© 2019 Elena SOKOLOVA
2019 – №2 (18)
Yelena Konstantinovna Sokolova is an anthropologist and independent researcher (Moscow).
Keywords: biohacking, biohackers, festival, healthy lifestyle, technologies of health, big data, self-tracking
Abstract: In September 2019, the Rocket Science festival of biohacking took place in Moscow. The event’s concept was built around the notion of collecting data about oneself to improve one’s quality of life. As Big Data of Self organizers put it, “Doctor House claimed that everyone lies. It is partially true since we all still describe our health with words, in the hope that the doctor will understand and help. Why hope if we can know for certain?!” Yelena Sokolova met with the festival’s co-organizer and PRT Lab head Artyom Davydov. They discussed the idea behind the festival and the experience of its implementation, as well as the Russians’ attitude to their health in the context of technologies – a study of the latter was conducted by Rocket Science channel and The-Challenger.ru portal.
The materials of Rocket Science Fest describe biohacking as a scientific and systemic approach utilizing biotechnologies for personal purposes, such as improving personal efficiency and the quality of life. The program was designed as a full day one and consisted of three parts: a review of biohacking in Russia, based on the research results; an information block about why we can collect data about ourselves and how we can do it properly; a practical block that included a presentation of the basics of the systemic approach and some of the most important aspects of biohacking, such as nutrition and sports. Invited as speakers were doctors, academics, visioners, practicians, representatives of the pharmaceutical industry, laboratories, clinics, and technological companies. Many speakers combined several roles at a time. Apart from a lecture session, the festival included an exhibition of monitoring gadgets and applications, services of laboratories, sports, and educational services, as well as nutrition science.
In the course of interviews, it was discussed that biohacking is still more relevant for the “geeks”, among whom this movement historically evolved: data experts understood that one can analyze not only financial models and “big data” but ourselves, too, and started doing this, in the first place, for their enjoyment. Chris Dancy spoke about this at the festival; what he measures is his own social life rather than merely biomarkers; e. g., how much time did he spend on Facebook, whom did he respond to, how did he feel. Does he find pleasure in this? It looked so. Is this efficient? It is for him. In this sense, biohacking does not focus exclusively on health but studies also the changes in lifestyle and habits.
Self-observation and adjusting one’s lifestyle are seen as a man’s basic “good habit”: “Hadn’t we been doing that, we would have still been sitting in caves.” It was noted that every society includes a category of curious “geeks”, in the positive sense of the word, who are interested in how things around them work. In this sense, “biohacking” represents a new label for the process humankind has engaged throughout its history. On the other hand, modern technologies have taken this process to a new level. The “quantified self” approach helps to understand the systemic character of the human organism using a large array of analyzed parameters. Studies have become more varied and accessible; accordingly, the number of those interested in them is growing. Biohacking experimenters not only do their research but develop new solutions. Only one project out of ten might work out but it will bring wealth and fame to its creator. Many people see biohacking as a “Klondike” combining the good intention to help humankind with the possibility to make money.
Before a discussion on biohacking and health technologies in the wider sense, the festival organizers tried to understand what is the attitude towards them in modern Russia and surveyed over 500 people. The mass audience, as expected, was more practical compared to “geeks”: among reasons to observe one’s health, long (61 %) and vibrant (25 %) life were chosen often, while curiosity, work efficiency, and one’s appearance were chosen rarely. An obligatory set for maintaining good health included health sleep (79 %), sports (72 %), monitoring basic parameters of health/analyses (57 %), diet (56 %), stress monitoring (37 %). Limiting oneself was chosen as the most preferable way to maintain good nutrition. Only one-fifth of the respondents did not pay attention to sports; a little over a half (54 %) of the respondents claimed they do sports 1-3 hours a week. Meditation (11 %) and psychotherapy (8 %) were not a popular choice.
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