Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Phone sex and basic instincts…
Sometimes I feel I have to write a blog because something has happened which, I know, is another step towards a change in human affairs and that my grandchildren will be living in times that make today prosaic by comparison. On QI, that TV programme which occasionally reaches the twin peaks of erudition and comedy simultaneously, there was much amusement at historical quotes from famous people and their incapacity to forecast what products, inventions or activities would take later hold of universal consciousness and become commonplace. The domestic computer sticks in my memory. No chance. Why would people want such a thing? But the computer is now part of an inexorable drift in the way we see and deal with the world. It has become a seedbed of â€˜applicationsâ€™.
The other day I saw someone use a calculator to work out what she owed me from five pounds. I had bought something from her stall for one pound fifty. It had become for her, a surrogate for that part of the brain that does sums. From the onset of writing via pictographs through to phonographs, tape recorders, film, video, holographs and now the microcomputers we carry in our pockets, machines have steadily appropriated mental functioning for us, recording our thoughts, offering strategies for our futures. And we now use computers to build better computers (the doomsday scenario for many science fiction writers from Asimov on) so that they can take on more sophisticated tasks for us.
At other levels (see old blogs here) they are used to create simulated environments in which people can play, vicariously, with each other, virtual worlds which they can inhabit, alongside this one. In these worlds people can try out new personalities, new genders, new ages. Some are so intoxicated that they become addicted and lose the thread of their ‘real’ lives.
This weekend, in the UK newspaper. The Observer ( I receive it by certain means, here in Ghana, two days late!) there was a magazine article about Grindr, a new website that locates, via your mobile phone and GPS, the nearest enrolled gay man to you at any time you inquire. He could be anything from a mile to a foot away. A grid of pictures on your screen shows the nearest person top left and then down to the bottom right, the furthest away. In the article, there were comments about how sex had never been so instantly available. It will be unrolled as a heterosexual application very soon…
What is happening here? Yet another facet of consciousness is gradually being technologised so that we donâ€™t have to use our instincts or our intelligence. Instead of being in a room, sniffing the pheromones in the air, wondering whether we might meet a woman or a man who could change the next few minutes, hours, days, weeks or years of our lives, all we need to do is call up Grindr (or whatever the hetero-equivalent might be) and get it on.
There will come a time when everything we do from our basic instincts to our higher order consciousness will be managed for us by technological prostheses. What will happen then to our sense of identity?