The Body Public

Sven Johnson has just filed another report from the very near future. In this month’s Future Imperfect, he looks at the impact of a massive and deliberate leak of the medical data of ordinary Americans onto the internet.

Future Imperfect - Sven Johnson


Today is, of course, an important anniversary: the day the Anthropometric Liberation Front (ALF) hacked the U.S. National e-Health Database and released American body scans to the Internet and virtual freedom. Or something like that.

Unsurprisingly, like souls ripped from flesh and bone by photographic technology, virtual shapes representing our physicality had a power over us beyond what seemed logical… or even reasonably illogical.

I recall thinking how funny it was to see the tables turned. We certainly didn’t seem so civilized and sophisticated when the news broke.

In recognition of this event, I wanted to remind people of its impact on the U.S. by listing what I consider the top ten consequences of this faux guerrilla action.

  • #10 – Global ridicule, with “Do you want to have the body of an American?” becoming the most frequently translated phrase on Google. Ever.
  • #9 – Coining of the medical condition “Post-Anthropometric Stress Syndrome” in Psychology Today, following a spike in the rate of suicides.
  • #8 – Emergence of service bureaus matching scan data to online dating profiles; the effects of their business on popular culture (who can forget the Super Bowl commercials?) as well as their subsequently morphing into legitimate 3D data scanning locations.
  • #7 – Birth of “politi-porn” machinima, marked by the release of the classicly subversive “Cheney’s Packing”.
  • #6 – Increase in the number of nudist beaches; many of them associated with the Scan Happy socnet.
  • #5 – Legislation resulting from politi-porn machinimas … and the more important laws which didn’t get passed as a consequence of our collective vanity.
  • #4 – Renewed emphasis on parent-child communication at all levels across ideological and religious boundaries.
  • #3 – The ongoing “John/Jane Doe vs The Insurance Companies” class-action lawsuit, with its potential to set extraordinarily important precedent.
  • #2 – Apparel industry updating their sizing standards resulting in the ongoing fashion industry boom.
  • #1 – Pedestrian zones making a comeback, with seven major U.S. cities imposing outright bans on all downtown vehicular traffic; zoning changes linked to the ongoing decline in the reported number of people driving instead of walking or biking to destinations less than a mile away as a likely consequence of ALF’s actions.


While there are plenty of unfortunate consequences, maybe a little collective embarrassment was what this country needed to begin changing some bad habits. ALF could have released all the data but didn’t, so that’s something for which we can all be grateful. Imagine what the insurance companies would do with all the information (assuming, of course, they don’t already have a backdoor to it).

Again, this is just my own list, so feel free to suggest your own. I’d certainly like to hear the argument for why the spike in sales of large caliber guns, muscle cars and beer during that initial financial quarter was a direct consequence of ALF’s actions. Maybe I can use it to help justify my tenuous #1.


Sven JohnsonSven Johnson is an unrooted freelance designer increasingly working at the intersection of tangible and virtual goods. His background is varied and includes a fair amount of travel, a pair of undergraduate degrees and a stint with the US military. He’s a passionate wannabe filmmaker, a once-upon-a-time underground comix creator, and – when facilities are available – an enthusiastic ceramicist who is currently attempting to assemble a transmedia, transreality open-source narrative in what remains of his lifetime.

[Future Imperfect header based on an image by Kaunokainen.]