How much is technology changing us?
One of the things I love about science fiction is that it helps us prepare for the future. Not all science fiction does this but often the best stories look at how things are going to be in ten years and warns us. It seems to me that the spam we get isn't that far off from the books written in 1984 and neither are the cameras everywhere. So looking at the modern technology from the point of view of science fiction what technologies are going to change us and how? What parts of human nature are so basic that they will remain the same and what parts can we change with technology?
First we need to identify the technology that are changing us. There are hundreds of them. There are the older technologies like the car and the phone and the TV that have already made a generation of people who aren't quite the same as before, but the differance between those and the new technologies is that people got away from the old technologies.
One of the biggest technologies that is going to change our society in ways we're just beginning to understand is instant and constant communication. Text messages, facebook, myspace and twitter may not seem like much and in the end they may be a fad, but there are some serious implications. The issue that we are running into is that teenagers can now remain in their peer group all the time. I'm not that much older then them, but I used to come home at the end of the day and have to deal with adults. Now kids come home, and get on the internet and talk to their friends more. The fear is that it will lead to a generation of children who never acclimated to adult society.
Next is the easy access to information. There is a major debate going on in academia currently as to whether children are getting smarter or stupider. This results largely in the access to information. Its almost hard to remember when if you wanted to know something you had to go to the library and research and even then it wasn't easy to find. The library where I grew up had a card catolog when I was younger.
And as much as we have now we are in the infancy of true universal connection to knowledge. Twenty years ago the internet was small and you had to go to a university to see it, 15 years ago you could get an expensive desktop to get 56k at home, ten years ago you could get laptop, 5 years ago broadband became accessible to everyone and now we have smart phones that can access the internet from nearly anywher
e anytime. What about 5 more years? Perhaps small devices that slip around the neck that can scan everything we see in real life and show us a heads up display about it? (It's in development).
These technologies still leave humans in the equation and because of that they seem relatively mundane, but what about the technologies that have the potential to truly change us. Computers in general are improving at such a rate that its hard to imagine that at some point they won't be able to do anything people can. At that point we will either have a mindless army of servants or a new species on the earth that will compete with us for the leadership of the planet. Either would change us.
And of course the mother of altering technology is genetic engineering. With this technology we can even throw out all the natural instincts and ways of thinking if we want. Make people who are smarter, faster, smarter and healthier than those who live now, but at what cost?
It all seems like science fiction if you project it too far into the future, but when you look at the effect that technology is having on the world today and understand just how quickly it is improving it's hard not to see the exponential growth of technology and understand that it is going to change us.