While smart phones and social media allow us to expand our connection to others across the globe, they also split our focus and disrupt the flow of life in the present and can create a kind of adult ADD that impairs our ability to connect deeply or intimately with others. Even those aware of this dichotomy between connections and real connecting accept the tradeoff as they share their inner lives via this electronic interface and bathe in the glow of the self-gratification it brings. Others have said as much in different forums over the past ten years.
What I would like to explore is how this seemingly innocuous tradeoff can lull us to sleep until one day, in the near or distant future, we wake up and look in the bathroom mirror and see the reflection of a cyborg-like creature looking back at us. For a split second we realize that something is amiss, some deeper connection to self, life, and some vague concept of a higher order, before we launch ourselves into our robotic life.
This is the situation faced by the main character in my novel, I, Human (Cosmic Egg, 2016), set in the late 21st century when most people have neural implants that bestow 200+ IQs but atrophied feeling and intuition that lead to massive emotional breakdowns.
Alan Reynard wonders, recording his thoughts in a subprogram of his processor to be flushed later “…if we hadn’t lost some essential quality as a species in our rush toward technological progress.” The problem for him and his techno minders is that after 50 years of their use, they have lost the capacity to understand, if not less, to programmed integrative functioning.
The story revolves around Alan being sent to a borny enclave — inhabited by those who refuse the mental upgrade — and to a spiritual healer who has had some success in modifying these neural implants, which are made from human brain cells and are thus affected by subtle energy. They hope his sessions with her will reprogram his experimental neural processor, which they can then roll out to the masses as an upgrade to “fix the problem.”
However, Alan has an awakening and gives his minders more than they had bargained for.
So how does our society, if this possible scenario has any predictive value, find itself in such a dystopian world? Well, as the proverb reminds us, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” or closer still, Virgil’s version of it: “The descent to hell is easy.”
It would be the result, I speculate, of the continual erosion of our self-reflective consciousness, or the “watcher” in our mindfulness exercises. Today, most of us are already finding it hard to keep “present” with the frenetic pace of our lives, which seems to double in intensity each year — exponential growth is the term the techies use and attribute it to technological progress. So to keep up or just cope, we increasingly rely on tech devices like smart phones to manage the onslaught of information, and to pay our bills, read books or watch amusing YouTube videos. In fact, as media sources claim, Millennials check their smartphones 43 times a day, and use them to connect to Facebook 14 times a day. This compulsive use comes while we’re eating lunch, working our jobs, even talking on the phone while emailing someone else, creating more split-focus.
Technology can be a great facilitator — I’m old enough to remember working jobs and writing novels without word processors and the Internet — and it improves efficiency, but it also can create a great dependency.
It seems innocuous to have a digital online banking account and let the bank add up our monthly charges, instead of balancing our checkbooks. And it’s less stressful to have Internet exchanges with dozens of friends a day, instead of a sit-down with one person in which you look into their eyes and “feel” the truth of their being. Or, when we take our kids to a national park and let them keep their eyes glued to their “screens” instead of the “greens” of the natural world around them “to keep the peace.”
As I said, this all seems rather innocuous, until the erosion of our feeling centers, which Jung would claim allows us to ascertain proper values, is such that a great many people can get taken in by a huckster running for political office because they can’t see beyond the sizzle to the bankrupted values of their platform.
It seems to me that technology can be such an extension of our mental framework that it becomes like our surrogate ego with all of its greedy needs, which are satisfied by its amazing reach into the world and its ready access to instant gratification. If you feel a mid-afternoon letdown and need relief, online porn, shopping and Chinese takeout are just a click away. If you can’t connect to your mate or boy/girlfriend, you can find superficial connections on an online dating site. If your boss doesn’t like your proposal, go shopping for a new job on an online professional headhunter site. This kind of kinetic environment just feeds the superficial aspects of our ego identification.
Increasingly, if we don’t practice our mindfulness exercises — the author Jacob Liberman suggested that every day we should undertake 40 mini-meditations lasting 30 seconds each — and check out our smartphones instead, we will lose our connection to the greater whole of ourselves, and the universe at large.
This is how I see us buying into greater and greater technological intrusions into our bodies and minds to the eventual extent I depict in my futuristic novel.
Brave new world
Just look at the plethora of pharmaceutical ads on television: $4.5 billion spent in 2014. Now think what they will offer 30 or 40 years down the road: to go along with your Viagra or its future substitute, use the new testosterone pump to keep the orgasms coming, as it were. Or, why suffer from depression — or use talk therapy or body therapy to integrate feelings — when there’s a Brave New World supermarket that makes Soma look like candy canes, and you can escape your misery for an hour or a lifetime.
But, the real appeal, I surmise, would be enhancement technology, like the neural implants I posit in I, Human that raise IQs to 200+, allow you to read and absorb 30 pages of text a minute, make you a human calculator, and utilize logic circuits to put a facile spin on any position. Just look how fast smartphones overtook us and shaped how we operate in the world. How could you resist the appeal of a neural implant, or not buy them for your children and watch them fall behind in school and get second-tier jobs?
How does the character in my novel pull out of his own society induced tech coma? His experimental processor, while allowing the integration of more feelings, programs mental feedback like a monkey-mind on steroids. Alan must use an extreme mindfulness focus to counter, and then offset, its influence to stay sane. The trick is how to program new neural pathways into the processor that would be undetectable to the brain scientists of the day. He achieves this by using rising Kundalini energy, or the energy of life, which affects the human brain cells of his processor and creates the needed pathways to greater functionality for all.
My hope is that the extreme situation of my fictional world will motivate us, as the process of writing it did for me, to increase our connection to ourselves and to our concept of a Higher power, to be able to resist the ego temptations of such technology, which are here now with more coming down the road soon.
Let me add that technology isn’t in and of itself bad, regressive or evil. How we use it determines its value, and that depends on who is using it and the state of their consciousness.