The Best YouTube Video is an occasional series where Motherboard searches for the best YouTube video ever made, usually on Friday afternoons right before the margarita alarm rings. Previously The Best YouTube Video: Godzilla Gets the 'Dick Drop.'
So you're on the latter half of a pack of Newport Smooth Selects, your blood feels like it's made of fiberglass, and the cab driver taking you to a BYOB karaoke hell hole with allegedly strong vibes is screaming obscenities out of his now-weaponized automobile, and, well, shit. Might as well get ready to dap the reaper because we're all going to die sooner than we think.
Humans have an incredible capacity to put one foot in front of the other. There's a story run by my VICE colleagues back in 2008 about Kavuye, a member of the Advanced Force Rangers in the Congo, who have the impossible task of protecting the country's incredible Virunga National Park from the Lord's Resistance Army and other militant groups.
In the piece, Kavuye tells the story of being captured by rebels, who attempted to execute him. After being shot twice while lying on the ground, he was left for dead. After lying in his own blood for two days, he said, he had enough strength to wander off in search of help.
“I was hardly walking. To do 30 miles I was spending a whole day," he said. "It was very difficult. I had nothing to eat. I even ate mud from the ground. I had no hope, so much so I went to a herd of elephants so they could kill me. But they passed without killing me. I even went where lions were so they could kill me, but in vain. I went where buffalo were, but no one would kill me. So I decided then to look for people who might help me.”
For as stunning as the story is, it's not particularly surprising, not in the literal sense. There are countless tales of incredible feats of human strength—and, naturally, websites dedicated to the genre—that all stand as a reminder that somewhere inside us is a reserve of fortitude we can't even fathom on the day-to-day.
Yet we still find ourselves overwhelmed by The Fear, sweating and skin crawling as we wait for the proverbial hammer to drop. It's enough to make your skeleton itch—not in drug-fueled way, or what I imagine that'd be like (I'll happily go on the record to state I've never horsed around with crystal meth), but with the existential dread that something is coming, even if you're not sure from whom or why it's even happening.
Along with meth, I've never tired skydiving, but I imagine the allure there is that of just giving oneself over to forces of fate, perhaps in the form of wondering whether or not the type of guy who talks about "sparking reefer" can actually pack a 'chute.
Somewhere inside your brain is the biochemical melange that causes you to wake up and stare at the mirror, wonder why you look like Jeremy Piven in Smokin' Aces, and then debate buying a Camaro and driving to Florida to go hunt alligators because while you're not famous enough to contemplate the ramifications of joining the 27 Club, you might as well walk around town knowing that you killed the ridiculous boots you're wearing by your own hand.
Skydiving—which honestly seems a bit frivolous, if also rather rad—aside, the whole idea of "person driving loud Camaro" seems predicated on our own inability to process our perceived fragility, even though the bags of bones we call home aren't that fragile at all. (Or, to be more clear, they aren't as fragile as we think, until they are, and it's all totally random, which is the point in the first place I suppose.)
Take the guy in Greenpoint who's always hauling ass up and down Manhattan Ave in a BMW M5 (which sounds great, by the way). Knowing that the only thing separating you from zipping around in a real bitchin' situation and flying a 4,000 pound death machine into a ravine is your own neural system and fuzzy perception of the world around you, well that's rather liberating in a way, no?
I mean, our bodies are controlled by electrical impulses that zip through biological wires like we're some sort of machines. And while it's easily understood in the abstract, academic sense, thinking about what that means in reality, for me and you, is something altogether different.
I'm only typing this because somehow the asinine words I envision in my mind's eye, which is a bio-digital construct on its own, are getting beamed to my fingers, which fire in rhythm thanks to electrical impulses from my brainbox, and then those words are interfaced into my laptop, fired across another digital network to your internet-enabled device, which then is projected onto your own eyeballs, which process that image of characters into words that are computed into having some meaning (or perhaps not) by your own head computer.
Burning hot itchy skeletons aside, we're machines, even if we don't like thinking of ourselves that way, largely because it's impossible to divorce the reality from the whole Terminator thing. And the dread we sometimes feel, fueled by alkaloids or not, is rooted in the fear that at any moment a meteor, real or metaphorical, is going to come crashing down and strip the veil of our own delusion away.
And because this dread is pervasive, if not always high in intensity, we sometimes flirt with it, poke at it to see if it's still there. We know humans are immensely resilient, but figure that by jacking in to a hot rod, we'll either end up feeling like an enhanced machine, or hit a tree and explode in a blaze of glory, ignoring the middle ground scenario where you just end up crashing, being horribly maimed, and living the rest of your life as a one-armed drummer.
But if it's this feeling of enhancement that's driving up to try to outrun the fear, what would happen if it was a more permanent arrangement? What if, instead of blasting down the highway in a Trans-Am while blaring Billy Squier, you actually were the Trans-Am?
That's what piqued my interest in the above video, which offers surprising insight into our future. Now, I'm not saying we're actually going to get to the point where medical science can help us transform into 80s sports cars at will, but the future—and the now, really—is one in which we enhance our bodies at will, either mechanically, digitally, chemically, or all of the above.
As our Meg Neal explained recently, we need legal and ethical frameworks for hacking our brains. Such enhancements have the potential to create an ability gap the likes of which has never existed in human history, as Kevin Warwick told me a few years ago.
Futuristic as it sounds, that reality has gotten a lot closer in the years since, and yet we're still a long ways off from addressing what it even means. The legal and political hurdles are myriad—I can't even imagine what congressional hearings on brain hacking are going to be like—but it's personal, as well. As weird as it sounds, rationally assessing our bio-digital progress is going to require something we normally avoid: Thinking of ourselves not just as mysterious blobs of organic matter, but also as machines.