Din & Denial in the Digital Garden of Eden»
Remember the days when a piercing was shocking? Or a tattoo? Nowadays, you have to implant ‘devil horns‘ under your skin, get eyeball jewelry or other forms of bodymodding to turn some heads.
The practices applied range from splitting your tongue, permanently cutting your ears into elves-shape, to drilling holes into your skull! Who wouldn’t want that!?
Most of these procedures obviously demand medical operations, while ironically they are performed for non-medical purposes.
Some say, it’s done for beautification. Some say, it’s done out of small-mindedness or out of a need for attention.
And although there are numerous historical examples for bodymodding (short for “body modification”), such as Neck Rings or Foot Binding, the more modern medicine progresses, possibilities are growing while risks are being lowered. (Except, of course – the risk to look kind of weird for the rest of your life because you just had to get that Artificial cranial deformation everyone was talking about.)
Re-Wiring the Human Being: Wild Cyborg-Dreams
And something that we only know from science fiction novels is slowly becoming true: Technological implants.
According to the heavily contested theories of Ray Kurzweil’s in his book The Age of Spiritual Machines:
- in 2019 we will see not just see cochlear but even cybernetic implants in the retina and spine (“allowing the blind to see and the lame to walk”)
- in 2029 we won’t need headphones and screens anymore. The computer will be inside of our body. One of the biggest implications here is that we’ll be able to augment our sense perceptions and learning skills.
- in 2099 human beings will be able to “fuse their minds with A.I.s.” which of course can copy themselves infinitely, leading eventually – to immortality.
The German-Jewish name “Kurzweil” literally means “short-while” (refering to a joker, amusement, pastime, etc) and, although it is the opposite of “Langeweile” (boredom) I’m never sure if I should be surprised or simply bored by his iterations. Especially the idea of immortality is one that has been dreamed over and over again. Once it used to be the fountain of eternal life. Now it’s machines. Who wants immortality, anyways?
But no matter what we may think about all of this, one thing is for sure:
Technological implants will come. They are already here and will eventually become as widespread as the pacemaker.
While kids all over the world are still carrying their mobile phones, hubs of their digital personality in their pockets, stacking their memories with apps and contacts, the time will come when those gadgets will slowly move from the inside of their pockets to the insides of their skin.
What I’m worried about is not how fast we will get there, if we will get there at all, or how we could prevent such developments.
What strikes me, is that we have already realized much of what we think belongs to the distant future and noone seems to realize it. Instead we keep on feeding the emotional stock-markets with a restless anticipation.
Everett Bogue writes in his book Augmented Reality that we have become cyborgs, already. Not in a Kurzweil sense of flesh fused with microchips but in a more abstract sense: Our social lives are online, we order much of our stuff online, we look up places online before we visit them, book flight tickets, hotels and even find spouses online.
Obvious. But do we really think it matters?
Waiting for a Wonder that Never Comes
Now, let’s forget about the technological implications for a second.
Inherent in all this discussion is the hope for improvement.
In the same way like people who mutilate their bodies for fashion or ritual purposes, we believe that by using the Internet and smartphones we are somehow improving ourselves.
It is the logical end-point of the “self-improvement” culture which is really more an industry than anything else:
Bigger, Better, Brighter. Forward, relentlessly! It is the industrialized yoga of technology, aimed at ultimate perfection.
We need to spend more money, get more information, build better technologies! If only we were already there, everything would be perfect. It has become fashionable to laugh at religious people’s ideas of heaven and hell, but haven’t we become believers in a Digital Garden of Eden ourselves, where the bandwidth goes straight into our brains and our batteries are never empty?
I have said it many times before, and I will say it again: Believing that the usage of technology will somehow magically improve our lives is not just short-sighted, it’s also childish and reveals an awkwardness regarding who and where we really are.
We keep buying the newest gadgets, sponging up the prophecies of techno-shamans, always itching for the next new thing, which will be it! – and then there’s another one, and another one, and another one.
If we continue in this way, we’ll soon be wearing implants all over the place and still be waiting for that “glorious, distant future.” – wondering what will be the next season’s style for retina plugins and electronic skull-caps.
Resurrecting the Future for Our ‘Personal Pleasure’
What makes us push forward so hard? What hope do we see in the future that we can’t wait to get to it?
Personalized lives, personalized bodies, personalized machines?
It’s time to consider that there may not be a future. At least, not in the way we imagined.
The world is changing. Global warming and globalization are beginning to take their tolls. Youth unemployment is rising at dizzying rates. Water and food are becoming more of a problem.
Do we really need another conference about the future of (online) conferencing?
Does thinking about “the Internet of things”, geo-tagging and augmented reality really improve our lives?
Maybe we are so deeply in denial that we don’t even know how technology has already changed our lives beyond recognition. Maybe we don’t care, also.
Here’s what I know:
A tool serves a specific purpose. If it doesn’t, it’s a toy.
Nothing against toys, but then at least we shouldn’t pretend that we are developing “life-changing” tools and technology.
And in the same way some of us are ready to laugh about people who implant stuff under their skins to look cool, our ancestors would be keeling over from laughter to see us hunched over tiny little gadgets, tapping their shiny surfaces repeatedly for hours on end without producing either food, shelter or water.