The word "biohacking" might conjure images of inserting microchips under the skin or plugging implants into the brain. But it's actually a lot more simple than that.
In the first of a two-part look at the biohacking community, Sean Fleming starts at the very beginning – and it turns out he's already a biohacker, and so, probably, are you.
"My body is a temple, and I am gathering the data to prove it."
I went for a run yesterday.
I ran, with my feet, for SEVEN POINT FIVE KILOMETERS.
(that’s 4.66028 miles for you non-metric heathens).
I ran and I felt fucking great.
But the best bit wasn’t the act of running. It wasn’t the endorphins flushing my system. It wasn’t the smug sense of self satisfaction for having got off my bum and ran around for a bit, no.
No, the best bit was was when I had finished. The best bit was sitting down, ankles puffy and calfs buzzing with dull pain and analysing the data collected during my run in my post exercise afterglow. Elevation. Heart rate. Calories burned. Distance covered. Time.
When the endorphins had faded the data remained.
Seeing all the numbers that together told the story of what my body had undergone for how long and for how far. That was the real joy. The understanding and control that emerged through the numbers and showed me something tangible. When the endorphins had faded the data remained.
Like many people, I take a great deal of joy in logging runs, bike rides, and other forms of exercise. We enjoy logging kilometres and kilometres of data, creating weekly, monthly and even yearly averages for distances ran or cycled.
It’s like playing Grand Theft Auto and pausing the game to see how many miles have been swum, how many cars stolen, how many fiery deaths have been endured... but real.
And it doesn't feel too far removed from normal life: in my line of work, churning out #relatable #web #content, everything must be analysed and quantified.
How many hits? How many click-throughs? What was the session length? Data forms a huge part of how I conduct and produce my work. If it has such an influence on my working day, why can’t I make it a big part of my everyday life as well? How can I use data to optimise my personal life?
My body is a temple, and I am gathering the data to prove it.
Digging into Fitbit culture and others, like me, who take real pleasure in seeing their lives through a filter of actionable data led me beyond the chest-puffing Strava ego riders, and the quick 5k before breakfast humble-braggers into something much more all-encompassing.
Getting to know the real you.
For the uninitiated, Biohacking is a method of managing your own biology through a combo of medicine, nutrition and ‘electronic techniques’.
When I first stumbled across Biohacking, it had a striking similarity to homeopathy: rejection of modern medicine in favour of something... homebrewed. It’s easy to get lost down a rabbithole of bad content, recycled across the same few blogs saying the same boring stuff.
To put it lightly, I was skeptical: Hack your Mind! sounded like a piss-poor reality TV series hosted by a Z-list quasi-celeb.
But as I learned and started reading the more academic side of the biohacking community, the TED talks and the podcasts, I realised the key difference was data.
Biohackers are obsessed with what they can qualify with data. This wasn’t the domain of drippy middle-class pottery students rubbing grass onto their eyeballs - this was the real deal.
Some ways in which biohackers are attempting to unlock their potential is through smart drugs.
My first experience with smart drugs was taking my sister’s Ritalin during my A-Levels and it sort of worked.
Of course, my experience of it is hazy and anecdotal at best, but others who dabble with drugs such as Modafinil, Amphetamines, and even Acid report increased focus, motivation, creativity, and clarity.
The hype around smart drugs is nothing new. Op-ed pieces have been floating around mainstream news for a few years, opinion swaying back and forth as evidence mounts in favour of using.
Unsurprisingly students are often the focal point of articles about smart drugs, given their mental performance-enhancing properties. Mounting pressure on university students to do their best often means turning to a little something to get them over the line.
So why not trust one particular drug that suits you?
To this one-time dabbler, it doesn’t sound any different from having a stiff confidence-boosting drink before a date, smoking a cigarette to calm yourself down, or drinking a coffee for a merry surge of energy.
In a world where everything has side effects, is it not better to be simply more selective with the drugs you take?
"What you can't measure, you can't manage"
What you can’t measure you can’t manage is something of a mantra within the Biohacking community.
What’s the point in taking nootropics or microdosing psychoactive drugs if you can’t judge its effects empirically? There can be no true self-knowledge without self-tracking, and as the ways in which we can measure improves as more and more technology becomes accessible to us, our data becomes richer and more accurate.
Numbers that represent our online behaviours are already used by e-commerce algorithms and social media marketers to give us unique content, so why can’t we apply the same bespoke ethos to our everyday lives?
Within the remit of Biohacking is a movement dubbed Lifelogging. Lifeloggers, as their name suggests log their lives by using cybernetic implants and wearable technology.
If you’ve ever worn a Fitbit or activity tracker to monitor the quality of your sleep or count the number of steps you’ve done in a day then congratulations! You’re a level one lifelogger.
Welcome to the club. Hack away at yourself.
For advanced lifeloggers, measuring sleep quality is just the tip of the iceberg.
Tweak cortisol levels. Massage insulin levels. Sequence your DNA. Lifeloggers want to figure themselves out on a chemical level.
Because by understanding and correlating what we put in our bodies (food consumed, non-toxic substances), how it affects our state (arousal, blood oxygen levels, mood) and performance (mental, physical) we begin to see how – by managing what goes in and how it affects us – we can start optimising the self.
Having arrived at the Biohacking movement and recognised myself in it, I dug deeper – and discovered guerrilla Biohackers who take their data, their health – and their lives – into their own hands.
Oh, and they eat poop. Don't miss part two...