The Internet poses two questions to people every day: What are you wishing (searching) for right now? How much change (acceleration) can a culture endure in a short span of time?
A familiar trope in Sci-fi movies has the visitor from the past stuck in front of a television for several hours to get up to speed on our "improved" present day. These time travelers are usually shocked by our violence, delighted by new inventions, and terrified of the newest dance craze. Over the course of history, new technologies have created global shifts and fueled the forward momentum of countries and empires.
Every new invention--from the mobile cannon to movable type--has left its mark on humankind. The current technology impacting people on a worldwide scale is the Internet, and we are just beginning to understand its impact on our daily lives. And since the web has morphed into the mobile web, more people are exposed to the usefulness and wonder and ridiculousness of unlimited access to the Internet.
If you took a smart phone back to the time of the Salem Witch Trials, and showed the Internet (and the vast amount of information it can show a person) to the men who sentenced the women of Salem to hang (figuring you could get crystal clear connectivity, along with time travel), they'd suspect you were also in league with dark forces, and being imprisoned or hanged would be in your immediate future.
Even if you only made a much shorter trip through time, back to the early 1960s, the smartphone you brought with you would far outstrip any technology NASA had at the time, much less government security agencies, or large corporations. Our daily tech is the stuff of Science Fiction TV programs from the 1960s.
Technology is advancing at such a rapid rate that it may eventually surpass the human mind's ability to keep up with the myriad accelerations one now adjusts to, without questioning. We've entered the reinvention dimension--when scientific wonders such as the Large Hadron Collider, near Geneva, Switzerland are simply accepted (We can build a huge machine underneath a mountain, and it might be able to create a black hole. Are you sure? OK, sounds fine to us.) and more wonders are expected.
As the digital landscape expands, even more accepting digital natives are being minted every day. The way culture operates is being transformed in life-altering ways, and much of it has to with technological acceleration, economic globalization, and global climate change.
Considering the evolutionary progress we've made over the past 10,000 years, the reality is we're still living in human bodies. But all that is changing. People are being micro-chipped, soldiers are being given metal-leg mobility no warriors in the past could receive, and bio-medical technology is extending longevity. But even if human beings do cyborg up, our biology still has its limits.
Will we increasingly become more like post-humans or human-robot-hybrids if we adapt to an accelerated world and reach the point where we not only accept electronic devices and metal parts to replace our worn out body parts, but depend upon them? Will we agree to be turned into human-robot hybrids, especially when it involves the promise of life extension and a guaranteed healthier life? Especially if it happens on such a gradual basis that succeeding generations have time to accept these transformations?
It seems that, as a species, human beings have been engineered to collectively work together to create civilizations and culture. Since we've already invented countless cultures, modes of communication, and forms of trade and commerce. But all of these forms of human interactions have also been reinvented when they've outlived their usefulness. We're undergoing a major cultural shift, around our digital world and the data we produce and consume in our lives. The Internet is sometimes spoken of as if it's a living, breathing entity, a new mind we all depend upon so we don't have to remember the combined knowledge and substance of what it means to be a human being.
If we're wired to create culture, what now? Since we're the inventors of collaborative tech/mobile devices/cyber-worlds, are we wired to be as wired as we've become? From a pragmatic perspective, the Internet can now be considered as a tool that helps people create and destroy, whichever way the user is inclined. The Internet has helped people become billionaires, and it has been used as a means to get weapons to murder people. So, questioning whether the Internet has a mind of its own isn't such an unthinkable question anymore.
Rewiring our minds is one thing, but allowing us to choose how we want them rewired is up to each one of us. The near future poses many questions about this new technology: Will the Internet continue to expand and develop without major restrictions (like those already imposed upon it by repressive regimes), and become a safe space for artists, social change thinkers and activists, and proponents of free thought around the planet? Is the future of the Internet to simply become just an evolving set of distractions, full of cat videos, social media hubs, mega-stores and online shopping malls? Or can it be reinvented as a trusted, creative, adaptable, global communication tool--a space where the answers to deeper questions can be found? Will countries and borders become more fluid as the Internet age takes us deeper into the twenty-first century? Connectivity and reinvention are intertwined, and an online world incorporating freedom of thought and an open, honest exchange of ideas is essential for solving the global challenges we face.