I got my implants primarily to experiment with electromagnetic fields as an extra human sense. I also find being able to sense live wires and check whether metals are ferrous genuinely useful functions as a maker - not to mention picking up dropped clothes pins.
Electromagnetic fields cause the magnet’s polarity to flip, making it vibrate slightly under the skin. As there are a lot of nerve endings in the fingertips you can feel the vibration, varying in strength and frequency.
I am really interested in the capacity to use this technology for communication. My intent has been to develop a language that can be consumed by implants (think morse code with more bits), that when learned properly could be faster than reading and faster than speech. This has vast potential for military applications (MI6, hit me up), but I think could be more widely applicable for people with other sensory disabilities - things like silent, invisible street signage for the visually-impaired.
Microwaves, high voltage cables (ones that run under canal towpaths are very potent), approaching underground trains, any sort of motor if you’re close enough. It is surprising how many pockets of EM fields you can find around the house.
The EM vibration is a strange sensation, especially when you first start feeling it. After about 6 months it stopped feeling like a sensation in my finger, and more a sense hooked up in my brain to ‘there’s some EM fields near your hand’.
Mine were both cylindrical neodymium magnets coated in medical grade silicone.
Quite terrifying - mostly because seeing someone poke a foreign object into you is against all evolutionary impulses. If you are considering this you need to make sure it’s in a sterile environment and the procedure is done by a medical professional. In my case an incision was made horizontally above the desired position of the magnet, the space under the skin was hollowed out and the magnet pushed in, closed with a single stitch. I kept the finger on ice for a few hours, and took liberal ibuprofen over the following 2 days to reduce the pain. The magnet can move under the skin so has to be recentered until it is stuck in position (just to the side of the finger pad if that’s where it’s inserted). After a week I removed the stitch and the finger could be used for light work, fully healed in a month.
The smaller magnet in my left hand was implanted in December 2015, the other in November 2016. I had them both done by a body mod artist in New York for $150 each. I found one person in London who would do the procedure for £200 a pop.
Although this is now a pretty safe procedure and the magnets are rarely rejected or have major issues, when the first implants were being done in the early 2000s it was a big unknown. They recommend you get the implant in your least dominant hand, in the least important finger, so that if necessary the finger can be amputated and minimally affect your hand functionality. You asked the question. Shut up. (AFAIK this has never actually happened). Additionally, having it in the least dominant finger means it’ll probably be subjected to less pressure from daily tasks.
I was offered a choice of two sizes and was a bit hesitant to go big on my first try, so I picked the small one. I went back to get the bigger one in my other hand to increase the sensation and weight of things I could pick up, and also to experiment with a 3D EM sense (like having 2 eyes for perspective, but it hasn’t really helped me conceptualise 3D EM spaces).
You can see them under the skin if you’re looking due to a slight discoloration, but they’re not obvious.
Yes you can feel them under the skin. Good way to freak people out / prove it’s real.
Minimally. If placed properly they shouldn’t get in the way of typing, for example. I struggle a bit to play the guitar when I have to use my ring finger to hold down multiple strings. It is an unyielding object inside your hand though, so sometimes if you hit it at the wrong angle it can hurt; I had this at the start with light switches quite often but I guess I adapted my style of flipping light switches. You have to be wary around other magnets, because strong ones can hurt a lot (literally the magnet inside of you is being pulled out. not nice.), this is an increasing concern because for some reason magnets are in everything now - I can’t put the pads of my fingers against the edge of my laptop because of the magnetic closing mechanism. Also my phone has a magnetic sensor in the back for smart cases so it randomly locks itself when I’m holding it which is very annoying, but you get used to these kind of things and naturally avoid them.
The small magnet was quite pathetic, maybe 5 paperclips. The big magnet can pick up a ballpoint pen, or a small spoon.
I wipe hotel keycards instantly unless I hold them between my index finger and thumb, and have the ring finger tucked into my palm (a pose I’m used to now, and one that only matters when you have them in both hands). Besides that you’re all good; never had a problem with phones or credit cards or hard drives or SD cards. AFAIK they’re too small to have any significant effect on electronics.
Maybe. Steve Haworth (the authority on magnetic implants) says that it is possible but can be uncomfortable. Some technicians may be unwilling to do an MRI unless it is taken out. I’ve heard that it is possible to use some sort of guard to cover it up so that won’t affect the machine. I have not faced this problem yet, but have been damn sure to tell all my emergency contacts to immediately tell my medics about the implants if I’m in an accident.
Yep, not a problem.
Inserting any foreign object in your body has a certain amount of danger attached to it. The dangers here are infection and the coating of the magnet breaking down, causing local tissue damage or (god forbid) heavy metal or iron poisioning. I had a broken-down magnet in my finger for circa 5 months and experienced no unpleasent side-effects (read the removal story).
