male. While my conversations with RFID implantees showed more males than females were engaged in DIY-implantation, women are also involved. As women relate differently to technology and their bodies (e.g. Throsby & Hodges, 2009), differences in gender would be interesting to explore in future research. Similar to what other researchers did or advocated (e.g. Hanna, 2012; Hine, 2008), participants chose the way the interview would be conducted (e.g. face-to-face, e- mail). This empowered respondents and made them feel as comfortable as possible. In some cases, it was practically impossible to have face-to-face interviews due to the distance and some CI-users are unable to have phone or Skype conversations. In total one phone interview, three Skype interviews, seven interviews, one synchronous Table 1. Interviewees Type Year implanted Country Interview 1 RFID Feb 2010 Sweden Synchronous text-based 1 RFID 2005 ±2010 Australian Skype 1 RFID 2009/2010 USA Skype 1 RFID 2011 US citizen living in Poland Skype 2 RFID 2005 USA Phone 2 RFID 2010 USA 1 RFID 2012 USA 1 RFID 2010 UK 1 CI 2001 Netherlands 1 CI 2005 Netherlands 1 CI 2006 Netherlands 1 CI 2013 Netherlands 1 CI 2001 Netherlands Face-to-face 1 CI 2004 Netherlands Face-to-face 1 CI 2007 Netherlands Face-to-face 1 CI 2008 Netherlands Face-to-face 1 CI 2009 Netherlands Face-to-face 2 CI 2010 Netherlands Face-to-face 1 CI 2011 Netherlands Face-to-face 2 CI 2004 & 2008 Netherlands Face-to-face 2 CI 2010 & 2012 Netherlands Face-to-face 7

9 Giving meaning to a RFID or cochlear implant text-based interview, and nine face-to-face interviews were conducted, see table 1. All CI-users were Dutch while the RFID implantees came from a variety of countries: Australia, Sweden, USA, and UK. These diverse cultural backgrounds may contribute to differences found, but I think the results are general enough to be applicable to different cultural backgrounds. A comparison of the literature on enhancement technologies in different countries shows that, in general, people are quite negative towards enhancement technologies; this does not depend on the gender or country of the respondents (Schuijff & Munnichs, 2012). The interviews with RFID implantees were conducted in English and the interviews with CI-users were conducted in Dutch. I translated the quotes from the Dutch interviews used in this article. Rather than considering one type of interview to be superior to another, the different types have their own merits. The interview, which is by nature asynchronous, allowed the respondents, but also the interviewer, to be reflexive (James & Busher, 2009). Whereas a researcher should always be reflexive during an interview, having more time increased reflexivity. On the other hand, synchronous communication gives rise to more spontaneous answers. Similar to James and Busher, I conducted the e- mail interviews over a longer period. Every consisted of several questions. Asking supplementary questions after receiving the answers created an ongoing dialogue. Based on the domestication literature and the literature about concerns on RFID implants, the following topics were elaborated upon in the interviews: getting familiar with implants; reasons, advantages, and disadvantages; daily life; the body; surroundings; and identity. The topic of human enhancements was originally not included in the topic list, but naturally arose in all interviews with RFID implantees and one CI-user. I therefore included this topic in the interviews despite its absence in the initial interviews. After conducting and transcribing the interviews, the answers were placed in a data matrix. Relevant codes were assigned in the transcript using ATLAS.ti. The grouping of these codes formed the basis of a thematic analysis. I constantly compared the answers within their group and between the different groups. The observed themes were for RFID users: combating common misunderstanding, convenience, being upgraded/having a special skill, and the body as modifiable. For CI-users, the themes included belonging to society, technology as a tool, and focus on its use rather than the technological details of the implant. Based on this, I will elaborate on three repertoires 8

