Teen Tech Week: Building a Better Human

TTW14_featureslideMarch 9 – 15 is YALSA’s annual Teen Tech Week, when libraries shine a spotlight on all of the great technological tools that they offer for their patrons. And though this event only lasts for one week, technology is a core element of most libraries’ mission year round. More and more are offering digital labs and makerspaces where patrons can learn to use technology to create fantastic projects and give free rein to their imagination.

Photo by unloveablesteve. CC BY-NC-SA
Photo by unloveablesteve. CC BY-NC-SA

One of my favorite examples of this is the prosthetic Robohand that was recently created for a young boy using the 3-D printer at the Johnson County Library Makerspace. As soon as I read the story, it got me thinking about all of the great stories I have read about technology being used to augment the human body or even change what it means to be a person. And, so, in honor of Teen Tech Week, I decided to create a list of some of my favorite books about technology being used to augment the human body or fundamentally alter humanity as we currently conceive of it.

five flavors of dumbCurrently, advanced devices are making a huge difference in the lives of many people with disabilities. There are great young adult books that include these sorts of technologies, like The Running Game by Wendelin Van Draanen (the 2012 Schneider Family Book Award winner), in which Jessica gets a specialized running prosthetic after having her leg amputated, Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John (the 2011 Schneider Family Book Award winner), where the cochlear implants for Piper’s sister are a major driver of the plot, or Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper, which follows Melody as she learns to communicate with an augmentative and alternative communication device.

But beyond what currently exists, there are also great books that speculate about how technology could continue to offer options for physical augmentation or otherwise alter what it means to be human. Though some of the technologies in these books seem almost within our grasp, others remain well outside the reach of current technology. To my mind, though, even the most futuristic and fantastical technology can inspire us to think in new ways– and below are some of the most thought-provoking of these books.

Wake by Robert J. Sawyer – The first in the WWW trilogy, it introduces Caitlin, a 15-year-old blind girl, and a new device she calls her “eyePod” that is intended to give her sight. Instead of doing so, the initial version of the device instead allows her to visualize, and eventually communicate with, a new intelligence that has emerged on the World Wide Web. This is a fun near-future trilogy that provides lots of food for thought about medical technologies and the Internet.

Amped by Daniel H. Wilson – This book explores a possible future where people have the ability to implant a device in their brain that gives them heightened abilities. Confronted with a world where this population is ever-expanding, the rest of citizens of the U.S. begin to fear these people and discriminate against them. Amped will make readers consider how they look at people of different abilities and how they view new augmentative technologies such as Google Glass.

summerprinceSummer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson – Set in Brazil far in the future, the Summer Prince exists in a world where people are able to greatly extend their lives, or even completely forgo bodies, instead uploading themselves to a futuristic version of the cloud. These changes are just one aspect of a very interesting and distinctive story that considers a whole host of issues in this new world.

Beta by Rachel Cohn – In a world devastated by Water Wars, the rich live on an island called Demesne. On this paradise, they can buy clones to serve as staff for the rich or, in the case of Elysia, the book’s protagonist, to be companions. The way the clones are treated and the wide disparity between the classes are just a couple of the topics tackled through the story.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson (2009 Best Books for Young Adults2009 Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults) – When Jenna awakes, she is told that she has been in a coma for a year since a major accident. With only a limited number of strange memories, she continues to search for answers surreptitiously and uncovers secrets she never expected.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer (2012 Teens’ Top Ten) – The first in the Lunar Chronicles, this book introduces a world where cybernetics has advanced to the point that it can be used to save the lives of those who are seriously injured. However, though these cyborgs may live, they are afforded fewer rights than humans without cybernetic implants. The book follows Cinder, a cyborg whose closest friend is an android, as she fights to save her stepsister from a plague that runs rampant on Earth and meets a prince along the way.

Expiration Day CoverExpiration Day by William Campbell Powell – This book, which will debut in April, takes place in a future where rising infertility levels and the social instability that it brought with it, have prompted the development of robots that serve as replacements for children. Families are told to hide the fact that the robots are not real children and treat them as human, meaning that many of the children do not even know that they are not human. It will make you question the line between human and robot. (If you are still looking for more books with robots, check out my earlier Hub post.)

Have you read any other great books about the intersection of technology and humanity? Let us know in the comments!

– Carli Spina, currently reading No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale

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