Apparently they do. Some say their magnetism dropped off at the 5 year mark, others have said 10-15 years, it depends on the quality of your magnets. I will probably have mine removed once it demagnetises, but it’s been going strong for 4 years now.
In a sterile environment by a medical professional.
I have been told that you can get them removed at A&E (that’s ER to you yanks) with no questions asked. Yay NHS. I have yet to check the validity of this claim. This claim did not bear out, read the removal story.
You still think this is a good idea! Cool! Biohackers seem quite reluctant to share this data, I had to crawl a lot of forums to find the right person to do mine, and I feel I should respect that reticence. Ask around your local piercer’s / body mod artists and find a recommendation.
Yes having a magnet in a ring would also enable you to feel EM fields, but I see three downsides to this alternative. The nerve endings that form around an implanted magnet are going to be a lot more sensitive than those on the skin’s surface, with an external device you will not feel it as strongly. You’d also have to keep the ring on all the time which is a bummer, and if you don’t wear the ring consistently it’ll be hard to get your brain to think of it as a reliable sense. A good idea if you’re interested in magnetic implants but don’t want to take the plunge yet.
RFID and NFC chips are quite abundant but limited in functionality. I’ve seen quite a few large and intrusive biohacking experiments, which I personally wouldn’t touch with a 10ft pole.
A few of my projects involving magnet fingers
Visualising disturbances to the magnetic field more info →
A device that communicates invisibly with morse code more info →
I would love to do some more research with this technology, especially in the fields of linguistics and compensation for sensory disability. If you're intersted in working with me please shoot me an email and we can have a chat about it.
Let me set the scene, the month is April 2020, the world is in chaos, and I notice one morning that the bump in my left hand where my smaller magnet is seems more prominent than the bump in my right hand where my larger magnet is. Over the course of a week it swells more, rapidly darkens under the skin, and loses magnetism. Oh no.
I had been told that I could have it taken out in A&E, and after phoning my lovely doctor for advice I went to my local hospital and was met with a very strong no. The physician I spoke to said they could not do such a delicate operation in A&E unless something was literally sticking out of my skin; it needed to be done by a plastic surgeon, you need a referral to the plasic surgery department, oh and the department’s closed to referrals because of the pandemic. Sweet.
I kept in touch with my doctor and as soon as referrals opened up at the hospital at the end of May he put one in for me. I felt pretty chill at this point, sure it was pretty swollen but it didn’t hurt and I wasn’t experiencing any side-effects.
All June I patiently waitied for a call from the hospital.
All July I phoned various switchboards and left voicemails to at least half a dozen people, trying to find out who I could speak to to get an appointment booked in, to no avail. “Central booking will be in touch with you soon”.
On August 15th it started to hurt, or was it my mounting anxiety about the prolonged heavy metal poisoning I may have been subjected to which made me hyper aware of any change of sensation in my finger. Either way, it was time to sort this thing out. I phoned a few other hospitals to see if their A&Es could help me (nope), culminating in an out-of-hours GP telling me that I should get it removed urgently but it wouldn’t be possible on the NHS, that I should phone Bupa and get a private hospital appointment for the next day, and that they’d be surprised if it cost less than £500.
Many would consider £500 a small price to pay for a medical procedure to get something removed from your body which you had voluntarily inserted, I am not one of those people. Back in April I contacted a few London-based piercers to see if they could help me and hit dead-ends, but with the lifting of travel restrictions I cast a wider net and was put in touch with Quentin Inglis from Kalima Emporium, who was an absolute saint and offered to remove it for me.
The magnet had blown out both ends and left a lot of debris in the surrounding tissue which he excrutiatingly scraped out over the course of 45 minutes (with no anaesthetic, even the memory is painful).
He sealed the wound with four stitches; it’s been two weeks now and the scar has healed very neatly, and it’s been a far more rapid recovery than when I had them put in. There remains some toughened slightly-darkened tissue under the skin where the magnet was, but that doesn’t really bother me. Quentin also gave me the biggest chunk of magnet he pulled out which is somehow still very much magnetised, some day I’ll mount it into a ring or something.
All in all, this was a very unpleasent experience. Actually having it removed, painful though it was, didn’t feel anywhere near as bad as my utter helplessness along the journey: frustration with the NHS, my worries that I’d never be able to find someone to remove it, and sheer terror that I was doing irreversable harm to my body by not having it removed post-haste.
I don’t think this has made me regret having them put in. It’s pretty lame that now I can only say I have a magnet in my finger, and my nervous tick of putting my hands in a praying position and tapping my ring fingers together to play with the magnets is no longer quite so entertaining.
I think more than anything it’s made me realise the ephemerality of my other magnet. It’s pretty damn cool to be able to feel a hidden layer of the earth that very few other people can tap into, and until I have to have that one also scraped out with no anaesthetic, I’m going to bloody well appreciate it.