Forgetting To Be Human

Forgetting To Be Human

By Susan Greenfield

At the beginning of the 21st century, we may be standing on the brink of a mind-makeover more cataclysmic than anything in our history.

The science and technology that is already becoming central to our lives will soon come to transform not just the way we spend each day, but the way we think and feel.

Gradually, we are learning more about the dynamism and sensitivity of the circuits in our brain, and how they reflect our moment-to-moment existence and experience: It is in the configuration of these brain cell connections, that the essence of our individuality actually lies.

The prospect of directly tampering with this basis of our uniqueness becomes increasingly likely. Imagine living in an interactive and highly personalised environment, from physical interiors to furniture, to food.

Invisible and ubiquitous computers embedded in clothing, virtual reality and augmented reality, may erode our sense of a solid and consistent outside world. Clearly there will be implications for the family unit.

Home will now be seen as an extension of the individual's own mind and body, with constant access to a collective network of data on the minutiae of everyone else's daily life.

We shall see a swing therefore to a reactive rather than a proactive lifestyle. The internalisation of computing into the human body, to change our appearance and physical prowess, as well as implications for brain implants, (which are already upon us), may mean that the fire-wall between our body and the outside world is no longer inviolate.

It may be possible that thoughts could eventually control the outside world, even if not the other way round. We will be facing an increase in screen-based pursuits, off-line recording activities, including our own.

Second-hand living, as an alternative to empty real lives, may also lead to increase in drug-abuse, both prescribed and proscribed, whilst the new work and leisure patterns may challenge the concept of the self until now so often defined by one's job.

Individuals may no longer be marked out by what they know, since again there will be no need to internalise the information, now embedded in one's clothing, jewellery, etc.

Outside of formal education, future toys, like everything else, will also be highly interactive: So the growing child will see the outside world as inconstant and malleable.

Our successors will increasingly be people of the screen versus the 20th century mentality of people of the book — there will no longer be a need to read or write, thanks to voice-activated computers and the trend towards icon manipulation, and instant access.

Inevitably, therefore, there will be changes not just in literacy skills, but also those of the imagination. The future generations will think differently: Although they will have a much narrower attention span, it will be coupled with a transcendence of time and space frames.

Cyber-networking and the demise of the individual expert, in favour of a global neosphere will, again, merge the self with others.