10 Wagemakers in the next section: technology as a tool, the normal self, and the enhanced self. After these reflections, I will provide three mini-biographies of two RFID implantees and one CI-user to get a richer understanding of this everyday context. Technology as a Tool Both CI and RFID users talk about their implants as an instrumental tool. Before implantation, the CI-users were either deaf or had severe problems with hearing. After the activation of the internal elements with the external elements, some respondents were able to distinguish sounds immediately. For others the revalidation process took longer. The CI does not work as well as normal ears and users continue to identify themselves as hard of hearing. The respondents emphasize it is and remains an aid. Moreover, results differ significantly between CI-users. While some still depend on lipreading, others completely rely on their CIs. Only one respondent, who had two CIs, identified himself as hearing, while all other respondents still considered themselves hard of hearing. However, even the hearing respondent mentioned situations in which he felt hearing-impaired. Respondents chose a CI because hearing aids were not sufficient anymore. The CI was their last possibility to hear again. The implantees perceive the CI as an aid, similar to hearing aids, but technically more advanced. Respondents mention that sound is an important aspect of life and when you are unable to hear, you have to pay a lot of attention to your surroundings. This implant makes life, and hearing in particular, less exhausting. While there are large differences in the extent to which it was easier, most of the respondents expressed how their CI was a tool used to improve their hearing. I don t see myself a something strange or something. It s an aid what you just like you need shoes to walk on, and a coat against the cold, and this is to hear. (Edith, CI) While for most respondents speech was an important part of this tool, speech was irrelevant for Evy to get a CI. Evy turned deaf when she was eight years and saw the CI as a tool to hear sounds. In contrast to the others, at the time, Evy believed that lip reading alone was sufficient to understand speech. I wasn t thinking of speech at all. ( ) It [the CI] was for me about hearing sounds, to not live in silence. So it would be less dangerous to walk on the street for instance, that I could hear a car coming, those kind of things. (Evy, CI) 9

11 Giving meaning to a RFID or cochlear implant The RFID respondents also talked about their implant in their hand as a tool that made life easier, but in this case, the tool is for access control. In contrast to the CI-users, the RFID implantees were well versed in technology, had experimented with the tag before the implantation, and continued to tinker with the tag after the implantation. The tag was sometimes also used as an outreach tool to tell about their geeky lifestyle. The tag was usually used for access control, including opening doors and opening and starting cars. Implantees talked about the convenience of always having their keys with them without the possibility to lose or forget them. Some implantees mention the objective of replacing all keys with RFID technology. The technology adds convenience to their daily life as it is a reliable gadget. So, for me being able to just put my hand up there, and have it scanned, you know, reliably every time, very quickly and not a lot of inconvenience uh that s that s key. So, that s what I ve been enjoying about the technology uh since the first day. (Randall, RFID) Implantees were indifferent to the fact that this tool was in the body. Although the tag was operating in an unusual environment, it remains similar to holding a RFID card in one s hands. I really see as what I ve done as simply moving the uh you know the RFID access card from your pants pocket to your skin pocket. (Randall, RFID) The CI-users had equivalent thoughts about crossing the skin-boundary. In contrast to the RFID-users, the CI-users were unaware of the exact technological operation. Some respondents were anxious to have technology inside their head because of the risks of having surgery. One respondent thought it was weird to have something in the body that does not belong there, though she was not thinking about this any longer. The CI-users saw the CI as similar to other aids, electronic or not. However, because the tool was placed inside of the body, both RFID and CI users considered the implant to be a part of themselves in a similar vein as other body parts with their specific functions are part of someone. Respondents who regarded the implant as a tool were impassive on the location; what matters is that the tool makes life easier, either in terms of convenience and reliability or in being able to hear. The normal self While both groups talk about the implant as a tool, they tell different stories about the meaning of the implant for their self-understanding. For the CI-users, the implant is a 10

