Humans of the Future
A fieldnote from Munich, Germany (October 2013)
…one day humankind will be living in huge, well planned, structured and organised cities, where everyone will have his or her needs fulfilled in this life of 24/7-availability…
Some time ago I was at a conference dealing with humankind, earth and their relation.
We, the audience, had the opportunity to hear a lecture from a leading manager of an European technology company about what the future city could be like*:
But the speaker did not talk about humankind, earth and their relation. She spoke about technology as their mandatory link:
„…one day humankind will be living in huge, well planned, structured and organised cities, where everyone will have his or her needs fulfilled in this life of 24/7-availability. The highest building will be a palace of data control where all bits and bytes of the urban population will merge to have all the 100 million plus x citizens handled. There will be no individual traffic anymore, but a mixture of large public transport into the city and several possibilities of small individual transport moduls carrying you to your place to be. You will find more or less “green” areas near your work and dwelling place to have some occasion of recreation during your 12 hour day of work. To have your hunger satisfied, you will be able to choose between a food delivery service straight up to your apartment; or you can still carry your bags, if you can afford the time. “Time is money”, the ancestors ever said and that’s how it should be! Your apartment will be full with electronic devices to make your life straightforward, uncomplicated and convenient. Water, waste and every inconvenient topic to think about will be taken in hand by the city goverment and its control tower. You will have huge and tall buildings filled up with opportunities of consumption for distraction and for the insatiable demand of…“
“…of some meaning of life…?” I asked myself.
While questioning myself, other hands rose. The audience was upset:
„Isn’t this too much of (data) control, offer before demand, reign of consumption and deprivation of self-responsibility and liberty?“
„Aren’t you afraid of lowering your mental ability continually when you let technology get all your daily routines done?“
The audience asked.
The speaker countered:
„Well I prefer using my navigation system to be at home earlier, instead of not using it and taking the risk of getting lost or being late. I favor saving time over conserving my mental ability.“
And the audience revolted:
„What about family, children, social life and education?“
„What about nature?“
„And what about freedom?“
The speaker ignored the interjections and said:
„There is no time for further comments or questions.“
In fact, this speaker made my own vision of the future humankind blur. My vision has always been a conscious one, where people are educated, free, diverse – and conscious.
Definitely, this lecture aroused a huge diversity of modes, points of view and persuasions about one’s own’s life. It brought “Skynet” from the movie “Terminator” and also the entire movie “Idiocracy” to my mind: Humankind’s fear of technology seizing global power, bit by bit in a clandestine way, paired with the continuous loss of mental ability and intelligence.
Well, we should not blame the speaker. We should try to understand the speaker’s world: Working for a global player of technology with a 24/7-kind of duty of availability, it can be either some unintentional self-induced brain wash that ensures one’s own functioning in this hamster running wheel of life. Or it can be just a conscious decision, commitment and preference for this kind of working culture and lifestyle. In fact the speaker was absolutely sure about the fact that the audience conformed to the same patterns unquestioningly. But we did not. And this made the speaker uneasy. The speaker’s „self-created“ world was about to collapse – and ours, too.
So, what can we learn from this clash of world outlooks? Is it a serious dependency between humankind and technology and should we, therefor, consider a potential consequential risk of losing freedom of mind? Or is this dependency rather a more and more developping amalgamation and empowerment with a lot of advantages?
Considering heart transplantations or technological care services for people with disabilities compared to social-media addicted children or smartphone-junkies: I cannot – for now – answer these questions.
With the view of a cultural anthropologist, I can only say that both sides are part of our culture and, thus, have their own raison d’être. Actually it is more a question of understanding these two conflictive sides: How could they evolve in the same society? And what can we learn from both to be prepared for our future?
*During the lecture I took a lot of notes. The direct speech used in this text is not the exact wording of the speaker and the audience. It is based on the notes, which I have taken during the lecture, and on my memory.
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