Tag Archives: transhumanism

smartphones and the rise of the zombies

I am trying to move down the narrow aisle of the plane with my carry-on luggage, feeling stressed and irritable. I want to unload my bad onto the overhead bin and get in my seat, but am delayed because the girl in front of me is texting with one hand and maneuvering her luggage with the other. She apparently is unable to put down her phone for even two minutes to do what she needs to do so that the rest of us can get on our way. 

I am sitting in a trendy downtown cafe in Ho Chi Minh City.  A young mother walks in with her daughter and a friend. The daughter is around 10-years-old and like most young kids with yuppie parents, she has her new tablet computer under her arm. They grab a table and sit down. The daughter is thoroughly engrossed in the show she is watching on her tablet. She sits facing away from her mother  and for the next 60 minutes, speaks not more than a handful of words to them.  The mother is unconcerned.

 

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A mother and teenage daughter sit down next to me in a restaurant in Lima, Peru. The daughter has a disinterested, aloof expression, tinged with a look of disgust, common with teenagers. They are not speaking. The daughter holds her smartphone up to her nose, texting furiously. The mother has a resigned expression. I sense that what I am witnessing is almost a daily ritual. They do not speak. When the breakfast arrives, the daughter holds the fork in her right hand, shoveling the food into her mouth so that she can continue texting. She wants nothing to do with her mother. When they finally leave, I notice they only thing they have said the entire meal is “Let’s go now.”

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A few minutes later as I leave, I notice a father sitting with his two kids. The older one is a girl in her early teens. She has her trendy , sporty new smartphone and is texting her friends. The younger boy is playing video games on his. The father stares vacantly and despondently into space, acknowledging that he has lost his kids.

A young girl in Australia smashes into a bicyclist with her car. She had been texting and didn’t see the young man whose spine she just smashed.

My teenage students arrive one by one into the classroom. They do not acknowledge each other, but simply take their seats and surf the net on their phones, tablets or laptops until the class begins. Some of them cannot  resist glancing at their phone periodically during class, until I physically take it from them.

 

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At break time, many of them run to the computer lab to get online to access facebook or play computer games, even though the break is only five minutes and I have explicitly told them not to go to the lab as they will lost track of time.

I walk down the busy city sidewalk. Walking directly toward me from the opposite direction is a young man who is texting. Oblivious to all other sensory data, he nearly crashes into me, glancing up only for a millisecond before resuming his journey onward, nose to phone.

I sit at the sushi bar with my girlfriend. To our left and right sit four single women. Each one has a Iphone or computer in their lap and is busy texting with left thumb, while eating with the right hand.

 

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A young couple sits down at a restaurant for dinner. They sit facing each other. Each immediately takes out their iphone from their pocket and begins checking their FB. For the next hour, they will speak only a few words, such as “This place is ok.” And, “You ready to go?”

A young woman sits next to me on a bus which will travel from Lima to Chiclayo on the north coast of Peru. The trip is eight hours. She falls into the seat and immediately opens her laptop. For the next 8 hours, she will do nothing except chat on facebook with her friends. She has no interest in what the man next to her is doing in her country. She could care less.

I am having lunch at a restaurant. A group of tables has been set up to accommodate a large group. They come in, one by one. It is obvious they all work together at a company. As each sits, they take out their phone and begin surfing. A few minutes later, there are approximately 20 people at the table, and though it is clear they are celebrating the completion of some project, you can hear a pin drop, as there is no conversation taking place.

A story appeared recently about a man who boarded a bus in San Francisco. He had a gun. He robbed someone. Nobody paid him any mind, as they were all busy with their electronic gadgets and didn’t even notice him.

I am having a coffee at one of my favorite cafes. I grab a random magazine from the rack to glance at while I drink my iced coffee. The magazine is filled with advertisements for new smartphones, tablets and HDTVs. The few pages that are not advertisements are glowing reviews of said products, with titles such as “Which smartphone is right for you?” The entire magazine is basically an advertisement for  our great electronic future.

The stories above are all true, and I could easily list hundreds more. They are just a random selection from my memory. Humanity, we have a problem. Although most people are still not yet familiar with the term Transhumanism, nevertheless we are well on our way to the dystopian future envisaged by men such as Ray Kurzweil. Although the technocrats themselves do not see this future vision as dystopian, it will surely be the end of the human race as we have known it.