12 Wagemakers tool to become normal. Most of the respondents hearing had diminished over time which caused communication problems. Consequently, these hearing-impaired persons increasingly detached themselves from everyday society. With a CI, the world of the respondents became larger again. CI-users cannot only hear better, but their social skills also improve because of their improved ability to communicate. I didn t really talk with people I didn t know well. The CI changed this considerably. I can remember the amazement of [my husband] when, on the first holiday after the connection, I started to talk to a fellow camper about the weather. I never would have done that before. (Ingrid, CI) However, the CI is not a magical solution for the deaf to belong to society. Not the tool itself, but how CI-users apply the tool connects CI-users with society. One of the respondents, who had been born deaf, still struggled with integrating within hearing society. The ability to hear gives respondents the opportunity to integrate in society, but people still have to come out of their isolation themselves. The respondents clearly indicated that they are depended on their CIs. Most of the time respondents wear their CIs, though many also took the outer part out when they wanted to have some peace and quiet. They indicated that if the technology suddenly stopped working, they would be in more trouble than before their implantation. Because their CI is constantly used, the CI-users cannot live without the CI and the CI becomes part of their identity. It are my ears, I can t take them off well I can take them off but it s not convenient (Edith, CI) All respondents got their implants at an adult age and none of them had a clear affinity with Deaf culture. Most respondents were hearing impaired or turned deaf in their later years. One respondent who was born deaf went to a deaf school, but she believed there was more to life than Deaf culture. She believes that everyone, including hearing people, should mingle with all kinds of people, including hearing, hearing-impaired, handicapped, etc. Another respondent who had been sudden deaf since childhood did not belong in any group, neither with hearing-impaired, nor with Deaf people. When confronted with the concerns of Deaf people on CI, some respondents understood the concern but disagreed with it, while others did not understand why someone would deny a CI. The responses of the CI-users illustrate their choice for a CI. The CI is a tool to 11

13 Giving meaning to a RFID or cochlear implant hear better and to function within a society in which the majority is hearing. Without CI, my respondents indicated that they probably would be caught between two worlds, rather than be part of Deaf culture. While most respondents expressed a desire to belong to society, one woman did not get the CI to improve her communication skills. At the time, Evy believed she could communicate fine despite her inability to hear. When she just got her CI, she felt uncomfortable when people commented on the ease of communication because it gave her the feeling she was not a full person while being deaf. Additionally, Evy is scared of where society is heading. It is also the idea that nowadays people are in charge. That is not good; change that! That is not good; change that! I think that is a very scary idea and a really dangerous development. (Evy, CI) Her problem with enhancement technologies, including CIs, is that it contributes to the idea that in contemporary society everyone should be perfect, including having a normal body. Evy recognizes her contradictions and struggles with her own position within this development. However, despite these objections, she still chose to have a CI and become more normal because of the utility of having a CI. Even though CI-users do not hear as well as hearing persons, they are now closer to being hearing and thereby being normal. CI-users also embrace other possible enhancement technologies that allow handicapped people to overcome problems. Most respondents with a CI are negative towards enhancement technologies that go beyond repairing but try to enhance the human body above its normal functioning. Some respondents think the aim of the technology is important; enhancement technologies are justifiable for particular situations and aims. A neurosurgeon may benefit from a bionic eye and an astronaut may benefit from another enhancement technology. In general, CIusers were reserved about the idea of enhancing the body. This was contrary to what was found among the RFID respondents where enhancing the body was part of what the RFID tag enabled. The enhanced self While some RFID users got their implants for convenience reasons alone, it would be too simple to assume this is the only reason. Some respondent thought the precise function of the tag was less important than having the tag. The RFID tag can still have a practical 12

14 Wagemakers function, but also represent an upgrade of the self. Some respondent do not even mention the function of the tag when explaining their motivation. They focus on the novelty of RFID implants or articulate that they want to merge with technology. By getting an implant, one upgrades one s body and thereby gains a secret skill that others do not have. I have always been interested in things like transhumanism, cyborgs, augmentation, and integration of computers and humans so when I heard people were doing implants that let them communicate directly with the computers it seemed natural that I would do it too. (Gale, RFID) Some implantees who saw themselves as upgraded also showed a love for the implant beyond its functionality. The implant was not only part of their body and thus part of their self, respondents articulated love for the tag outside of its functionality. Steven expressed this affection when he talks about the moment he took out his implant. When I first took it [the implant] out, I missed it immensely actually, I missed having it even in and of itself. If that makes any even outside of its functionality, I still felt that I was taking a part of myself away. Uh that I was somehow less able, afterwards. (Steven, RFID) Moreover, within this repertoire of the enhanced self, not only the first time the respondents used the implant was exciting, using the tag remained exciting. The respondents believed that the implant gave the individuals a sense of uniqueness. While the reason to get the implant may not have been to be unique, and being unique is not only manifested by this implant, some people associate uniqueness with the implant. Moreover, respondents talk about their bodies as something that can be enhanced. Respondents do not have spiritual views on the body; rather they believe that their bodies are their own and while they have personal responsibility over it, they can customize it to their wishes. Some respondents show interest in transhumanism, but even implantees who did not mention this specific term talk about how they see their body as something that can be modified. A mindset of "Hey, I can play with and hack my body, just like anything else!" and suddenly it [the body] doesn't quite seem so sacred and impermeable. (John, RFID) Besides the RFID implant that they already have, respondents talk about possible future implants they would like to have. All respondents with a RFID tag are favorable towards 13

