Findings from Our Chapters and Further Developments: Human-Technology Co-Evolution in the Anthropocene Era
Here we both present some of the findings of our chapters and consider further developments, some of which are not mentioned in those chapters, presenting opportunities for future thinking and action.
I: From Biocultural Evolution to Human- Technology Co-Evolution
Our chapters begin at the beginning of human evolution. In Chapter 1, Melissa Cheyney and Robbie Davis-Floyd describe the relevance of human biocultural evolution for childbirth, showing that premodern norms across cultures shared many physiologically sound practices that were undone during the Industrial
Revolution and the later development of technocratic societies, and, as there is now strong scientific evidence for their efficacy, should be recaptured in these postmodern times, for which the authors set out a racial- and gender-egalitarian future. And their futuristic story about Kiri the Cyborg points to possible techno-evolutionary innovations such as the computer chip embedded in Kiri’s baby’s brain.
Marcia Inhorn’s Chapter 2 on what she terms “egg-freezing activists” argues that the advent of egg freezing has made possible reproductive futures for three groups of people: (1) young women with fertility-threatening medical conditions or therapies (e.g., cancer patients); (2) older women with age-related fertility decline but (usually) no reproductive partners; and (3) transgender men who can preserve eggs before transitioning. Inhorn’s analysis of reasons for freezing one’s eggs is an important pushback against stereotypes about women, reproduction, and technology and a strong and inspiring indication of what individual activists can accomplish.
While Inhorn’s chapter deals with people who really need to freeze their eggs in order to biologically reproduce, Lucy Van der Wiel shows in Chapter 3 that the financialization of and easier access to egg freezing are driving even young, fertile, and cancer-free women to freeze their eggs for a future in which they may wish to have children. The increasing demand for egg-freezing, driven by the marketing efforts of various companies, makes the industry hugely profitable, not only because the numbers of such women are growing but also because they often incur debt that they may pay interest on for years. Yet they are aided in these endeavors by the work of the activists Inhorn describes, who played instrumental roles in getting employer insurance to cover oocyte cryopreservation.
In Chapter 4, Noemie Merleau-Ponty describes researchers’ work on exploring in vitro gametogenesis (IVG)—the use of embryonic or adult cells to make spermatozoa and eggs, also known as “stem cell derived gametes,” and “artificial or synthetic gametes.” IVG has the potential to become a cure for infertility and for enabling any human, regardless of fertility, sexuality, or disability status, to conceive children. Theoretically, same-sex partners could have (presently impossible) children who are genetically related to both. All this, as Merleau- Ponty shows, could lead to “the democratization of reproduction.” But thus far IVG is not for human use, as that would involve the morally and ethically fraught artificial production of human embryos for research. Merleau-Ponty shows that most researchers in the field do not perceive IVG—which could eventually entail the actual making of artificial human gametes—as a reproductive technology but rather as a potentially regenerative system for studying gametes’ biological development and for advancing understanding of epigenetic reprogramming. Regenerative potentials include eliminating the inheritance of genetic diseases (described by Kaur in Chapter 7 as supported by many with such diseases while contested by others). Yet the possibility for using artificial gametes for the more futuristic, “democratizing” ventures mentioned above remains, and might someday be realized, resulting in the creation of genetically modified babies. As a way of dealing with such dilemmas, Merleau-Ponty offers the concept of “sociology as technology.” She insists that sociology can, and should, “be practiced as a technology for the democratization of biotechnology,” meaning that tools should be created in interdisciplinary collaboration to include alternative perspectives in biotech conception, instead of bioscience researchers translating their research into publications and applications without such perspectives.