One thing that’s fun to do is to imagine which of the many modern innovations we take for granted would most impress someone from the past – a Founding Father or Leonardo da Vinci or Socrates. There are obvious ones, like the airplane, television, or a smartphone (the last of which would even blow away someone from the mid-90s). Some of the less obvious, but I think more fundamentally impressive ones, would be in the medical field.
Think about, say, an X-ray. If you took an X-ray machine to the Middle Ages, or maybe even the 1800s, people would absolutely freak out and call you a demon and stone you to death. You showed us inside a body! And when you stop to think about it, it really is amazing. If you look at yourself in the mirror, the first thing you probably notice is: not the inside of your body. X-rays and ultrasounds and MRI technology are astonishing in ways that we fail to really stop and think about; that mystery of what’s inside of us, that we used to only see when something bad happened, is no longer a mystery.
Now we can take that a step further. Sometimes in the next few years, ultrasonic imaging will become affordable and portable, and you’ll be able to control it from your smartphone. This has been dubbed elsewhere as “the ultimate selfie,” and while it is cool and fun, it is also incredibly revolutionary in the true sense. It allows us to understand our own bodies, and to be aware of and in control of them. It’s another way that mobile technology is altering longstanding ideas about the most longstanding relationship any of us will ever have: the one with ourselves.
Portable ultrasounds and ultrasonic imaging
This revolution started with ultrasounds, even if it wasn’t a revolution that spread to the masses. More portable ultrasounds had been around since 2011, and in 2013, Mobisante received 4.2 million dollars in funding to make them smaller, cheaper, and more affordable. The basic premise of the portable ultrasound was that a small scanner could be connected to a smartphone or tablet, and would be able to produce a 3D image.
This technology, if it could be made affordable (costs ranged from anywhere between $10,000 and $100,000) could save hospitals a lot of money on huge and stationary ultrasound machines. Not only that, but having them already on a mobile device could aid with the transfer of information between doctors, helping to create the kind of seamless medical community that technology promises.
Of course, this wasn’t designed for homes, but the basic technology was there, and if it can be scaled there is no reason why someone can’t perform an ultrasound on themselves. People are framing ultrasounds and putting them on Facebook; this just makes it easier. There are some drawbacks, of course, which we’ll get to in the next section.
The rise of ultrasonic imaging and the limits of personal control
Not to take anything away from how cool ultrasounds are, but they don’t really apply to everyone. Handheld ultrasonic and diagnostic imaging, on the other hand, does. Having an attachment and an app that plugs into your mobile device and allows you to see inside yourself, with medical clarity, is nothing short of astonishing. There is even the growing ability for biotech to be able to not just see, but live inside the brain. A few implications of this:
- Yes, this will be used for prurient amusement, and that’s fine. Just be careful going on YouTube, unless you really want to see what people are like on the inside.
- This isn’t going to be a scanner that renders barriers invisible. No one will be able to walk up to someone on the streets, do a quick unobtrusive scan with their phone, and have an image of their body. It has to be pressed against someone.
- There will be people who take this too seriously. I talked about the ultrasound. Your ability to take a picture should not be conflated with your ability to understand what it means. Actual ultrasounds, where the health of a baby can be monitored, say, are still vital.
- But that’s where this gets cool. Say you think you are having an issue with your pregnancy, or your kidneys, or anything else when this comes to fruition. Instead of waiting on an appointment or spending thousands of dollars on expensive tests, you can take a picture of your insides on your own, and send them to a doctor, who can make the same diagnosis and observations that they could if you went in and sat inside a machine. Even if you have to go to the hospital, if a hospital has these, everyone will save time and money.
Barriers – Medical Training
There was, and is, a barrier that made it very difficult to understand yourself. That barrier was, and is, years of medical training. Having some of the same tools doesn’t mean having the same knowledge any more than having a plane ticket makes you a pilot. A plane ticket, though, gets you on the flight, and lets you participate in its magic. It’s the same with portable ultrasonic and diagnostic imaging.
Suddenly, your body, and what’s inside, is even more apparent and real to you. It changes our relationship with our body, and knowledge of our health is the best way to modify it. It allows us to be less dependent on expensive equipment, let’s us work with doctors, and makes us more of a partner in our own well-being.