This week I’m picking up on a thread from a couple of weeks ago on how adaptive we are as a society and how that can be good and not so good. Gradual change is something we are less likely to notice than abrupt changes in the world around us. One could argue that our adaption to the abrupt changes are more survival oriented — we quickly adapt and then eagerly make efforts to revert to something we think is better. When confronted with things like natural disasters, wars, shortages or catastrophes we tend to adapt quickly, even band together, until the situation can be corrected, or together, we correct it. When we look at the incremental changes of technology, or augmentation, or bio/genetic modification, these changes (though they are coming increasingly faster) are much slower. Adaptation is not on a massive scale. It’s an S curve followed by another S curve, and then another. Before we know it, there has been a massive change. Technologies that enable us to rid ourselves of disease or poverty are one thing; they have less of an effect on an individual’s daily behavior. Technologies that enable us to cram more information into our brains at a faster pace, or stay awake longer, or focus better, including cosmetic improvements, or escapist entertainments may need to contain a warning label. It’s hard to deny that the onslaught of technology and information, of sound byte attention spans on a 24/7 time schedule has changed us. The question is: at what point will we no longer recognize ourselves.
The characters in The Lightstream Chronicles may have arrived at this question too late. Over a period of decades, society has gradually given up on the notion of privacy. It was exchanged, bit by bit for enhancements that enabled telepathy, to channel direct-to-brain, instantaneous entertainment or escape into the V, a brain-port to upload language fluency in two hours, protection from assault and kidnapping. Together with the demand for ubiquitous, “active surfaces” woven into every piece of their environment a 24/7, always-on picture of everyone, every minute became the norm. There seemed to be little question that the positives outweighed the negatives. So what if a computer or synthetic is watching me in my most private moments? It was awkward at first and took some getting used to, but government assurances that the “watchers” were only looking for laws that are being broken and putting citizens into danger, made things easier to take. After all, the watchers are just computers or machines; they are not making any moral judgments. And in a society where anything is legal as long as it is consensual, most people aren’t worried about breaking any laws. And if they feel like being deviant, well there is always the V. There they can delve into the darkest recesses of their imagination with impunity.
Relax. It’s all good.