I have just finished reading a rather fascinating article about ‘transhumanism’, the idea that we can meld technology with our biological selves, the ultimate merging of man and machine so as to make humanity a whole lot better. The article describes a transhuman as “a chimera, a fusion of two forms, one an ugly bag of water and the other a nice clean circuit board inscribed on silicon (or similar).”
The benefits of this technological advance is, apparently, immense. At one point Martin speculates that “Somewhere out there is a guy with a chip in his head (or ‘neural implant’) that enables him to know whether there is any broccoli left in the fridge without ever opening the door.” Which one of us wouldn’t want that special power?
Martin continues to say that this process of ‘hybridisation’, where we become more and more engineered, will result in a different type of makeover:
A full-body engineering makeover, physical and mental, bionic and cognitive: the temptation to become a Hollywood superhero will surely become irresistible. In the realm of the Matrix, humans will become simulacra of themselves, but very good at running up walls and firing guns upside down. – Andy Martin, 24 Aug 2017, independent.co.uk, from the article Transhumanism: The Final Chapter In Humanity’s Perpetual Quest To Be Kitted Out In Comforting Accessories
And what of those fools, like myself, who would likely resist such silicon advances? Martin has a response for that too:
And alongside the homo deus would presumably stand the homo stultus, the village idiot or holy fool who remains regressively or aggressively unenhanced. Smartness versus dumbness – who will win? The knowledge-based economy has only one answer. – Andy Martin, 24 Aug 2017, independent.co.uk
Currently there are two types of articles written about technology. You have the utopian ideals of technological advance mentioned above, but you also have dystopian dilemmas presented by other writers. I recently came across another technology related article that shows clearly how, in the age of all this modern technology, we are not as progressive as we think we are, due to our mental well being or lack thereof. The article, by Jean M Twenge, is rather lengthy but well worth a read. I have picked out my favourite quotes and presented them below.
However, just before we get to the serious stuff, here is a video that somewhat illustrates where I think we are actually heading. As always, enjoy!
Our Generation Is F*cked
Have Smartphones Destroyed A Generation?
Jean M Twenge, Sep 2017, Atlantic Monthly
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
Theirs is a generation shaped by the smartphone and by the concomitant rise of social media. I call them iGen. Born between 1995 and 2012, members of this generation are growing up with smartphones, have an Instagram account before they start high school, and do not remember a time before the internet. The Millennials grew up with the web as well, but it wasn’t ever-present in their lives, at hand at all times, day and night. iGen’s oldest members were early adolescents when the iPhone was introduced, in 2007, and high-school students when the iPad entered the scene, in 2010. A 2017 survey of more than 5,000 American teens found that three out of four owned an iPhone. The advent of the smartphone and its cousin the tablet was followed quickly by hand-wringing about the deleterious effects of “screen time.” But the impact of these devices has not been fully appreciated, and goes far beyond the usual concerns about curtailed attention spans. The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health. These changes have affected young people in every corner of the nation and in every type of household. The trends appear among teens poor and rich; of every ethnic background; in cities, suburbs, and small towns. Where there are cell towers, there are teens living their lives on their smartphone.
Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.
The twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy.
So what are they doing with all that time? They are on their phone, in their room, alone and often distressed. One of the ironies of iGen life is that despite spending far more time under the same roof as their parents, today’s teens can hardly be said to be closer to their mothers and fathers than their predecessors were. “I’ve seen my friends with their families—they don’t talk to them,” Athena told me. “They just say ‘Okay, okay, whatever’ while they’re on their phones. They don’t pay attention to their family.” Like her peers, Athena is an expert at tuning out her parents so she can focus on her phone. She spent much of her summer keeping up with friends, but nearly all of it was over text or Snapchat. “I’ve been on my phone more than I’ve been with actual people,” she said. “My bed has, like, an imprint of my body.”
Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy. There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness.
When teens spend more time on smartphones and less time on in-person social interactions, loneliness is more common. So is depression. Once again, the effect of screen activities is unmistakable: The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression.
What’s the connection between smartphones and the apparent psychological distress this generation is experiencing? For all their power to link kids day and night, social media also exacerbate the age-old teen concern about being left out. Today’s teens may go to fewer parties and spend less time together in person, but when they do congregate, they document their hangouts relentlessly—on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook. Those not invited to come along are keenly aware of it. Accordingly, the number of teens who feel left out has reached all-time highs across age groups. Like the increase in loneliness, the upswing in feeling left out has been swift and significant.
Social media levy a psychic tax on the teen doing the posting as well, as she anxiously awaits the affirmation of comments and likes.
I asked my undergraduate students at San Diego State University what they do with their phone while they sleep. Their answers were a profile in obsession. Nearly all slept with their phone, putting it under their pillow, on the mattress, or at the very least within arm’s reach of the bed. They checked social media right before they went to sleep, and reached for their phone as soon as they woke up in the morning (they had to—all of them used it as their alarm clock). Their phone was the last thing they saw before they went to sleep and the first thing they saw when they woke up. If they woke in the middle of the night, they often ended up looking at their phone. Some used the language of addiction. “I know I shouldn’t, but I just can’t help it,” one said about looking at her phone while in bed. Others saw their phone as an extension of their body—or even like a lover: “Having my phone closer to me while I’m sleeping is a comfort.” It may be a comfort, but the smartphone is cutting into teens’ sleep: Many now sleep less than seven hours most nights. Sleep experts say that teens should get about nine hours of sleep a night; a teen who is getting less than seven hours a night is significantly sleep deprived.
Children who use a media device right before bed are more likely to sleep less than they should, more likely to sleep poorly, and more than twice as likely to be sleepy during the day. Electronic devices and social media seem to have an especially strong ability to disrupt sleep. Teens who read books and magazines more often than the average are actually slightly less likely to be sleep deprived—either reading lulls them to sleep, or they can put the book down at bedtime. Watching TV for several hours a day is only weakly linked to sleeping less. But the allure of the smartphone is often too much to resist. Sleep deprivation is linked to myriad issues, including compromised thinking and reasoning, susceptibility to illness, weight gain, and high blood pressure. It also affects mood: People who don’t sleep enough are prone to depression and anxiety. Again, it’s difficult to trace the precise paths of causation. Smartphones could be causing lack of sleep, which leads to depression, or the phones could be causing depression, which leads to lack of sleep. Or some other factor could be causing both depression and sleep deprivation to rise. But the smartphone, its blue light glowing in the dark, is likely playing a nefarious role.