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Will the "Wired Society" Destroy Human Individuality?
(This essay is a response to the remarkable article "The Social Impact of the Connected Society," by Nick Jones of the Gartener Group, Inc. viewable at http://ww4.gartener.com/displaydocuemnt?call=email&id=323509)
It describes how by 2005-2010, the afluent western consumer will be continually connected to each other, wear (or have embedded) many electronic devices that will help him interact with and navigate through life. It portrays the chilling harbinger of "A Brave New world," (Aldous Huxley), and, as some one in the cutting edge of this revolution, I can tell you that nothing Nick Jones describes is not already on the drawing boards. With western kids already gluing cell phones to their ears in their early teens, if anything, his forecast is cast too far out.
Will the "Wired Society" Destroy Human Individuality?
© 2001 by Tom Holzel
Having read quite a number of "vision statements" from various consulting firm gurus that are nothing more than timid extrapolation of conventional wisdom, I was quite impressed with your recent article "The social impact of the connected society, update 7 Feb."
The idea of the loss of privacy occurring as a result of everyone being wired-up and in instant communication with each other at all times is a theme that strikes me as having the potential for much greater fallout of unintended consequences than most people would believe. We already have the situation of mountain guides getting evening calls at home from climbers on the ground, asking on their cell phones for direction up (or down) some route on which they have become lost. And expecting detailed instructions! Imagine the next generation of climbers who receive from a CD Route-Finder, a continuous view on their head-mounted display of the exact route-modified for snow, fog or darkness. Every Craig, odd nook, false turn and shortcut will be readout on the HMD alongside the rating of its climbing difficulty, and the remaining time to summit.
The result will be a generation of climbers who will have "done" everything, everywhere, and whose technical climbing skill will be commensurately (and smugly) high--but who will have never failed, or turned back wisely, and as a result who couldn't find their way out of a crowded parking lot. Worse, who will be terrified at the prospect of trying because of the "risk" involved. Never learning by hard and repeated experience to assess risk and take risk-that, is risk oneself--will have profound consequences, I believe, on their attitude toward business, innovation, expansion, exploration, the whole panoply of human motivation and drive that have characterized the human race since it stood upright to get a better view of, and wonder, what lay ahead.
It is this separateness and disconnectedness from the hive that characterizes human forward motion and the urge to seek out the unknown. As society becomes more and more wired-up, no one will be separate anymore. (Hell, teenage girls already can't go to the bathroom without discussing it with a half-dozen of their closest friends. Imagine one of them meeting a nice guy on the ski lift; she'll have his image and their conversation--acquired by her eyeglass camera--relayed back to her hive in real time, to get a communal opinion as to whether she should or shouldn't.)
On this note, you could, if the fancy struck you, continue your speculation along these lines-of divining what the consequences of this new type of communal behavior will do to our social structure--not from a communications or technology point of view, which you have already done, but to try to imagine how the connected swarm will grow up, and what happens to "individuals" as they mature always connected to their coterie of friends and family. I believe this connectedness will radically change the way we poor sods perceive the real world, and how we act in it. Independent actions will be viewed first as asocial, then as criminal. "Individuals" will be treated as troglodyte freaks, except for the few most brilliant performers, musicians, dancers and actors, who we would never permit to marry our daughters. At least not without a vote of all our hive partners. By this inevitable wired-up connectedness, we risk becoming a race of two-legged ants.
W-e-l-l, maybe. But if we are truly born and bred individualistic, than how likely is it that mere technology will alter that powerful genetic imprint? Is not the more likely outcome to be one of the usual cycle: youth will adopt the new technology wholeheartedly, use it passionately, and then, realizing slowly that it is a drag—preventing them from doing anything that had not been approved by vote? The urge to rebel—as strong as any even in today’s pampered youth—will surely well up unstoppably as kids with chicken bones through their noses and sporting purple Mohawk haircuts stomp their cell phones to death in the public square, all to the terrified squeals of delight of the still-wired-up young ladies they are pretending not to impress.
If you doubt it (that common man won’t take the wired-up opportunity with a grain of salt), ask yourself if any technology has changed human nature one whit. The most important "life-changing" new technology has been the telephone and the automobile. But how, other than speeding things up, have these two mega-devices changed people’s attitudes or their lives? People still lie or tell the truth; they still applaud new things or grimace at them. The same number of people still get drunk or abstain. True, they have more opportunity to kill themselves (drunk driving) or each other(weapons of mass destruction), but there no mere technological gadgetry is going to alter the poker hand of life. Fold, pass or raise-—high-tech or low—-there is nothing really new under the sun.