I am part of the last generation to have grown up without computers and cell phones. Ask most people over the age of 45 if they would accept being implanted with a microchip, and they will scream, “Bloody hell, no!” But for the younger generations coming up now, it is a different story. They have been so softened up by the gadgets and toys which are so integral a part of their life, that getting a chip implant will seem to them like a logical next step. Google glass and the smart wristwatches that are now being marketed is the next phase.

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I have always had deep reservations about technology and so-called ‘progress.’ During my 20s, I searched for some intellectual underpinnings for the wariness and discomfort I was experiencing as the computer revolution took hold. I found the academic rigor I was looking for in the writings of authors such as Kirkpatrick Sale, Jerry Mander, Neil Postman, John Zerzan, and Derrick Jensen.

Of these writers, Neil Postman (1931-2003) is  probably the most accessible and readable. He wrote for the mass market, and his books are wonders of lucidity, insight, and clarity. He was able to look back over the whole course of human history to show how our present societal upheavals with computer technology resonates with prior upheavals. (See: the printing press.)

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John Zerzan is unknown outside of a small circle of intellectuals and anarchist thinkers, which is unfortunate . His books, including Running on Emptiness and Against Civilization are well worth reading, if you can find them. Zerzan is maybe the foremost proponent of a school of thought called ‘anarcho-primitivism.’

As we hurtle pell-mell into the future, I yearn for that national (or global) dialogue which has never taken place, and which absolutely needs to take place. That is, a  discussion on “Where are we going?” And, “Is this really the future that we want?” Furthermore, “Is what we are gaining more worthwhile than what we are losing?”

The classic movie “The Gods Must be Crazy” (1980) was a comedic film with a deep philosophical and sociological message. In the film, a tribe of  Bushmen in Botswana is thrown into turmoil when they recover a coke bottle thrown from an airplane. This new ‘technology’ at first proves very useful and practical for them. Yet very quickly, the tribe is grappling with new issues such as possessiveness, envy, anger, selfishness and violence. The tribal elder is at last confronted with his duty and task: take the ‘evil thing’ and throw it off the end of the earth. The tribe concludes, correctly, that this seemingly beautiful and useful thing has an evil side which outweighs whatever benefits it bestows. Our problem is that we have a tribe of 7 billion, and we have no ways of throwing our toys back at the gods, or off the edge of the earth. And unlike that small band of Bushmen, we have not even sat down to talk about the matter. Until we do, we will be  weaned away from our humanity, and led obliviously toward our cyborg future.  The gods really must  be crazy.

 

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Stay human. Say ‘no’ to transhumanism

The world is inching ever closer to the final merging of man and machine. The goal of the transhumanist movement is to ‘improve’ humanity by merging us with computers, via chip implants,  nanotechnology,  genetic engineering, and robotics. Taking up where the eugenicists left off a half-century ago, this school of thought can trace its origins back to Julian Huxley, brother of Aldous and unapologetic elitist and eugenicist.

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Transhumanists speak glowingly about the forthcoming ‘singularity’ , a moment in the near future – 2045, according to the most prominent transhumanist cheerleader, Ray Kurzweil- when artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence. Humans will  be in danger of becoming extinct from irrelevance, but by ‘augmenting’ ourselves with nano-technology and genetic alterations, we can go into our brave new world as a ‘post-human’ species.

Twenty years ago, I would have laughed at such nonsense,  but given the speed at which technology is advancing and the equal speed with which humanity, and especially the current young generation, is eagerly adopting the new technologies, it is clear that this is no  laughing matter. The people promoting this are serious and their plan to forever alter  homo sapiens sapiens is gaining momentum , and more importantly, acceptance.

One of the most prominent public faces of this movement is Michio Kaku, the theoretical physicist who appears regularly on the History Channel, BBC, Discovery Channel , and the Science Channel. Kaku is the new front man and he’s a good choice. He speaks easily and fluently about complex scientific topics and has a laid-back,  approachable demeanor. Of course, I can’t help asking when I see celebrity figures like this with lots of advanced degree letters next to their name, ‘don’t these guys have a real job?’ If Kaku spent half as much time in his office working on theoretical physics as he does putting on make-up to go on television , he might actually accomplish something worthwhile for humanity. But I digress..

In a recent program aired on The Science Channel, Kaku first informed his audience that the singularity was inevitable, then he stated that the results of it could be catastrophic, and then finally ended the show by saying we should all just embrace it.

