By Antonia Case
“Can anyone doubt today that all the millions of individuals and all the innumerable types and characters constitute an entity, a unit? Though free to think and act, we are held together, like the stars in the firmament, with ties inseparable. These ties cannot be seen, but we can feel them.”
Nikola Tesla, 1856-1943
At a tech forum in Moscow back in 2013, Peter Diamandis, a lead player in just about everything ‘tech’ – life extension, space exploration, Singularity University in Silicon Valley – discussed the innovations that will drive human behaviour in the coming decades. “We’re moving towards a world of seven billion hyper- connected humans, and we can plug in to it,” commented Diamandis. But more than just ‘connecting’ humans to each other, he went on to say that emerging technologies are, “evolving what humanity is,” adding: “We’re reinventing what it means to be human.”
Six years on, it’s impossible to deny the swift changes brought about by ‘hyper-connectivity’. Humans today clutch smartphones like joysticks. They’re eternal players in the internet game, finding friends and fighting enemies; building profiles across myriad platforms. Meanwhile big tech invents more innovative ways to consume and hold attention: personalised news feeds, smartphone notifications, games, bots, automatically-generated content, highly-optimised interaction loops, fake news...
Hyper-connectivity keeps a world of seven billion people called to attention, and it makes no difference whether you’re in Sydney or Kolkata. Indeed, we’re no longer products of our immediate surroundings in time and place, nor of our family, culture, and myths. Instead, we now march to the beat of the internet drum. The question is, where will this ‘reinvention’ of humanity, as Diamandis puts it, take us? Will it drive humanity towards greater cooperation and inner-contentment, or will it increase friction and drive us deeper into despair? As big tech extends its global reach and influence, we need to question whether hyper-connectivity is truly connecting us as humans, or if it is simply catching us in their web.
From the 'Being Human' edition of New Philosopher, produced with The New York Times. To join the discussion from February 4-8 about this article on The New York Times Australia Facebook group, click here.