Watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.
"It's not that machines are taking us over -- they are helping us be more human," says Amber Case in her iconic TEDTalk "We Are All Cyborgs Now." With nearly 700,000 cumulative views, droves of people have tuned in to listen to Case's positive digital evolution mantra. I am happy to drink from her technological Kool-Aid -- and I regularly waive the pro digital flag without much prodding. My cognitive dissonance occurs when I fixate on a couple smartphone navigation blunders where I have ended up 30 minutes in the opposite direction of my destination. I know the latter says more about my own mental state rather than faulty programming. Regardless, in those moments, I have at some cognitive level, placed my neurological brain functions and logic second fiddle to my Android-based counterpart -- and that creates an unusual sensation that has never before occurred on the homo sapien continuum.
Case addresses this juxtaposition of the digitally manufactured brain and memory not always jiving well with our neurological one, but more emphasis needs to be devoted to this line of evaluation. After all, we aren't talking about manufacturing air pop popcorn makers, but instead we are having the newest iteration of technology engage or disengage our personal human intelligence, alter the core of our human DNA, create artificial intelligence and provide nanotechnologies that can continue on with or without us.
Media critic and author Douglas Rushkoff unpacks the new digital paradigm shift in his book Program or Be Programmed. Rushkoff says, "We are experiencing a shift of human form. The digital connection to the human has changed the way we educate and entertain ourselves, and altered the very fabric of human relationships. Yet, so far we have very little understanding of what is happening to us and how to cope."
Following Rushkoff's sentiments, we desperately need to step back and check our calibration. But the caveat of living in the transitional moment is that you can't Google Map zoom out far enough to see the complete ramifications of the digital on our species or to make sure the newly evolving cyborgs (I prefer to call them digital natives) are programed with what we feel is the most important code.
The best stab in the dark I can suggest is to look toward future leaning leaders who are not necessarily following the pack, but leading the next iteration of connected life. Musician and Kickstarter icon Amanda Palmer is one such person and she told me, "Are we getting so sucked in, that we are missing the bigger point? This stuff has happened incredibly fast. It is amazing just in my lifetime I was in college without email, and I am only in my 30s that happened incredibly fast." Following that line of reasoning, Palmer says she spends "more and more time wondering, for all the tools we have, and as fantastic as they are, what is the actual quality of our lives? If these things are supposed to be improving the quality of our lives, making everything happier and easier, at the end of the day are they really or are they just stressing us out because we feel we have so many people and things we need to be connected with that we are freaking out?"
This anxiety associated with over-connecting is becoming a well-documented area of study -- and something we are all trying to come to grips with. Filmmaker and founder of the Webby Awards Tiffany Shlain led what many media savvy practitioners are now engaging in: a ritual and personal pledge to unplug from the connection weekly. Shlain says, "Every Friday, we all unplug from all our technologies and don't turn them on again until Saturday evening. Unplugging for a day makes time slow down and makes me feel very present with my family."
If our most trusted digital leaders have tornado sirens going off in their heads regarding our current path between technology and its connection to the individual, what does that say about general society and our collective future? As of now it looks like the average technological consumer is acting like the stereotypical obese American -- consuming more and more, not caring about the ingredients, and not giving a damn about the health ramifications.
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