(4/3 minute read)
We live in a digital age with both positive and negative influences on society.
But is the human brain, that most sensitive of organs, under threat from the modern world?
We are becoming more and more reliant on technological devices for nearly everything we do.
Unless we wake up to the damage that the gadget-filled, pharmaceutically-enhanced 21st century is doing to our brains, we could be sleepwalking towards a future in which neuro-chip technology blurs the line between living and non-living machines, and between our bodies and the outside world.
Human identity, the idea that defines each and every one of us, could be facing an unprecedented crisis.
Of course, there’s nothing new about that:
Human brains have been changing, adapting and developing in response to outside stimuli for centuries.
However our brains to-day are under the influence of an ever- expanding world of new technology: multichannel television, video games, MP3 players, the internet, wireless networks, Bluetooth links, Smart Phones, – the list goes on and on.
Electronic devices and pharmaceutical drugs all have an impact on the micro- cellular structure and complex biochemistry of our brains. And that, in turn, affects our personality, our behaviour and our characteristics.
In short, the modern world could well be altering our human identity.
It is a crisis that is threatening the long-held notions of who we are, what we do and how we behave.
It goes right to the heart – or the head – of us all.
This crisis could reshape how we interact with each other, alter what makes us happy, and modify our capacity for reaching our full potential as individuals.
And it’s caused by one simple fact:
The human brain, that most sensitive of organs, is under threat from the modern world.
Already, it’s pretty clear that the screen-based, two-dimensional world that so many teenagers – and a growing number of adults – choose to inhabit is producing changes in behaviour.
Attention spans are shorter, personal communication skills are reduced and there’s a marked reduction in the ability to think abstractly.
Add that to the huge amount of personal information now stored on the internet – births, marriages, telephone numbers, credit ratings, holiday pictures – and it’s sometimes difficult to know where the boundaries of our individuality actually lie.
And could weaken further still if, and when, neurochip technology becomes more widely available. These tiny devices will take advantage of the discovery that nerve cells and silicon chips can happily co-exist, allowing an interface between the electronic world and the human body.
Then, if both devices were connected to a wireless network, we really would have arrived at the point which science fiction writers have been getting excited about for years. Mind reading! We becoming more and more immune to what we are doing to ourselves in our lives. That cherished sense of self could be diminished or even lost.
Facebook is eating away at your time. Making you into a Likeaholic.
Our Intimacy is being eroded.
We inundated with information overload to the point that only sensationalism attract our attention.
Pure’ pleasure – that is to say, activity during which you truly “let yourself go” – was part of the diverse portfolio of normal human life. Until now, that is.
Now, coinciding with the moment when technology and pharmaceutical companies are finding ever more ways to have a direct influence on the human brain, pleasure is becoming the sole be-all and end-all of many lives, especially among the young.
We could be raising a hedonistic generation who live only in the thrill of the computer-generated moment, and are in distinct danger of detaching themselves from what the rest of us would consider the real world.
In the mean time we continue polluting the planet will nilly.
But we mustn’t be too pessimistic about the future.
What if we could create an environment that would allow the brain to develop in a way that was seen to be of universal benefit?
I’m not convinced that scientists will ever find a way of manipulating the brain to make us all much cleverer (it would probably be cheaper and far more effective to manipulate the education system).
Well, that debate must start now.
Biometrics has long been put forth as the next big thing in authentication, replacing or supplementing the concept of “things that you know”—passwords, PINs, and so on—with “things that you are.”
Fortunately, there’s no shortage of qualities that are unique to each person on the planet, and which could be potentially combined to create a comprehensive picture of you that’d also be really hard to fake.
Unfortunately the challenge will be to ensure that all income growth does not end up with those who own the machines and shares.
Identity, the very essence of what it is to be human, is open to change – both good and bad. Our children, and certainly our grandchildren, will not thank us if we put off discussion much longer.
Perhaps it will not matter in a few hundred years when we are all singing from the same hymn sheet
All comments appreciated.