I write this small essay based on the conversation I had in a local bar. Several men concerned with the influence of technology on casual life, decided to contemplate about much needed fixes to our brains. There were no doubts in the necessity of changes to our brains. These are times to run in order to stay in one place. The only question is whether our brains, inherited from our slower ancestors, are ready for the changes.
Image Credit: Jason Headley
Culture, education – everything had been preparing us for a much slower world where we had enough time for nonchalant curiosity and meticulous reading of thick books. The informational explosion made our customary behavioral patterns outdated. It is impossible to process daily avalanche of data using outdated methods. Where can we get the resources to work on multiple projects, and sometimes in multiple places, as the world demands? How should we communicate when our colleagues, friends, and acquaintances are available constantly and live one click away?
In short, our brains desperately need an upgrade. Those who will upgrade their brains, will become the elite of the information era. Like fish, they will swim through the sea of data, fishing for valuable information and ready-to-use solutions, while others will sink and dabble. What can one do in order to be amongst the chosen?
Those gathered in the bar started to share their experience. You can boost your brains with nootropics – chemical compounds like phenylpiracetam and modafinil. The real benefit is insignificant. The best case scenario, you will feel a bit more vigorous and only with limited usage. Some try to use transcranial magnetic stimulation and electric stimulation of the brain. You can easily buy necessary equipment, but the effect will be just like from using homeopathic meds or placebo.
Someone suggested that we should upgrade our brains with implants. This is a good idea, but where to get them? As of now, the only brain implants we know are deaf-aid. Some enthusiastic “biohackers” are obsessed with the idea of implanting new senses in order to obtain echolocation capabilities or sense electric fields. Note that this will only add the enormous pool of data we have to work with and we can’t process the data we have at our disposal now.
There was an opinion that those with better intelligence implants will be the elite. Sounds reasonable. However, the difference between the future with implants and the present with smart gadgets is slim. We already look like cyborgs with our smart devices. We simply carry an exocortex brain in pockets. We just don’t try to put it inside our heads. It is hard to say whether the one with a better iPhone is smarter or more efficient than others.
It looks that our creativity is determined not by the awesomeness of devices, but by the level of independence from them. Smartphones and other computing devices are not simply instruments serving our purposes. They are controlling us as we play in suggested games with the rules also suggested by someone else.
In the virtual world getting a reward is easy – a virtual reward, obviously, such as upvotes, points, and virtual victories. Any rewarded behavior is usually repeated. This a simplest great law that controls human behavior just like behavior of other species. Complex mechanics related to reward system and neurotransmitter dopamine are behind this law. By the way, that legendary rat that pushes the leverage in order to stimulate its “pleasure center” until complete exhaustion not due to the pleasure it receives, but due to the feeling that the pleasure will come soon. This is how dopamine works forcing us to repeat a rewarding behavior. Simply speaking, we are hooked on digital drugs. This is the real reason behind our procrastination when we endlessly browse social networks and play games instead of working.
Now, we are close to answering the question how to become the elite of information society. I’m afraid, there is only one solution: self-discipline. There will be carrot and stick for those who will not be able to adopt the idea of self-discipline. This will force them to do at least something in-between sessions of “pushing the leverage”.