5 Health Practices That Will Seem Horrifying To The Future
Old-timey diseases and treatments were pretty crazy, as we might have told you once or twice before. But while medicine has evolved some since the days of plagues and mummy powder, our most amazing scientific advancements are still ahead of us. And one day, people will read about life back in the 21st century, and they'll alternately laugh and cry to learn how ...
"People Used To Bind Dicks With Latex During Sex!"
Need to brighten up your day? Look into the disgusting ways our ancestors prevented pregnancy and be thankful that we have hygienic, convenient Trojans. People used to stuff themselves with crocodile dung! They wrapped themselves in animal guts! Crazy, right? But when you really think about it, the weird part wasn't that the substances were yucky; the weird part is the whole barrier method of contraception, period. Specifically, the fact that it's still the best one the guy has.
Imagine a future in which—bear with me, I'm going somewhere with this—semen no longer contains sperm. Not all the time, just when we don't want it to. We're pretty close to this already. There are injections and pills that can halt sperm production but let every other part of sex go on as normal, and though they're stuck in the research stage until we iron out the side effects, we'll eventually reach the point where someone can ejaculate anywhere they want with zero risk of pregnancy.
You're no doubt wondering about STDs, perhaps speculating that this is secretly a sponsored post from a company that manufactures crotch ailments. Well, call me an optimist, but STDs could get eradicated altogether, depending on public policy. Of course, they could also get a lot worse, but either way, we don't try to stop flu outbreaks by making everyone wear Hazmat suits when they leave the house.
I think the future will see condoms the same way we see urban legends about conservative foreigners having sex through a hole in a sheet—except no, it would be much weirder, because we cover up our genitals, the one part of the body you'd think really can't be covered during sex. ("Plus, they were agonizingly tight and must have cut off most sensation!") At least animal guts had to be more comfortable. You do know 21st-century men still use those, right?
"They Used To Cut Each Other Open And Drop Bits Of Corpses Inside!"
If you'd never heard about organ transplants before, and I told you about them today for the first time, you would think I was a serial killer. "You carve a sick person open," I'd explain, "pluck their failing organ out, and throw it into a bin. Then you take someone else and carve them open, even though they're perfectly healthy (at least, they were perfectly healthy before you went and cut them open). You yank out one of their healthy organs, and you drop it into the sick person. You know, like changing a carburetor." Best-case scenario, the 65-year-old man lives out the rest of his days with a piece of 25-year-old woman living inside him. Worst-case, his body recognizes it as a foreign invader and attacks it.
Yes, I know, most organs don't come from living donors—they come from dead bodies. We all accept this because it saves lives, but once more, I am optimistic that the future will have entire horror movie franchises about this. We consider everything else about corpses to be creepy. Eat one dead guy, and you're extremely depraved. Have sex with a dead guy, and you're even worse. But go for an even more intimate connection and hook yourself permanently to an organ fished out of a human carcass, and that's just medical science.
As for the future, we've got scientists making artificial organs with 3D printers and biogel. We have other scientists working on culturing whole organs from stem cells. But we're setting our ultimate sights even higher. Stem cells won't just make new organs, they should fix all our existing ones with no surgery required. We're absolutely not there yet, but someday, just about every pre-stem-cell medical treatment will look like dragging goods in sacks because we hadn't yet invented the wheel.
The future will shudder at the fact that the government once kept lists of citizens whose organs they could harvest—and if you were willing, they'd engrave a symbol specifying as much on your identification papers. Imagine how horrified they'll be to learn that once we finally made driving safe by automating it instead of pulling wheels and pedals, we had to weigh this against a downside: Fewer deaths meant fewer cadavers for us to loot.
"They even had urban legends about people waking up in bathtubs full of ice, finding their kidneys had been stolen to sell on the black market!" they'll say. "And people believed them, because that was a fairly plausible thing that could happen in their world!"
"People Would Butcher Themselves To Keep Their Faces Young!"
Out of all our organs, I can picture humans solving skin first. We're so obsessed with skin today (if creams and makeup count, skin is the organ that gets the most treatment). Plus, skin is pretty easy to work with. It regenerates. It was the first organ to be transplanted. Skin is responding well to stem cells already—though any "stem cell skin lotion" you buy is bullshit, legit scientists recently managed to use stem cells to replace a person's skin completely. In the future, our descendants will be stemming their way through major burns and cancer, and such minor inconveniences as wrinkles should be long forgotten.