 

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He stated, ” Most experts (a cheap rhetorical trick) agree: the technological singularity is inevitable. If uncontrolled, the results could be catastrophic. They (the machines) may eliminate everything that stands in their path, including us.” But then suddenly, he changed his tone and said, “I’ve changed my mind. I think we should embrace the singularity. Fundamentally, I’m an optimist. The solution? Merge with them. When the singularity arrives, WE will be in control. By merging with machines, we will enter a new age of super human existence. We will be ‘ homo superior’.  Who’s with me?”  At this point in the show, the geeky crowd of young futurists in some Manhattan studio , many wearing Star Wars costumes, broke out in a roar of approval and hand clapping.

You can’t get much more blatant than that. All the rhetorical and manipulative techniques perfected by social engineers over the last century were put on display. ‘Do not resist. The future has already been determined. Resistance is futile. Join us…..or die.’

Many of my young students, who already spend most of their day staring at some screen and sleep the whole night with their smart phone under the pillow, will unquestioningly accept this techno-future and even embrace  it. Chip implants? No problem, which arm would you like?

Luckily for me, I found some thinkers when I was in my early 20s who wrote critically and thoughtfully on the subject of technology and human existence and provided a needed antidote to all the  drivel that I was subjected to in the corporate, mainstream and advertising world, as well as inoculating me against the incessant pro-technology propaganda.

Jerry Mander wrote a incisive book titled In the Absence of the Sacred: The failure of technology and the survival of the Indian Nations (1991) which really blew my mind. Here at last was a prominent intellectual writing about the other side of the story, i.e. the shadow side of technology. Daniel Quinn’s novel’s Ishmael  (1992) and The Story of B (1996)  explored some similar themes, albeit in a very different format. The late Neil Postman, media theorist and cultural critic, wrote wonderful books for the mass market about the intersection of humans, technology, culture and education, including: The Disappearance of Childhood, Amusing Ourselves to Death, How to Watch tv News, and Technopoly: the Surrender of Culture to Technology. 

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The future is rushing upon us quickly, and humanity is at a crossroads. If we are to survive, we will need to evolve, and quickly. But evolve how? By merging with machines and rushing headlong into a technological dystopia, into a world run my intelligent machines?  Is there another way? Shouldn’t we be exploring other possibilities? I believe so. Even a cursory study of human history shows that we don’t handle technology responsibly. We haven’t used nuclear energy responsibly. Nor do we know how to integrate new technologies into society while still maintaing traditions, culture, and respect for each other. Technology has far outraced humanity’s ability to understand it, let alone use it well.

If we want to talk about a future evolution of homo sapiens, how about Osho’s vision.? He spoke of the blending of the Zorba’s joy of life with the discipline and insight of the Buddha to create ‘Zorba the Buddha.’  It’s a beautiful vision and one worth exploring. Humanity has the capability to evolve using the tools we have right here and now: our brains, our hearts and our will. We should not toss away so easily our humanness to plunge into a future which would be even darker and more monstrous.

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Television man. TV as mass mind control.

I have no television in my room. Sure, there was a beautiful new Samsung flat screen sitting on the table when I moved in here, but I requested the landlord to take it out. At first, they were sure that they had somehow misunderstood me and asked me to repeat my request. As every other room in the house already had a television, they had to brainstorm to find a place for it, but of course one can never have too many televisions in a room and so now it is being put to good use down the hall.

In my previous rental  across town, I had also asked  the landlord to remove my television. However, the law of unintended consequences took effect when the next day I walked downstairs and found out that it had been mounted over the stairwell on the first floor. Whereas previously the first floor and kitchen area had been been blissfully free of television noise, now the residents were happily watching  the tube for ten hours a day, and the quiet kitchen was now nothing more than a memory.

Edward Abbey:

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I gave up tv watching 20 years ago and have never missed it. I find it is easier to simply remove it from the room than to cover it with a sheet and resist the temptation to turn it on.

Giving up the television is one of the best things you can do for mental health. You notice the effect on consciousness almost immediately. Your mind feels more clear and calm. You are mentally sharper and not as depressed. You find other useful things to do with your time. Most importantly, you remove yourself from the arena where the the Powers that Be (TPTB) can so easily brainwash and manipulate you. When you are not subjected to the constant, 24-hour-a-day barrage of propaganda spewing from the idiot box, you can actually research and think about the events of the world and maybe, just maybe, come up with some of your own conclusions and ideas.

What does this family worship? :

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When I occasionally go to gatherings of young adults, such as parties, and they are discussing this or that tv series or bantering about some tv trivia, I am invariably lost. I have no idea what they are talking about and don’t care to. At these times, I simply deflect the conversation with a polite, “Oh, I must have missed that episode. Was it funny?” To say that I don’t watch tv in such a setting would brand me as an outright eccentric. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but I don’t have to go around waving a banner.

