Adaptation, integration - we're built to do it and we do it all the time

I first figured, whoa, prosthetics - how I'm a adapt to it? That was when this was all new to me.

But two weeks after I started to wear the provisional socket with the first hook, I thoughtlessly picked up some paper in the local supermarket. Someone else saw it and went, wow that is one hell of a swift motion there. What's up! And neither practiced or considered a lot. My brain seemed to have done that by itself.

So I want to reflect on this a bit.

So I would say that we are probably built to adapt to beings and things in our immediate vicinity. I would even suggest that we crave these things.

1. We crave to adapt and to integrate.

We are no longer humans. We are already a people and society of massively integrated organisms. Without network, without props and equipment, we are 'nothing'. We are one big society tied together by the glue of endless little prosthetic trinkets. We need remote communication. We need high tech clothes. We need sophisticated means of transport. I can now use an iPhone, pull up GPS information of where I am and I am by virtue of that prosthetic item guided to public transport anywhere else around town. Just to make an example. That is new and that is why we want it. We crave to get these and we have the innate and learned abilities to engulf these with our bodily and neural functions, to put soul into these - to the point where we feel 'naked' without them.

Prosthetic arms are not that much different. It is a matter of perspective. But we also crave to adapt to them, integrate with them. We just need to understand that process of adaptation and integration.

2. We love to do it in little steps.

With individual variation we are constantly seeking thrill also in new interfaces and functions. We already to that every day: we perpetually upgrade our societal, physical and communicative prostheses - we get new telephones and gadgets, we get new cars or bikes, we definitely buy new shoes, we get new outfits - and we never stop evaluating new offers and ideas. Ours is one huge move incessantly improving prosthetic function. But we do it in little steps.

If the step to adapt and integrate a new prosthetic item is too big, we get apalled, overwhelmed, stunned or even suicidal. We get depressed, deranged, upset, angry, disappointed, frustrated and may end up rejecting the technology altogether. People rejected computers or cars at first. Learning curve and failure rates increase these steps, make it far harder to reach satisfying adaptation. That is why I regard the production of substandard prosthetic parts as such an incomprehensible act of stupidity particular if committed by a German prosthetic parts manufacturer that just should know better.

Yes, I may come across as disabled, and wearing a prosthetic arm is a peculiar thing at first. It is a challenge for sure, to get adapted to the whole thing - but our brains and bodies do that for us if we let them. It takes time but that dog is ready to run. After a while its breaking down - prosthetic component failure - is no more or less dramatic than losing a glass eye, iPhone, dentures or a wig, having your car break down or similar: you will slam the person that sold the stuff to you and start evaluating the hard way.

We are sailing hard against the wind with our adaptive capacities though. Maybe our society is already over-challenged with keeping up with gadgets. Interestingly but tragically, we are much less able to integrate foreigners today than 100 years ago - and xenophobia is a real issue in postmodern information societies. I see that as a sign of exhausted adaptive and integrative abilities.

The answer to improve xenopobia seems simple: take away our constant challenges for new products. Let us be bored again. Then we may crave to integrate and adapt to our new members of society.

The answer to selling people ground breaking new products is similarly simple: baby steps are necessary. Build a new cell phone but at first, make it not too different from the others. Then, slowly, alienate it from the competition. Build CT scanners but show the resulting data as "negative black and white" just as plain X-rays are colored. That won't scare radiologists.

The answer to prosthetic arms is also along these lines: build up. Go slow. Take your time. And acknowledge that your capacity to compile even more new gadgets at that time is very limited.

3. Don't scare others.

Prosthetic arms may scare others. If there is a crass new thing others need to adapt to and integrate with, break it to them but do it slowly. Give them time. They are scared and nervous, overwhelmed and frightened. They cannot address these feelings. But that does not mean it cannot be done: it just takes time. We all want to adapt and integrate - our brains will warp us into submission given the opportunity, the feasibility and the time.

4. We'll adapt and integrate to any of these, but not all.

Know thy limits. There are things I can not adapt to: pain, discomfort or unreliable loose ends really make me antsy. We all have our limits. It is what limits us also in adapting.

We need to make sure we investigate and get to know these limits. They're different for everybody. But other than that, don't let sales people fool you. They tell you what you 'need'? They patronize you what works better or not? How can they be sure?

Because other than our personal limitations, we can adapt to wearing no prosthesis, to wearing a cosmetic arm, some functional items, or any other thing we see fit. Give time to adapt, and you'll fluidly interact with such a prosthesis before you know it.

  • Some people are limited by wearing a prosthesis per se. They cannot adapt to them.
  • Some of them later request a hand transplantation. Some of them are very happy with the result even though it neither functionally nor cosmetically is perfect.
  • Some people are repulsed by wearing a very cosmetic looking hand. They prefer an artificial look and a good function.
  • Some people are repulsed by hooks and other utility devices. They prefer a cosmetic looking hand.
  • Some people don't like any prosthetic interface. They live without prostheses.
  • Some people love to wear prosthetics but not sockets. They may want to get osseo-integration.
  • Some people want bionic arms. No matter what, it must be the latest thing.

Such limitations are probably as diverse as the people that are disabled. But other than these strong limitations some people may have, there is a lot left to be tried out.

Cite this article:
Wolf Schweitzer: Technical Below Elbow Amputee Issues - Adaptation, integration - we're built to do it and we do it all the time; published 20/01/2010, 17:18; URL:

BibTeX: @MISC{schweitzer_wolf_1614813368, author = {Wolf Schweitzer}, title = {{Technical Below Elbow Amputee Issues - Adaptation, integration - we're built to do it and we do it all the time}}, month = {January},year = {2010}, url = {}}