So that's going to make the extreme lengths we go through today for tiny cosmetic improvements look batshit insane. "They'd slice open someone's face, hack off chunks of it, and throw them away. Then they'd pull the entire remaining face upward and sew it in a new, tighter spot with a needle and thread." That's not even getting into when plastic surgery goes wrong, freezing people into wide-eyed stares forever. And I'm not going to include photos of the operation, which are too horrifying to print. Instead I'll share this modern diagram, which looks like a 19th-century quack patent:
And what about Botox? I'm old enough that I remember when Botox first came out and people thought it was mad science, but in case anyone reading this doesn't know, let me clarify: Botox is a neurotoxin taken from bacteria. And I don't mean one of those substances that exist in the body harmlessly and is only toxic in higher quantities—Botox injections work by being a neurotoxin, shutting down nerve connections and immobilizing muscles. We make our faces look better by killing them, and when the face repairs itself, we need the treatment again. Botox is literally the deadliest toxin known to man. A few kilograms of it could wipe out the entire human population.
Our descendants will look at Botox like we look at radium toothpaste, figuring we had no idea how dangerous the stuff we were working with was. Then they'll realize we knew about deadly botulism for centuries before sticking the neurotoxin into ourselves on purpose, and they'll instead just consider us vain morons. If this all sounds optimistic, remember that true optimism would be a future in which we're finally OK with getting old.
"They'd Keep Their Bodies In Shape By Doing Hours Of Pointless Physical Labor, Often At Great Expense."
Good news: There's a medical way to help you build up your muscles. It's called steroids! Of course, steroids also do terrible stuff, but they prove there are ways to tell your muscles to grow on top of just working them. Scientists then spent years looking into gene therapies to command your body to build muscle, and now that we can edit DNA, things'll get really interesting (the first attempt happened late last year, and it was in fact a scientist injecting gene-altering serum to make his own muscles grow). Once we perfect the process, people could bulk up without doing any work. At which point 21st-century attempts at bodybuilding are going to look really, really dumb.
We lift something heavy. Then we put it down. Then we lift it again. Then we put it down again. When this becomes boring, we move on to a slightly heavier weight. "I don't understand," they'll say, "was this process also grinding grain, or generating electricity? Were they getting paid to do this labor?" No and no. In fact, we paid other people to let us do it. "And if they wanted these things raised, why not use machinery? Did you not have machinery back then?"
No, kids, we chose to exert ourselves to literally tear our muscles apart so they'd grow back bigger. And while we had machines, they're not what you're picturing:
People will look back at this genital-squashing contraption and think it's a torture device. They'll be baffled that we had no easier ways to build hamstrings. And that's if they even see the appeal of big hamstrings, or big anything. There's always the possibility that beauty standards will be totally different in the future, that they won't even want huge muscles, that they'll think 2000s-man Dwayne Johnson had some incurable disease. ("The Rock" was his cruel carny nickname.)
Other gym stuff, like aerobics, might not seem so weird in the future, because humans will never stop dancing. But if we ever do figure out drugs to make us stop overeating or to speed our metabolism, some cardio regimens will surely confuse our descendants. "Spin classes?" they'd ask. "What did you learn there?" ("Nothing," you'd admit, sadly.) And treadmills would appear to be totally pointless, since they never actually took you anyplace. You were just running for the hell of it. "Run for fun?" they'd ask a time traveler. "What the hell kind of fun is that?"
"Without Constant Effort And Expense, Their Teeth Would Rot Right Out Of Their Skulls!"
Part of you is rotting away while you're still alive. It's your mouth, full of microbes that shit out acid, dissolving your teeth and leaving the very air you exhale smelling of death. To neutralize the acid and combat this constant decay, you apply complicated gels and pastes. You do this for several minutes, multiple times daily. This keeps the worst at bay but solves nothing. The process never ends.
But it could end. Tooth decay isn't a given. Just look back at ancient skulls that have fairly good teeth for someone who had no dental regimen while alive and then spent thousands of years decomposing underground.
Why's tooth maintenance so much harder for us? The short answer: We eat sugar. The slightly longer answer: After we invented agriculture, an entirely different type of bacteria evolved to live in our mouths. If we can move away from this diet, or find any other way to eradicate that bacteria, we can get rid of tooth decay along with it. And then we'll tell stories about how our ancestors had zombie mouths and struggled to cleanse them with brushes and strings and picks.
Whether or not we ever do get rid of all tooth decay, you can bet we'll get rid of the torture that follows it. Thanks to our old friend stem cells, we'll soon tease teeth into self-repairing whenever they get damaged, which means an end to everything we now call dental work. Dentists will be remembered as mysterious figures, sources of fear for ancient children and adults alike. Their tools certainly look like instruments of interrogation ...
... and their trade will seem barbaric. When a tooth is damaged, they remove a huge chunk with a diamond-tipped drill, then fill the giant hole they created. Once we know how to truly heal teeth, that'll sound like treating a broken finger by amputating the hand then replacing it with a hook. And that's when dentists aren't performing actual amputations -- tooth extractions, which will one day be seen as unforgivable mutilation. The most complex dental procedures are hard to even look at:
But then again, maybe you or I recoil at seeing that only because we've had toothaches and imagine what that must feel like. Maybe people in the future won't react at all. Because they won't know pain.
Don't take a spin class without a seat cushion. Trust us.
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