Say the technology of cybernetics/genetic engineering gets to the point where it isn’t just available to replace the stuff you need (new organs, prosthetic limbs, injury healing, disease resistance, etc.), but you can, electively, enable yourself to surpass the human norm. Super bionic strength, running for days without fatigue, seeing in the dark, breathing water…
Do you get them?
Let’s skip past some of the practical scientific problems here (which are legion) and go straight to the ethical/moral/aesthetic concerns. What kind of stuff would sell? What kind of stuff would be developed? Given our current sporting culture, it’s safe to assume that the sporting world wouldn’t embrace augmented superhumans into their ranks. So, if you can’t dunk from half-court in the NBA, why do you need the super-jumping? Seeing in the dark would be nice, I suppose, but wouldn’t going under the knife in surgery (and all the risk that entails) be a rather large inconvenience for a problem that, let’s be honest, you don’t really have? Couldn’t we just make night-vision goggles cheaper, maybe stick them in regular glasses or even contact lenses? If we wanted to jump really high, wouldn’t it be easier to build a pair of super-jump pants or something?
Well, okay, maybe/maybe not. I, personally, find the idea of augmenting the human form past its normal physical parameters to be mildly distasteful. I confess that I don’t find the idea of boosting one’s mental capacity quite so problematic, so my problem is more aesthetic than it is anything else. Then again, I also wouldn’t get a tattoo (I cannot think of a word or picture that I would love to see on my body until the day I die), don’t find body piercing all that attractive, and am perfectly fine with the color my hair is right now, thank you. Perhaps I’m a poor sampling for the kinds of things people are willing to do to their bodies just for the hell of it.
Cyberpunk is full of the concept of human alteration. It’s used, primarily, as a symbol of the machine corrupting the human temple with its hard, passionless, lifeless influence. I would be surprised if many of the authors in that subgenre actually found such alterations to be positive things, since so much of that genre demonstrates, in the moment of catharsis, the primacy of living humanity over lifeless silicon. When sci-fi authors want to present body augmentation in a positive light exclusively, they tend to do it with biological agents–they grow new glands, produce stronger antibodies, develop stronger natural muscles (Banks’ Culture novels spring to mind here, as does some aspects of Herbert’s Dune saga). Still, the sci-fi audience’s fascination with bionic improvements, all the way from Lee Majors to Keanu Reeves, seems to imply that we do, in fact, like the idea of having kung-fu implanted into our brains. The symbolic appeal is clear, of course (we get to be stronger, better, faster, defeat our enemies, be better looking, etc, etc.). I do wonder, though, that if this stuff were actually available and you could actually afford it, how many of us would go for it?
I guess it would be similar to the amount of cosmetic plastic surgery done in this country, which totaled about 1.5-ish million in 2011. This isn’t a huge number, really. Now, granted, if they were offering things somewhat more impressive than big boobs, maybe that number would go up. Maybe if they made it cheaper, the number would go up. I don’t know, though. It sounds cool on paper, but in practice I feel like it gets creepier and creepier. Would a kind of cybernetic arms race develop among the population? Would all the cool kids in school be able to change their skin-tone at will thanks to sub-dermal pigmentation generators? Would our standards of beauty change? Maybe. Probably, even.
Still, though, there would probably be a pretty sizable chunk of ‘norms’ standing on the sidelines, shaking their heads and muttering to themselves “when that Logan kid gets to be eighty and it’s a cold day, he’s going to wish his skeleton weren’t made of metal. God, think of the arthritis!”