The death of the human experience?


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It’s a geek-ruled world.

Webster’s refers to a geek as “a person who is socially awkward… a person often of an intellectual bent who is disliked.”

You remember them from high school and college? They didn’t fit in. Not with the jocks, the hipsters, the class clowns, the bohemians, the gangsters or any other clique.

And today, in what is still the early stages of an epic and rapidly accelerating technological revolution, the geeks, the most anti-social segments of society, own the future — one assembled in a contrived world of artificial sensory simulation strapped around their foreheads, and yours.

What better way to beat the reality that shunned them then by reinventing it. What better way to avenge the real world that rejected their socially inept, tech-consumed personas than to create pristine and exciting unrealities.

BRACE FOR THE SEISMIC CHANGE

The explosion of advanced virtual-reality technology moving mainstream has a strong foundation to build on — a culture, a world, especially among millennials and newborns, primed to become fully addicted to unreality.

The smartphone and all its comparable cousins, not even a decade old, are the source of numerous studies confirming a populous becoming increasingly addicted to their devices. Scores of studies around the globe are building consensus that digital addiction is real, growing — and wrought with detrimental physical and psychological effects.

LOST IN SPACE

As studies now confirm, the energy individuals put into operating their devices while attending events, for example, becomes the experience, and not the actual experience itself.

Less than a decade ago, it was unimaginable that an accepted norm would be to attend a concert, play, sporting event or family gathering and experience it by recording it on our devices, watching it later and sharing it with others, while missing the actual sensory experience.

Nor was it anticipated that civilizations would aimlessly navigate sidewalks with heads bowed, pecking away at their handheld devices, utterly oblivious to their surroundings. Or, that many of those same people would identify their smartphone as the “most important thing in their life,” as concluded by Mark Griffith, a professor of gambling studies at Nottingham Trent University.

Indeed, a Trends Journal article cited a 2010 study, one of many, published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, that drew a parallel between substance addiction and the behavioral addiction patterns seen in chronic smartphone users. “Both change the chemistry of the brain and alter patterns and priorities of needs and rewards,” the article stated. “As a result, an increasing number of people literally don’t let their smartphone out of their hands. They clutch the phones for fear of losing the few seconds it would take to pull the phone from a pocket and flick it on.” (Trends Journal, Winter 2015, p. 31.)

But these mobile devices will prove relatively simplistic in comparison to the wave of VR and artificial-intelligence technology that mega companies from Facebook to Google are clamoring to bring to market.

Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, for example, announced earlier this year that the company has created a “Social VR” team to ensure that its new Oculus Rift headset, the first VR headset to storm the market, assures VR’s place in the social-media world. The Rift can create shared virtual experiences that, among social networks, can potentially replace the need to engage face to face, heart to heart, mind to mind — and you’re in control over the reins of the experience.

RESEARCH DOESN’T FORECAST DANGERS

Before iPads, smartphones and related technology became affordable, and thus mainstream, there were virtually no studies or analyses that examined how use of these devices would alter the human experience. There was no way to accurately anticipate how chronic smartphone and other digital gadgetry use would lead to addictive behaviors that would come at the cost of constructive human engagement.

Only now is research catching up to the societal, psychological and emotional ill effects of digital addiction. This technological revolution is not a generation old, yet the unprecedented speed at which technological advances make it to market challenges researchers to gauge and anticipate its impact.

The Trends Research Institute, in that Trends Journal article, called it the “walking-dead phenomenon.” We wrote: “Portability and affordability of modern technology have completed a journey into the hands of just about everyone. While anti-technology, pro-human experience movements are picking up some steam, the “walking-dead phenomenon” is fully entrenched. There is no evidence of Amish-like communities springing up as a counterpunch to this reality, nor are new products coming to lessen global dependency on personal technologies.” (Trends Journal, Winter 2015, p. 31.)

Today, on the verge of an avalanche of VR technology ready to saturate public consciousness, the what-to-expect prognostications from the scientific, technological and business worlds are what you’d expect, focused on only what can be measured: commerce, physiology and technological advances. The focus is on the bottom line, not the human mind.

That’s just as it was with mobile devices. Absent in the analyses of VR’s future are assessments or measurements of the human, aesthetic and abstract effects that can virtually transform human consciousness.     TJ  

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