15 Giving meaning to a RFID or cochlear implant human enhancements, but those who see themselves as upgraded, talk about integrating these enhancements in their own bodies. In fact, these respondents are looking forward to these new developments. One of the implantees mentions that he would like to be a cyborg in the future. When Kevin Warwick implanted a tag in his arm, he called this Project Cyborg. A cyborg is short for cybernetic organism, which means that cybernetic parts and organic parts are interacting with each other. A RFID implant is not interacting with but hosted in the body; therefore, implantees usually do not consider themselves full cyborg. Some do not consider themselves cyborgs and other implantees see themselves as extremely basic cyborgs. However, while they do not consider themselves full cyborgs yet, respondents expressed interest in the possibility of technology and body integrating further. The tag was a small step towards more integration between technology and the human body. Thus, both implants are tools, but the RFID tag can be used to enhance the self whereas the CI is used to normalize the self. To get a fuller understanding of the everyday life context, three mini-biographies of three people who differed substantially in their views on their implant are presented. Lars: simplify my everyday life Living in Sweden, but with a job for which he travels a lot, the RFID implant in Lars hand allows him to leave without taking a key with him. As a tech nerd, who lives and breathes technology, he is extremely familiar with the technological details of how a RFID tag works. This is crucial because having this knowledge means Lars knows what he is doing. Consequently, the RFID tag can be easily integrated into his habits and everyday life. Before the implantation in February 2010, Lars had four different key fobs that used RFID technology. Not only did he dislike his big key chain as it gave him the feeling of being a janitor, Lars also disliked that he always had to carry his keys at work to prevent being locked out. When trying to find an improvement, he stumbled on RFID implants. He gave it a week of thought back and forth before a doctor friend inserted the tag. Within this week Lars, for instance, considered whether there were equally convenient but less intrusive ways and whether there were limiting factors. As he did not foresee any problems, he had the tag implanted. 14

16 Wagemakers While the first time Lars used his implant, he thought it was awesome, it stopped being special within a week. As he got used to the implant, he stopped thinking about it but simply used the tag to open doors. This resembles not thinking about using keys to open a door or using a knife to cut food: people simply do it. Lars incorporated the use of the implant into his habit; instead of getting his keys out of his pocket, he was simply waving his hand in front of the reader. Lars had not considered other body modifications, as they do not fulfill a purpose in his view. This illustrates how for Lars the functionality of the tag was crucial. Moreover, in Lars view, his body was not upgraded; rather the tag was simply in an unusual environment. Well, I have mentioned that I verified that it [the RFID tag] would have no interactions with my body (to a high degree of certainty) so it's just operating in an unusual environment perhaps, but it's not interacting with my body. In a similar vein, Lars did not see himself as a cyborg because the RFID tag is not interacting with his body. He did not perceive himself as upgraded and disliked the term of cyborg for RFID implantees. I would say: that's people talking out of their ass, because "cyborg" by a common definition is when organics interact with the cybernetic parts. For Lars not only is the RFID tag a tool to open a door, but the body in general is a tool for him to implement the ideas his mind creates. The utility factor appears to be the only important aspect for this respondent. When asked about enhancement technologies, Lars noted that enhancement technologies are awesome as they can enhance people s everyday life, but he did not directly relate this to his own body. In support of this view, Lars mentioned that we take many existing technologies for granted, e.g. a car. While these artifacts are not permanently attached to the body, in his view, they still represent enhancement technologies as they enhance our everyday lives. In this sense, for Lars the RFID tag is just another technology just another tool that enhances his everyday life. Jeff: expanding the horizon of human capability Jeff is a 31-year old atheist living in the rural south of the United States. With many religious people in his surroundings, Jeff is the odd one out. Jeff familiarized himself with RFID implants in 2005 when he started to examine what was inside his company s keycard. Before implanting the tag in 2009/2010, Jeff researched and tested how RFID 15

