Technology, it would appear, has the accelerator pedal to the floor. Only fifteen years ago, The Internet was a baby. Amazon.com was a new site, eBay had just been founded, portable digital music didn’t exist (the iPod was still 6 years in the future). In order to use the internet, I had to “dial in” and tie up a phone line, at a hefty charge. My cell phone was a bag, plugged into my car, which came with an impressive 100 minutes a month. For fun, we’d play a new device called a “Super Nintendo” on an 800 pound behemoth TV, 40 inches wide and 30 inches deep.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Fast forward 15 years. I write this essay on a laptop whose computing power dwarfs the space shuttle and cost under $500. My phone doubles as my internet connection, keeps up with multiple email addresses, my Facebook, Twitter, and automatically syncs with my calendar, informing me of appointments conveniently before they happen. I have a 16 gigabyte card inside my phone that can hold hours of digital music. “3G” technology allows me to watch video, anywhere, of whatever I want. My wife pays the bills through the internet. In fact, she does it from the comfort of the couch because the internet seemingly floats through the air of our house. My brother-in-law’s Xbox 360, displayed on a 1 inch thin 60 inch wide LED LCD TV, can connect through the internet and let him play games with people in Tokyo, Germany, and South Africa all at the same time. And we take all of this for granted now.
What will fifteen years from now be like? It’s impossible to know, but try to imagine it. Electronics will continuously creep closer to us. The phone used to be strapped to the wall. Then it came along with us in our cars. Now it fits in our pocket, going where we go. Music, a long time ago, was restricted to record players and radio broadcasts. Then it leapt to our cars, and to portable stereos. It got smaller too. Records became tapes, tapes became compact discs, and at last it became just a string of 1’s and 0’s packed into digital media the size of a thumbnail that plays on a device the size of a debit card.
Imagine, then, a future where we have implanted our iPods directly onto our ear drums. Our phones have become wearable computers, feeding information to us via contact lenses with circuitry built right into them. The internet is but a thought away. Want to know what the capital of Tajikistan is? You instantly know, it is instantly displayed in front of your face thanks to your contact lens computer, and you hear the correct pronunciation in your ear via implanted speaker. This is the future. It may seem farfetched, but already development of all these technologies is under way. If someone told me fifteen years ago I could buy a “2 terabyte hard drive” for less than a hundred dollars, I would have had them drug tested. Back then, 2 gigabytes was a wild dream, and the term “terabyte” wasn’t widely used.
So if fifteen years from now we’ve got computers on our eyeballs and in our ears, and the internet of today has become an instant access portal of nearly universal information, what does fifteen years from that look like? If the entertainment/information/commerce complex of ever smaller, ever closer, ever more intimate electronics keeps becoming an integral part of our lives, in 30 years will we all just be semi-biological computers? Why not?
If the entertainment/information/commerce complex of ever smaller, ever closer, ever more intimate electronics keeps becoming an integral part of our lives, in 30 years will we all just be semi — biological computers? Why not?
So imagine, 30 years from now, that technology is discovered that allows us to directly link our neurons to wires (this research is currently underway at the University of California)…we could have a USB port or a plug in our arm just like in the movie “The Matrix,” connecting us directly to the world…would you get one? Rather than checking my email on my laptop or cell phone, I could just check it instantly in my head, by connecting my arm-port to the internet. With a thought, I could check movie times, and see them in my head. A second thought, and I’ve purchased tickets to a movie. A third thought, and I’ve found nearby restaurants. A fourth thought, and I’ve sent a note to the babysitter, telling her we need her tonight. Moments later she sends a thought back to me, telling me she’ll be here by 7:30. We’d all be connected, you see? Just as Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging, text messaging, and email draw us ever closer in the digital world, another 30 years could very likely bring a day when we are connected mentally too. You could even share someone else’s experiences secondhand. Unable to buy your crazed 13-year-old daughter tickets to a Justin Bieber concert? No problem. Buy her a ticket to mentally connect with someone that has front row tickets, and she can experience the concert from the safety and comfort of her bedroom, yet all five senses will be downloading streaming information from someone else a thousand miles away.
Generosity in a Neurally Networked World
And in this future world, increasingly saturated with distractions and electronic entertainment, the ability to feel someone else’s feelings and experience someone else’s experiences perhaps most will affect how we see charity. How will Christians address the suffering of people in poor countries if we are capable of literally feeling their starving bellies? What if you had been able to download the feelings of Katrina victims? Would that have moved you to help them? Empathy, it would seem, would take on a whole new meaning.
Technology has always been a mixed blessing. While the internet allows me to mess with my fantasy football roster for hours, it also allows me to donate to the Red Cross in only a couple clicks. While I can read the latest gossip about Lindsay Lohan on my computer, I can also sign up to ride in a Livestrong Army race to raise money to fight cancer. While I can listen to crystal clear music by plugging headphones into my phone, I can also speed dial my friend who is going through a painful divorce just to check in on him.
The strange and wonderful thing about humanity is that we are not solitary creatures. We, by our very nature, crave the contact of others.
Even if electronics gradually become a part of us, we’ll always need to help each other. The strange and wonderful thing about humanity is that we are not solitary creatures. We, by our very nature, crave the contact of others. We want to know what is going on with our friends and family. We want to share in their success, and empathize with their suffering. Perhaps that is why things like smart phones with live Twitter updates are so appealing. But perhaps, as technology allows us to be connected to more and more people, we’ll discover anew our common nature, and the world will improve.