Is the Age of the Human (as We Know it) Drawing to a Close?

With all these discussions about the advancements of technology, what it means to be posthuman, and the immergence of the cyborg, I was compelled to look at humanity as it is in its current state. (And I must say, doing so was a little frightening).

In some aspects, I do believe that the age of the human, and what it previously meant to be human, is drawing to a close. Technology has now become an integral part of our lives, and some would even say that it has taken over or replaced simple acts that defined human beings as humans.

One example of how technology has changed what it meant to be human is seen through the degradation of our memory. Our memory is nowhere near what it used to be. In antiquity, people had the ability to recite hundreds of lines from the Iliad. They did not rely on computers, memory sticks or the written word to share stories with their community. However, technology has now replaced our need for memory. Why bother memorizing a story word for word when you can pull it up on the Internet?

I am also inclined to say that technology has replaced our need for a physical voice. (Here I mean the physical act of speech, rather than our rights of expression). Instead of communicating face to face with one another, we now rely on e-mail, text messages, blog forums, Facbeook and twitter to communicate. Some even prefer to communicate through these mediums, rather than communicate in real time and space with one another. Will we see a day where our physical voices are no longer needed?

I have a few other ideas about how technology has replaced certain aspects of what was once defined as being inherently human. However, I would like to leave further discussion to my classmates. Do you think the age of the human, as it has been defined through history is drawing to a close? Do you see other characteristics specific to human beings being replaced by technology?

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3 Comments

  1. I feel as though the age of humans is not coming to a close, and only perhaps being redefined. Whether convenienced by technologies or not, humans will still be driven by a hierarchy of needs, which will remain essentially unchanged.

    On your point about memory, I believe the capacity for memory is still present, but goes unused. Memory is no longer an essential skill to be mastered. Although we are relying more and more on technology for memory, does it not free time and space for other processes?

    Your consideration of the human voice is very intriguing. Are you suggesting that even in small circles, like a house hold, one would not use their voice? That perhaps technologies will have gone so far as to create some sort of telepathic communications? This is slightly unsettling, as I feel as though speech is driven by a certain psychological need. However, would the psych be damaged by a lack of speech if communication were still occurring?

    During the Enlightenment, science was the devils work,seen as detrimental to human kind. I see parallels between the past’s fear of technological advancements, and today’s hesitant steps deeper into artificial intelligence. Is the melding of human and technology wrong morally?

  2. Memory is still very much apart of our lives. And though people aren’t required to use it so much, because we don’t trust it to be as accurate as digital memory, I think we just do not rely on it like we used to. Groceries, PIN numbers, etc, still need memory. Way back when information was passed only orally, memory was essential to keeping the message straight. Then books came along, and memory played a less important role because the information had a correct transcription of the original message. With the digital age, our memory is valued even less, because it takes much longer for us to memorize something than to click a bookmark button.

    I believe that adding new forms to communication don’t always make the previous obsolete. (In some cases it does. For example, the map or GPS system really supersedes the navigational value of something like an Inuit Inukshuk ) I think that most people recognize that communication over facebook or twitter does not always convey all that is being said. Tonal and gestural expression can change words’ meanings drastically. And even emoticons can’t always get the message across. But even face to face speech has its limitations: we can also not express video footage well with words, where facebook makes the sharing of this media very easy. Different forms of communication overlap in what they are able to share, but each kind has its own limitations and abilities. Speaking face to face, therefore, is still very important, and I do not believe it is going to disappear.
    I do not believe the Human Age is coming to a close. I think it is just shifting. Each major advancement, like the enlightenment mentioned earlier, has had resistance in fear of its implications. I think that caution is natural, and probably a good thing, because drastic change should have foresight.

    By the way: this is an inukshuk: http://www.inukshukgallery.com/images/internal/inukshuk_image.jpg

  3. Re: face-to-face communication. The sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov, in a 1957 novel called The Naked Sun, imagines a group of people called the Solarians. Their technology has developed to the point where there are thousands of robots for every person, and each person lives in their own well-maintained personal mansion. As a result, the people rarely bother seeing each other, and communicate entirely through vidscreens and message systems. In fact, most Solarians have a phobia about being in contact with other people. Our video talk technology is probably going to improve, further reducing the necessity for person-to-person communication, but I don’t think we’ll be turning into Solarians any time soon–if nothing else, there’s simply too many people and not enough ideal living space to render face-to-face communication entirely obsolete. (Although that is an admittedly pessimistic way of looking at things.)
    –MH


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