17 Giving meaning to a RFID or cochlear implant tags work. When he first got the implant, Jeff was mostly experimenting with writing codes on his computer and testing whether the implant would react on it. The RFID implant fits with his identity and his geeky lifestyle: A lot of the people that are close to me, that know me, were not surprised that I would do something like that. The reason for Jeff to get the implant was to have access control over among other things his household server on which files are stored; however, his responses also show that Jeff, in contrast to Lars, sees the implant as more than simply access control. Even though Jeff uses his implant every day and he forgets most of the time it is there, he is still excited about it. I still think it s [the RFID implant] really cool ((laughs)) I love it. it s my some of the people that I worked with started calling me cyborg And I can t say I didn t like that. It was pretty cool ((laughs). While Jeff does not consider himself a cyborg, in contrast to Lars, Jeff is happy to be called a cyborg as it shows his special status. Although he acknowledges that as time passes, implantation is becoming more normal, Jeff perceives the implant not only as cool, but also unique because there are only few others who can be called cyborg. Having something that most others do not have gives Jeff an increased sense of individuality. While Jeff already uses the implant multiple times a day, he is also looking forward to integrate his tag further in his life; for instance, by using it for every door in his house. His girlfriend could use a swipe card or wristwatch enabled with RFID technology. Jeff is also looking forward to other technologies that can be implanted in his body. When I asked him whether he wanted to get other body modifications, he answered positively enthusiastic and elaborated on this by talking about specific enhancement technologies such as an internal flash drive and a brain implant. That these enhancements alter his body is not a problem for Jeff. While Lars sees the RFID tag as operating in an unusual environment, Jeff sees it as a body enhancer and expresses the desire to improve his body. My friends know me as the guy who is kinda like I don t really care what it s meant to do I care what it can do, talking about all of my tools or computer, everything is great, but it can be modified to be better. Cars, computers, I really don t care, it can always be 16

18 Wagemakers modified to be better. Same thing with the human body. The human body is, you know, a stock part. It s (I see it) this way, it can be enhanced. It can be better. Jeff also sees the implant as a part of who he is. Because it is now in the body and it cannot be put down like other devices, the implant has become part of Jeff s identity. Similar to how we do not consciously think about using our hands, Jeff forgets that the implant is there most of the time and uses it naturally. However, having a RFID implant remains special. Overall, for Jeff the implant is a tool that not only helps him to secure his files, but that also enhances him as a human being. The function of the implant is for Jeff important, but it is even more so that he alters his body in something that is better than what it originally was. Judith: An aid to continue to live When I met Judith, her long hair was covering her CI; however, Judith noted that she has no problems with the visibility of a CI and is happy to wear a ponytail as well. During the eight years she has had the implant, she has been active in providing others with information about and her experiences with CIs. Usually she is wearing her CI, but at times, Judith takes the processor off to live in silence. As long as this is a conscious choice, rather than that it happens because of malfunctioning of the processor, Judith can easily live without the CI for a short period. Judith was born with one deaf ear and one hearing-impaired ear. While her hearing was decreasing, Judith had never felt handicapped. When she was 37 years, Judith s working ear stopped working all of a sudden. She had to stop working and after many hospital visits, Judith thought she would have to learn to deal with her deafness. However, the doctor suggested getting a CI. While astonished at first that technology could bring her hearing back, she looked into CIs and chose to be implanted. After the activation of the internal part with the processor, Judith could not make anything out of the noise. Only after the ninth or tenth visit to the audiologist who reprogrammed the settings, Judith was able to understand some speech. This was an emotional moment for Judith and her husband. The first few months, Judith was doing exercises for hearing words every day with her husband. Unfortunately, not everything went according to plan. Judith got an infection on her head that eventually led to the removal of her implant. The doctors were happy to retry getting the implant in her ear, but Judith was not ready for a new implantation right away. Having been sick from the 17

