Thursday, December 20, 2012

Will Narcism Soar or Will Self Consciousness Win Out?

Ask anyone I know and they'll tell you that I think technology is, by and large, pretty cool. One topic that's gaining more interest, and which will require much more research, is the effect(s) that modern technology has on our brain.  For instance, research has been under way for a number of years with a particular emphasis on memory and I don't think it will surprise anyone that we tend not to remember phone numbers anymore.  The effects of the explosion of technology use on our brains leaves literally thousands of avenues to be explored, but one that I find fascinating will be playing itself out over the next ten to fifteen years and the results may be interesting.

Advances in technology have brought huge advances in the ability to personalize products and digitize personal information, images and sound in particular.  Kids born recently will be the first generation to grow up with these "ubiquity of self" capabilities.  How will this affect them?  What effect will seeing literally thousands of images of themselves before they enter school have on how they see themselves in relation to the rest of the world?  Humans  evolved in a world where images other than crude cave paintings didn't exist, and it wasn't until the past 200 years or so that anyone other than the rich could afford the luxury of seeing (much less worrying about!) what they looked like.  When I was growing up families had a handful of pictures around the house commemorating special events, with a few more tucked safely into albums.  Today in our house, again thanks to technology, our walls are adorned with scores of pictures of our two young kids doing wonderful things and looking impossibly cute.  And given modern digital storage capabilities, that's just the tip of the iceberg for images of our kids.  How will this play out as the current (and future) generations of young people grow up bombarded with images of themselves?  Will we see an increase in self assuredness or will it morph into self absorption and narcism?  Adolescent anxiety is on the rise, is there a connection?

We've also seen an explosion in the ability to "personalize" virtually anything.  From Christmas videos from Santa to toddlers having their early writing attempts published for free in hard bound books, where the 20th century was about mass production of gazillions of identical items, the 21st century is all about using technology to make each and every kid feel special about every thing they do.  Again, I wouldn't miss the look of awe on my daughter's face as Santa was addressing her personally for the world, but I can't help but wonder about the effect of having so many of her experiences personalized and so much of what she does recorded forever.

We're starting to get a glimpse of some of the pitfalls of a society where everyone is "connected" and everything is saved on someone's server.  People like Jesse Miller are making lucrative careers out of warning kids about the hazards they face thanks to their net personae.  From being incontrovertibly caught rioting, to losing jobs and coveted university entrance offers, young people are learning some hard lessons about how the ubiquity of their images can affect their lives.  In other words, we're seeing in clear terms how technology is affecting the relationships between kids and the external world,  I would be very surprised if these same phenomena weren't also somehow affecting how their brains develop and function.  Only time will tell.