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Television has become so deeply embedded and intertwined into our culture, our daily lives, and even our education, that is rarely ever talked about. It is simply taken as a given. We are a full four generations into the world-with-television, and the results are as grim and ugly as were predicted fifty years ago. Marshall McLuhan discussed television in his ground breaking books and demonstrated that it was not the content, but the ‘medium’ of television which was destined to rewire human brains and cause radical changes to our society and culture. Jerry Mander penned the classic “Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television” in 1978, but few people have ever heard of the book, let alone read it. In an interview discussing the book, Mander had this to say,

“My own feeling is that that is true – that it’s very important to improve the program content – but that television has effects, very important effects, aside from the content, and they may be more important. They organize society in a certain way. They give power to a very small number of people to speak into the brains of everyone else in the system night after night after night with images that make people turn out in a certain kind of way. It affects the psychology of people who watch. It increases the passivity of people who watch. It changes family relationships. It changes understandings of nature. It flattens perception so that information, which you need a fair amount of complexity to understand it as you would get from reading, this information is flattened down to a very reduced form on television. And the medium has inherent qualities which cause it to be that way.”

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In the mid-90s when I was teaching in the public schools in Texas, I was horrified to learn that all of the classrooms had televisions mounted on the walls and that students were forced to watch tv for 20 minutes a day. The station they watched was called ‘Channel One.’ If you are unfamiliar with it, Channel One is  a large media company, and it gives  away equipment to public schools all over the country in return for forcing students to watch the programming, which of course is embedded with advertising.

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The advent, marketing and subsequent flood  of flat screen, plasma, and HDTV models over the past 15 years filled me with a deep apprehension. It wasn’t just the fact that consumers were rushing to buy these overpriced tubes for thousands of dollars- even when their televisions at home were perfectly functional- but also something more sinister appeared to be at work. Soon thereafter, when I read that governments were going to be switching  broadcast signals and thereby forcing people, by default, to purchase the new technology, my fears were reaffirmed.

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A few years ago, ads for new apartments and houses started appearing in the sunday paper which pictured living rooms with the giant plasma tv already mounted on the living room wall. What’s more, the television was situated above the fireplace, taking the central spot in the room. You know, the spot that used to be occupied by the nicest piece of art the family owned , or perhaps a family heirloom. Or an altar. I suppose the designers of modern day apartments and condos know better than we do who our real gods are.

It’s now nearly impossible to escape the screen. Yesterday, I took a taxi home from the grocery store, and I was ‘entertained’ by a small television which flipped down from the roof behind the driver. He informed me that it was impossible for him to turn it off, as he did not have the actual controls or the authority to do so. When I take a long distance bus trip in South America or Asia, I am tortured with yet another showing of “Fast and Furious , Part 5”, at maximum volume of course.

Television, and fast food go together:

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Screens are now built into cars, especially SUVs, to keep the kids docile in the back seat. They are in waiting rooms of hospitals, dentist offices, and other health care practitioners. They are in hotel lobbies. Increasingly, they are in not just sports bars, but all bars. They are finding their way into fine dining establishments. They long ago found their way into schools.

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People now go to sport stadiums not to watch the team on the field, but to watch it on the giant plasma screen above the field. Huge screens are now built onto the sides of buildings in downtown parks. Want to go to a concert in a large venue and see your favorite performer, along with thousands of other rabid fans? You can be sure that anywhere from 2 to 10 giant screens will be mounted behind and above the stage for your viewing pleasure.

 

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There is a large grocery store chain in the city where I live that has now installed flat screens above each shopping aisle. Worried about keeping up with the latest development in the soap opera or novella while choosing a certain brand of ketchup? We’ve got you covered. Ever felt bored standing in front of the elevator and watching the indicator light slowly drop down each floor? Have no fear: televisions are now mounted between elevator doors to keep you distracted. Running on the treadmill at the gym with your ipod in your ear not stimulating enough? Need some ‘visuals’ to go along with your music? No problem: modern gyms have thoughtfully designed their spaces with racks of dozens of televisions, so that no matter where you are working out or what you are doing, there is always a screen in your face.

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Our current reality is just as George Orwell predicted in ‘1984’ with the ubiquitous screens. Big Brother, via the giant multi-national media conglomerates, is watching us, even as we are watching his ‘programming.’

We can’t even exercise without tv:

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