The human element of the future is an oft neglected subject, while Ray Kurzweil draws up graph after graph indicating a future we never thought could be so certain, people are left to cope with an unmoored sense of humanity and what Peter Singer would call the "yuck factor", our immediate response to something morally challenging.
This evening I saw We Live in Public
a documentary about Josh Harris, one of the first people to conceive of internet TV in the 90s, who forewarned CBS that internet TV was gonna take over. After selling off his company Harris took his .com millions underground to build a society where 100 people would "live in public" - their every move streamed live on the internet. The experimental living quarters had all the fixings, a pulpit, communal sleeping pods, an interrogation room and a gun range.
While Harris' intentions were clearly skewed towards provocation I'd prefer to linger more on the idealistic undertones, or the possibility of extending people so far beyond their limits that they began to blend into each other. Familiarity, while in some cases bred contempt, also contributed to a breakdown of selfhood as everyone adjusted to the idea that their lives were not sacred or theirs to keep, they were for everyone to see.
Relinquishing privacy meant the weight of your identity was shared by those around you, you were on equal footing with the other inhabitants - you were shared between and among them, divvied up into sound bites and images strewn across a vast network of monitors.
Unfortunately, any findings from this experiment were blotted out a bit by the director's cautionary intentions, but the idea of simulating the future of the internet IRL, as a strategy for thinking about how humanity corresponds to a technologically modified environment, is an intriguing strategy.
In a much earlier post I talked about founding an Internet Nation
, similar to the NSK state
, but actualized as some sort of rudimentary experience. Ultimately, I think this was Harris' intention, but his framework was too loyal to the totalitarian myth of the state (and ultimately too unconsciously tied to his difficult childhood experiences).
It may seem like a non-sequiter, but I'm reminded of Bunuel's The Exterminating Angel, in which a bourgeois dinner party leads to the breakdown of western civilization when the guests discover that, for some inexplicable reason, they can't leave the room. They revert to their most savage selves as they run out of food, lose their minds and betray each other like players in a game of Clue
Both Harris' totalitarian default and Bunuel's demonstration of how civilization breaks down lead me to wonder what sorts of social structures have been left underexplored, and under what circumstances do human beings start to lose their wits.
I once wrote a paper about the makings of civilization for a history class that argued four fundamental factors around which all civilizations are based: Religion, War, Commerce, and Science/Innovation. I argued that the variations in each civilization were largely dependent on which of those four factors emphasis was placed, and was pleased to see my general theory at work in Will Wright's Spore, where you have a choice of founding your intergalactic civilization on one of three basis': Religion, Military, or Trade.
The question of how one might negotiate those pillars of civilization has preoccupied many a Utopian thinker, who often propose the abolition or significant modification of one or the other as the solution to the world's problems.
I'm curious whether it's possible to develop such a model for the human mind. The basic building blocks that account for differences in human psychology, and consider which one might be a candidate for modification.
In Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men, my all time favorite book, Stapledon tells a sweeping tale of man through the ages and into the distant future. Each subsequent civilization of man has its own aspirations and preoccupations. One is particularly bent on building a supercomputer in the service of rational, scientific excellence; another is obsessed with the diversity of life and the genetic manipulation in the service of unique "types."
At this particular juncture in man's history, we seem to be moving in many directions at once. The desire to absorb and synthesize the interconnectedness of all things: man, his creations, and the environment, seems both necessary and desirable. Indeed this demands a particular adaptation of the brain characteristic of 21st century wo/man.
I suppose my question, at the moment then, is if the future trends towards even more communication between minds, to the point that perhaps, as Spaceweaver might suggest, we lose track of which mind is ours, or a moment when computers exceed human intelligence, how might one do a "paper prototype" of these futures to discover how it affects both the human mind and body? Or how might one come up with a system for composing the future?