19 Giving meaning to a RFID or cochlear implant implant for a long period, spending time in the hospital away from her children and husband, she considered the risks of getting yet another surgery. The period she had worn the first CI had made her nonetheless realize how good it was to be able to hear. The people surrounding Judith also remarked on how easy communication with Judith had become while she had the CI. You could hear so well with it, it all went so nicely and this and that. And I thought well, that s true in some ways. Without the implant, Judith noticed that her world was turning smaller again. Similar to when she had suddenly become deaf, Judith experienced severe difficulties communicating. Constant lip reading was tiresome and she did not know sign language at the time. In the end, Judith decided to try another time. Deciding to get the CI for the second time was directly connected with participation in society and to communication with others. Without the ability to hear, it was hard for her to take part in normal social life. Judith considers the CI to be a tool to belong to society and to enlarge her world. The CI makes the world more similar to how it is for a hearing person. Now that she has the implant, it enriches her life every day by simply being able to hear. While she still has difficulties with communicating with others (e.g. on the phone), the CI facilitates communication in a hearing-oriented society. Nonetheless, Judith does not think the CI changes her identity; but rather looks at it as a tool to assist her with hearing. You remain the same person only you hear a bit better It [the CI] is a bit of support with hearing. While Judith considers this tool to be part of herself, she does not view herself in a cyborg-type way. When I asked her if she considered herself a cyborg, she answered with a resolute no: No absolutely not. No, no, no, I am not the bionic woman or something, totally not. No, no, no, no, no. No. It s just a part of me. No. I see it like glasses really, only now it has something to do with electronics. No. no. This last quote also shows how the CI, although having been inserted in the body, is not that different from other tools. It is a simply an instrument that helps her to participate in society. 18

20 Wagemakers Conclusion These three mini-biographies illustrate how these implantees have incorporated their implant into their lives in different ways. For Lars, for whom the tag is merely a tool, the tag becomes part of his body, but not of his identity. Using the tag becomes a habit and works just as naturally as using his arm. Judith perceives her CI as a tool to participate in society. While Judith is trying to blend in society, Jeff wants to stand out. Jeff has given meaning to the implant that exceeds the tag s functionality by considering himself upgraded. These three biographies show the differences and similarities of having an electronic implant. Within this article, I examined the meaning people give to their technological implant. While the literature was mainly negative towards RFID implants, particularly keeping the risks in mind, the implantees themselves debunked these arguments with logic. Previous research already focused on the implementation of a RFID system in an access control and epayment setting (Michael & Michael, 2010), on how an implantee considers the risks and rewards involved (Michael & Michael, 2013), and on the sociotechnical issues from an implantee s perspective (Graafstra, Michael, & Michael, 2010). This article enriches the literature by looking at multiple RFID taggers within a broader perspective. While the literature implied that implants are used for convenience, this research suggests that for some users the meanings implantees give to their tags goes beyond mere utility. By contrasting RFID users with CI-users, a better understanding is generated on what RFID implantees distinguish from others. The analysis indicates that for both types of implantees the incorporation of this technology into their daily lives was relatively easy. For the RFID implantees, the tags fit within their techie lifestyles; they are interested in technology and know what they are doing. Using the implant quickly turns into a habit. As acknowledged in the domestication theory, particularly because it fits with existing habits, implantees are able to adapt to their implants quickly. Despite turning into a habit, some RFID implantees indicate that having the tag remains exciting. CI-users undergo a longer revalidation process in which they learn to use their new skills. Also for them, even though it sounds mechanical, using the CI has become a natural way of hearing. They cannot live without their CI. All respondents perceive their implant to be part of their selves, simply because it is located in the body and they use it as natural as other body parts. 19

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