With new technology evolving at an increasingly rapid rate, one can only wonder where it may take us in the future. Looking back at the timeline of communication technologies, the key shift we can see is the move from passive receivers of messages, such as newspapers and television, to highly interactive back-and-forth communication where platforms like Youtube and Twitter allow readers to instantaneously react and send feedback to the initial sender of a message. Even news channels have twitter and facebook accounts where viewers can comment on broadcasted stories, and often become involved with ‘missing persons’ searches and rescues. So if changes as large as these took only a few decades, how might new communication technology look in another 10 years?
Many writers have mused on the possibilities, including scholar and teacher Sue Halpern whose article ‘Mind Control and the Internet’ (2011) gives a both amazing and terrifying version of what may be coming. Halpern reviews the ideas in writings such as The Filter Bubbble; What the Internet is Hiding From You (Pariser, 2011) and You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (Lanier, 2010) which combine for a very thought-provoking reading. Engineer’s and academics have predicted that the technological implants we see today, such as hearing aids, could be a path into the future where neurological chips enable us to access the internet and send messages within our minds rather than a handheld device like our smartphones.
Straightaway this seems concerning, with past research already showing that the increased usage of the Internet has direct links with “declines in communication with family…the size of social circles…and increases in depression and [feelings of] loneliness” (Kraut et al, 1998). However, now take into account the issue which Halpern also mentions, the fact that internet searches and applications are now filtered and ‘personalized’ thanks to the constantly expanding database of personal information that engines such as Google have embedded into their systems. This means that the information which is pulled up to answer a particular search is ordered by a combination of ‘page rank’, better named ‘popularity, and what the system deems most important to you based on past internet activity.
Personally, this only increases the distress I feel about the vision of internet brain-chips, as this would mean that not only would our psyche become more sick, but all of our ideas and attitudes would be created by an external source which essentially only bounces back what majority of society thinks, mixed with what we currently think. So, any information that disrupts the status quo or goes against the grain would now be almost completely censored from us, which would essentially ‘compromise knowledge’(Lanier, 2010). Along with this comes an issue which immediately springs forth in my mind, which is that in order for us to grow and evolve in all areas of life we need to be confronted with other perspectives and fresh information. Instead, with this technology, we will become “more and more enclosed in our own bubbles” (Pariser, 2011). This also holds plausibility for government control and strategic dissemination of ideas that could undermine democracy and the right to freedom of speech…or rather, freedom of thought.
Although this is only one prediction of future communication technology, it holds very real possibility; If engineers and scientists are already producing cochlear implants and performing brain surgery to repair essential neurons, then the idea of brain chips doesn’t seem too far off the mark. However, this whole concept reminds of one of the Dalai Lama’s warnings, which seems a fitting end to this discussion;
“There is almost no area of human life today that is not touched by the effects of science and technology. Yet are we clear about the place of science in the totality of human life—what exactly it should do and by what it should be governed? This last point is critical because unless the direction of science is guided by a consciously ethical motivation, especially compassion, its effects may fail to bring benefit. They may indeed cause great harm.”
Until next week,
Halpbern, S. 2011. Mind Control & the Internet. The New York Review of Books.
Kraut, R., Patterson, M; Lundmark, V; Kiesler, S; Mukophadhyay, T; Scherlis, W. 1998. Internet paradox: A social technology that reduces social involvement and psychological well-being?.American Psychological Association , 53(9), pp. 1017-1031.
Lanier, J., 2010. You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto. s.l.:Vintage.
Pariser, E., 2011. The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You. s.l.:Penguin.