Speaking of evolution, I was at my neighbor's house dropping off my kids for a playdate when I passed her fifteen year old daughter, Lauren's bedroom and stopped in to say hello. We chatted for a minute while she sat at her desk. While we were talking, four instant messages appeared on her monitor and she picked up her phone twice to respond to text messages with her thumbs. I realized at that moment, as a result of fifty other like events, not worth mentioning, but you know what they are, that our species is going through a phase change. Collectively, we are turning into one big brain.
The neurons in our brains are shaped like tiny hands and the fingertips are the dendrites. Every time the neurons want to communicate with another they send an electric signal over the synapse and then the other neuron knows what it's thinking. Each time her phone beeped or an instant message popped on her monitor, I sensed an entourage of people letting her know, essentially, "I'm thinking of you" the moment they had the thought-- the impulse.
Email and this sort of thing sprouted right after I graduated college. Unlike Lauren, I remember a time when people would have thoughts, they would be digested internally and then crafted, either into the form of a letter or even a thoughtful conversation. I'm not saying that there's no more thoughtful conversation.. but it was different. When I was a teenager, I had to wait my turn on the telephone (fifteen minutes!) and that at some time of night..no more phone calls and lights out! Now the ability to communicate never ends and conversation turns into WHT R U DOING?
I think of the time I've spent alone in my life before the Internet and cell phones and so on-- on a moped atop a small island in Greece; on a Paris afternoon when I moved there long ago and everyone I knew was and seemed so far away. As an artist, I have to spend at least an hour of alone before I can paint. I love my time alone-- time to think, to create. But there were also times I didn't like to be alone. I dare to admit that I stayed in more than one relationship for too long just because I did not want to be alone. Before I was married and when I was dating, I remember that when I left the house, there was this sense of anticipation..maybe I would meet the man of my dreams today on the train to work... It was all very random.
Now the man on the train is on the cell phone or blackberry. Technology has made everyone connected to everybody all the time, much less often in the "Here and Now". I hear that teenagers mostly don't "go steady" anymore. Now they're all just friends or "friends with benefits". Sure, the dating scene has seen many changes, but what if it is more than that? If a monk has a blackberry is he still alone? The question is what is "healthy" and should we ever wrest ourselves away from the lattice of never-ending human contact.
I know this is not a new idea. But I believe that our species is at the cusp of a phase change. When water turns to steam it stays in the form of water from 1 to 100 degrees and then, in one instant...it turns to steam. Steady transitions are not what happens in nature. It's distinctly a phase change. And I think it's happening to us. What is in store for mankind and our tiny planet, where virtual nerves connect that have never connected before, and where we become this pulsating globe of instantaneous thought?