Eric Brende found himself being increasingly reliant on technology. So, he convinced his wife to live without electricity for 18 months. And then write a book about the experience. I don’t know exactly how crazy this guy Eric is, but at least he managed to graduate from MIT. I haven’t read it, but the experiment sure did make me think.
I find the whole idea thought-provoking and enticing at the same time. What I instinctively dislike is the attempt at making technology our enemy, a silent master that controls us and ultimately enslaves us. But at the same time, I do really get the sentiment; being too dependent on anything isn’t exactly stellar either.
On the one hand, I acknowledge building a roof being one basic form of technology. It was back in the 1960’s when Marshall McLuhan described housing as an elaborate technology extending the actual human body, allowing for us to spend our own energy more wisely, thus heavily impacting the forward motion of the human evolution.
The same way we can choose to see a hard drive as an extension of our human memory, allowing for us to focus on much more complex tasks than stockpiling and sorting papers. Or pure memorisation, for that matter. Therefore, turning against technology could arguable being turning against us humans being able to enjoy more and more complex tasks.
But, if only it was that simple…
The End Of Civilisation
The existence of technology isn’t exactly self evident. Our civilisation could break down, for one thing. I did read Neil Strauss’ Emergency (NY Times book review), in which the famous writer documented his struggles with teaching himself the skills needed for such a scenario, including acquiring double citizenships and learning how to become a bonafide survival machine.
But, let’s face it. We’re just not that generation. My generation don’t have a mental notion of where we would be at when “the bomb” goes off. We do worry about terrorist attacks and greenhouse gases, but we don’t actually expect the world to go under. The television shows of our generation rather deals with how life goes on after the zombie attack, the alien invasion or the hostile AIs.
But there’s another side to technology, one that we don’t talk about all that much. And that’s what technology is doing to our brains. I remember when first moving to Stockholm. Being a young man from the countryside, I marvelled at how people could jump on the subway, pick up a book, reading it for like one minute, and then putting the book back into their bags just in order to get off at the next stop.
What’s the point with even picking the book up in the first place, I wondered.
Today, I make the best use of even a three second window to pick up my smartphone to check my messages. Or to send a text, tweet at someone or just snap a picture. The young me would think that I’m seriously damaged by the pace of the life in the city. Maybe technology is pacing up the complexity of our lives to a point where it actually turns on us?
Restlessness. Instant gratification needs. And maybe the most frightening; not being able to enjoy just being completely present in the now.
Is Technology Re-Wiring Our Brains?
Now, I’m not going to turn into one of those people who thinks that we’ll see a backlash and hordes of people migrating to the wilderness in search genuine now-type experiences. But for better or for worse, I do think that our modern day media consumption is re-wiring our brains.
Personally, I think we’ll go much further before we even start contemplating taking any steps backwards. I’ve written about the lifelogging trend before and I think that this trend are the first steps towards a transhuman world. Since we’re so keen on using technology as extension of our physical selves, I think we’re getting close to actually enhance our bodies with technological implants to improve self-medication, performance and brain functions.
Because let’s face it; artificial intelligence and cloning is something that we’ll have to deal with as a species eventually. But even if great progress is being made all the time in those areas, we still have great lengths to go before we reach a level at which the technology impacts us the way being able to build shelters did.
But enhancing yourself using technology? We’re already there. And as we change the machines, they are changing us. And that’s mindblowing and for sure worthy of at least some reflection. Even if I do think that 18 months without electricity is overkill.
But, sure. I should at least read the book first.