Wired, Wireless and Alienated

All human affairs proceed in a dialectical fashion with progression and regression in constant play. Good and bad results emerge from every innovation. As the media world becomes more complex and more demanding, a high tech citizen runs the risk of becoming unhappy and confused. We know that better access to procedures and information is a decisive advantage for people who can use the information. In the early days of the www, there was discussion of the "emergence of a global brain paradigm for modeling the world."

However, humans have a limited ability to embrace other humans and are quickly over-loaded by information that is not immediately relevant. Some smart people are happy to leave the smart phones in a drawer and leave the hectic lives for a nature retreat. They value the natural world and celebrate opportunities to reconnect with their “inner self” and nature. Carl Jung suggested: “Too much man makes a sick animal. Too much animal makes a sick man.”

Humans have long lived in small groups and travelled to join assemblies of other groups. These gatherings have become highly organized affairs with formal presentations and social interactions. Real meetings have important features that virtual interactions such as email, text messages, chat rooms and social networks lack. Humans rely on seeing facial expressions, body language and observing the coordination of speech with gestures. Without access to a real person, the information is always incomplete. The frequency of rude and angry emails and comments posted are problems with virtual communications. Internet etiquette has emerged to reduce angry responses. A smart communicator will delay a response to an irritating message and will consider how to reply in a diplomatic manner. Internet users worry about loss of privacy, but the real danger is that a sicker animal may emerge who is comfortable in virtual reality but disoriented and destructive in the real world.

Who is fooling whom?

The business leaders of the information age are highly competitive and believe that they are in a race. The race has only to do with business competition and profits. The world would be a better place if everyone slowed down and made more gradual transitions from one state to another. There is no race. There is nowhere to go. We are already here. The wealthy Hi Tech companies online earn most of their income from advertising. The intense promotion of small screen smartphones and other gadgets seems to overwhelm consumers who buy their gadget addiction and believe they are doing the right thing. Virtual reality goggles are the latest nonsense and I fear a world packed with distracted, addicting and hopelessly maladapted humans.

Book critic, Sam Anderson, reflected on the state of language and books at the end of 2010. "Electronic communication has changed human communication and changed the way people use language. The tendency is to condense, compress and fragment communications so that sustained attention to meaningful conversations is less likely and books that require hours to days of concentration are becoming obsolete. Anderson stated: I tend to shy away from big, sweeping, era-defining statements. It’s the fastest possible way to be wrong about the world, and usually just an excuse for various forms of sloppy thinking: cherry-picking, scapegoating, doomsaying, fear-mongering, sandbagging, arm-twisting, wool-gathering, leg-pulling. And yet it would be hard to dispute that over the last 5 or 10 years, the culture has changed drastically. The shift is so obvious that it’s boring, by now, even to name the culprits: Google, blogs, texting, tweets, iPhones, Facebook — a little army of tools that have given rise to (and grown out of) radically new habits of attention. Many of us are now addicted, on the dopamine-receptor level, to a moment-by-moment experience of life that’s defined by a behavior sometimes referred to as “time slicing”: jumping every few seconds between devices or windows or tabs, constantly swiveling the periscope of our attention around and around the horizon to see where the latest relevant data-burst might come from. "

Dependence on Machines

In the unrealistic fantasies about computers becoming intelligent, willful and taking over the world, there is an imbedded and legitimate concern about human dependence on machines. There is an associated concern about human limitations. As computer networks expand, humans become dependent on them and have more difficulty understanding how the whole system works. Another concern is that humans are selfish and chaotic in their pursuit of wealth. The proliferation of perverse machines makes some people wealthy but with little benefit to the individual user and to society a whole. You could argue that cars and airplanes are perverse machines because they encourage humans to be restless wanders in pursuit of ephemeral pleasures.

Electronic games are perverse machines since they occupy time and attention in a virtual reality that might be better spent enjoying and cultivating the real world. Television has been declared a perverse machine for the same reason – a virtual reality replaces the real world and sedentary viewers become fat, sick and confused.

The real question is what humans really want? A better real world is a good answer. A better real world would be more natural, cleaner, safer, and more stable. A better world might be achieved, but not by the people watching TV text messaging and playing videogames.

The real world infrastructure that depends on computer networks to operate is based on human intelligence and demands the dedicated work of people who are tuned into the real world. The maintenance of enlarging complex systems is difficult and requires advanced education attached to dedication and constant learning. An enlarging population now depends on a small elite group to maintain banking, communication, energy, transportation, government and military networks. An increasing dependence on expanding, whole-planet electronic systems is a new development and the possibility(aka probability) of catastrophic failure concerns many observers.

Human experience is typically paradoxical. Human information and intelligence is being distributed more widely than ever before and this distribution depends on a technologically elite group. If you tend to be paranoid, you are afraid of the technology and fear that a sinister elite group will take over and control the world. Science fiction paranoia tends to emphasis machine autonomy and fears machine dominance. If you are paranoid, all sinister plots are plausible and you cannot differentiate a realistic fear from an imaginary and unrealistic fear.

If you are pronoid, you are grateful for the benefits of the technological society and even if you are not part of the technology elite, you assume (quite correctly) that the scientific and technical elites consist mostly of reasonable and nice people who have interests and goals similar to your own. If you are realistic and pronoid, you know that computers are dumb and that robots are machines that weld and paint cars.

You are mostly interested in training enough smart people to keep our complex infrastructures operating. The need is for better solutions to basic problems such distributing medical information, controlling traffic in cities, distributing food and other goods and protecting airplanes from crashing.

The curious aspect of future technology fears and fantasies is that all the problems in the real world are discussed and then ignored. Even the most advanced countries have aging infrastructures, ready to collapse at any moment. Electricity, telephone, cable communications and the internet are carried by wires on poles that fall down easily, pushed by a little wind or shaken by earth tremors. Even if TV networks keep broadcasting, viewers may not have clean water to drink or food to eat. We can hope that communication of good ideas might reduce the extravagant devastation that humans inflict on their planet. What do humans really want? Do they want more distraction and entertainment in virtual reality or do they want a real life in a real, healthy world?