Our Bosses, Ourselves
Companies like Walmart and Humanyze are encroaching on their employees’ bodies with RFID-chip implants, badges that record audio and movement, and “self-improvement” health campaigns. How far is too far?
In the technology industry, corporeal manipulation is a rite of passage. Fledgling startup founders tote bottles of open-source future-smoothies to exempt themselves from the time-wasting ritual of the lunch break. They convince themselves that intermittent fasting and geometric nootropic pellets will stimulate their mental faculties. As self-proclaimed “biohackers,” they purport to treat their bodies as computers – machines that require inputs in order to generate outputs.
The greatest exemplar of a company manifesting this worldview is, perhaps, HVMN, formerly known as Nootrobox. With products like chewable coffee cubes, krill-infused Omega-3 supplements, and capsules containing “cognition-enhancing” herbs, the company peddles the Silicon-Valley-endemic philosophy that humans are systems who, like machines, require upgrades and optimizations to reach their full potential.
Under such an ambitious premise, HVMN doesn’t fashion itself merely a business, but rather a pillar of the biohacking subculture of tech’s upper crust. In 2016, its founders boasted to QZ that its staff participated in weekly fasts ranging from 36 to 60 hours, a gambit to achieve mental clarity and heightened productivity. The company’s website offers a biohacker guide, rife with apocryphal advice on the benefits of food abstinence, hosts a “human enhancement” podcast, and organizes WeFast, an “online community of biohackers and fasters.”
HVMN targets and represents those Silicon Valley seekers of fame and fortune who’ve come to define “human enhancement” as optimization of one’s ability to work, for as long as possible. In its eagerness to test the boundaries of the human body in the name of “crushing it” professionally, HVMN styles itself a resource for enterprising fraternity alumni, who work 16-hour days in pursuit of joining the ranks of the tech industry’s nouveau riche. These select workers – startup founders and tech professionals whose salary packages include capital entitlements in the form of annual bonuses and equity – eagerly comply with the new paradigm. For them, higher productivity means stronger dominion over their respective staffs and markets, means higher financial reward. Together, the startup elite and the companies that enable them promote performative devotion to one’s career.
Yet, while the Valley acolytes voluntarily reboot their bodies in pursuit of seven- or eight-figure salaries, workers placed lower in the socio-corporate pecking order face far more invasive, paternalistic forms of bodily control – with no such promise of flush autonomy.