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Simulaphobia: The Evolution of Technology and the Transhumanist Utopia

→ by Danieru
I have become fascinated recently by the continued simulation of our world out of existence. The word 'technology' is usually proceeded by thoughts of mechanical machines, digital processes and automated activity, but the borders encompassing technology stretch far wider than this day to day conception. It has always been an ability of mankind to absorb technologies into their being without so much as a cultural flinch, the human world is replete with 10,000 year old tools so intermingled with our perception of ourselves as to make them indistinguishable from our supposed 'natural' capacities.

In the technology of language we find perhaps our greatest accomplishment, a constantly evolving mass of symbolic manipulation capable of turning the universe of eternal change into distinct referents our minds easily mould into a world view. To imagine a human reality devoid of this semantic technology is almost impossible for the modern mind, and yet still we find the time to deconstruct our language and re-format, re-order and re-package it on a daily basis. It is this capacity to accept as natural those things our brains created, rather than the omnipresent idea of mother nature's crafting hand, that I believe continues to be humankind's greatest ability.

At the present time technology is evolving faster than the average mind can comprehend. Flick over to any science news column, any technology blog and be immersed in osmotically imbalanced seas of semantically inferred referents, each more complicated than the next, each pushing us further towards a time when the mind of man, the hand of nature and the evolution of technology become one and the same thing. Yet although this change is now underway it is not absolved from the problems of perception it constantly re-creates. The cliche of the middle aged technophobe fiddling with their new video recorder can be stretched to accommodate every kind of progressive technology our society absorbs. The shifts of societal tectonics are now so enormous and immediate that we become barely capable of ignoring the devastation they wreak on our culture. In past eras of human civilisation change could rarely be perceived against the background of natural time. It was this that gave us the ability to accept technologies slowly, to absorb them at a pace which equaled their evolution, in the process pushing our cultural evolution ever onwards. Yet these times are long gone.

We now live in a time when cultural change is so constant its friction rarely goes unnoticed. As the gap between the generations widens this trend will continue as the conservative, older - arguably wiser - minds resist technology's stampede into the future. Could it be said that the present generation gap will be the widest yet to exist? The pre-teen generation now being educated across the globe is destined to grow up into a computer savvy, digitally aware, technophilic people. Those of us still wallowing in our early twenties, however, are a mixed bunch when it comes to similar ventures of technology. I have as many friends comfortable with the internet as uncomfortable, I know as many people my age who relish the gadget rich society we live in as bemoan the passing of 'simpler' times. This is a problem, and one which over the next decade or so will live itself out to conclusion as the pre-teens mentioned soak up the majority of technologically focused careers yet to be invented.

These technophile minds will remain comfortable in a world where the lines between the real, the simulated and simulacra become ever more blurred. Meanwhile their colleagues of ten years their senior will find fear in the breaking down of these very same lines.

In what ways can the technophobic mind come to subsist in a world they have no hand in the simulated manufacture of? Am I over estimating the impact this will have on society or - as the transhumanist, singularity loving crowd would have us believe - have I completely and utterly misunderstood the severity of our present situation? Because, in the new technological utopia the transhumanists are now wishing our society towards the technophobe and the technophile will have to make do with living in entirely different universes from each other...

Further Reading

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Blogger Jennyology said...

I guess I usually think of generation gaps as getting shorter, rather than longer. I mean, in the same terms of what you're talking about, generation times have arguably decreased from a birth-adulthood timespan (30ish years) down to 15, 10... some say even 5-7 years. In terms of technology (and where really do we draw the lines between technology and culture now?) and particularly in terms of food, music, fashion, politics... the relevance of information and learning are changing very quickly. The colloquialisms and bands and terms of identity are as different between my sister and I as I feel they are between my parents and I. It is interesting to see these differences in age and identity and technological capacity as characteristics of time eras and generations. Really, a lot of people far removed from the internet age in their lifestyles have still altered their habits (there are volunteer programs to help the elderly learn to use email and I know of many who communicate with their grandparents via internet). Yet in general, people do adhere to iconic technological advancements as a way to anchor themselves in time. Perhaps the generational identifiers are becoming too numerous to keep up to date with... one would require the laxity of childhood to trully absorb the cartoon characters, rap artists, sitcoms, and other willy nilly involved with generational identity. Generations in themselves are becoming meaningless, we're well into X, Y, AND Z in terms of taxonomy. I think people are not nearly as concerned with 'simulacrophobia' as the entity is and adhere to it with a zealous false sense of individuality. As each 'new' advent of technology brings the validation of ingenuity... our selves become inseparable from this flow and become dependent on change.

March 22, 2006 11:47 PM    

Blogger Danieru said...

I definitely believe that technophobia is a minority stand point, but the true gaps in generations, as you suggest, haven't made a huge impact on this - yet.

I just feel like we are on the verge of a tectonic shift, not as in the idealist utopia envisaged by the transhumanist, and not one we can even perceive properly yet.

Over the coming decades we will see more and more 'real world' activity moving into cyberspace. This is already happening with the creation of MMORPGs and their increasing popularity. Economics will become virtual as money tends to changes hands to in the form of simulated goods and services.

Many of us are already embracing this change. Everyone has bought a book from the internet or checked out local cinema times, but there is much change left.

The youth culture of the 'next' generation will likely be entirely virtualised, and this will be completely natural for them. This generation will grow up and tend to find comfort in simulated economics, virtual job oppurtunities. Maybe, as the transhumanists would have us believe, this generation will be more comfortable altering their bodies with technology. Who knows...

It doesn't worry me that the older generation might take these changes at a slower pace - they will have to take them if they become important to society - I just think that the scale of cultural difference has not truly been conceived yet.

This doesn't take into account the distinctions that will arise between 1st and 3rd world countries. The virtual economy will very likely be accessible to only an elite few for the first few years of its inception leaving the 3rd world lagging behind when the oppurtunites for innvovation and economic gain appear.

The old elite is always the new elite after all...

March 23, 2006 4:34 AM    

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